Environmental fines in Amazon halted under Jair Bolsonaro

Sao Paulo, May 20 (efe-epa).- Fines for illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest have been suspended since President Jair Bolsonaro issued a decree in October 2019, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on Wednesday.

“Federal agents are working hard to enforce the rule of law, in this case Brazil’s environmental laws – often at considerable personal risk – only to have their efforts sabotaged by the Bolsonaro administration,” Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The violent criminal networks destroying the Amazon rainforest and Brazilians’ enjoyment of a healthy environment aren’t going to be deterred by fines they don’t have to pay.”

According to the organization, sanctions against environmental offenders have in practice been paralyzed since 8 October last year when new environmental procedures came into force following a decree presented in April 2019.

The Bolsonaro government implemented new procedures meaning environmental fines have to be reviewed at “conciliation hearings,” where a commission can offer reductions on the fines or eliminate them altogether.

Under the new law, the Environment Ministry suspended the deadlines to pay fines until a hearing could be held.

“The effective suspension of fines is one of several steps the Bolsonaro administration has taken in Brazil to undercut the enforcement of environmental laws and protection of the environment in Brazil,” HRW warned.

“Others include the removal of senior environmental officials in apparent retaliation for a successful operation against large-scale illegal mining and deforestation in the Amazon.”

Between October 2019 and April 2020, HRW reported just five cases in which sanctions were imposed for illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon, meaning thousands of fines are likely on hold under the new procedure.

Before the new decree came into force the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) reported that fines were issued on the spot and payment had to be immediate.

Most illegal loggers issued with fines would delay the payment by appeals, and under Brazilian law fines expire after five years, meaning many never paid fines at all.

Conciliation hearings of the October decree were created to allegedly make the issuance of environmental fines more streamlined, but the move has further hindered IBAMA’s abilities with the payment of fines further delayed by the hearings.

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