Representatives of Brazilian environmental agencies met more than 700 times with agribusiness and mining companies

In De Olho na Política, De Olho no Ambiente, Em destaque, Governo Bolsonaro, Principal, Últimas

The Bolsonaro Dossier series direct interference in environmental agencies by leaders of the Agricultura Parliamentary Front and companies that have been fined for deforestation; Agribusiness Watch mapped the agenda of the authorities and identified the direct influence of private actors in the environmental policies

By Alceu Luís Castilho and Luis Indriunas

Report details agenda of appropriation of the Ministry of Environment by destructive companies.

Since the beginning of the Bolsonaro administration, the ministers of the Environment, the presidents of IBAMA and ICMBio and the chief of the Environmental Licensing Board have held at least 709 meetings with representatives of private companies, agribusiness organizations and with members of the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (FPA). The average is one meeting every two days from January 2019 to August 2022.

Almost two-thirds of these meetings (65.7%) were with companies, occurring on 466 occasions; another 144 meetings occurred with organizations representing agribusiness, mining, and other private sectors (20.3%). In the same period, the current members of the FPA – the main expression of the agribusiness lobby in the Congress – were received 99 times, that is, in 14% of the meetings.  On the other hand, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements had less than ten meetings at the premises of the Ministry of Environment.

This close and beneficial relationship of the environmental agencies with deforesters and their supporters is the subject of the report “Environment Inc.“, the third in the Bolsonaro Dossier series, published by the research group Agribusiness Watch. The first report was about the conflicts of interest involving the Bolsonaro family in Vale do Ribeira region, in São Paulo: “The Banana President“. The second was the study “Agrarian Reform Turned Into Voting Machine“, detailing the indiscriminate use of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) by Bolsonaro allies through the Titula Brasil program.

The new dossier also reports the influence of these actors in the dismantling of environmental control, the interference of former minister Ricardo Salles in benefit of businessmen, the regional political patronage, and the relations of the Ministry of Environment with large agribusiness and mining multinationals.

To access the full report, click here.

VALE LEADS IN FINES AND VISITS TO IBAMA

Private companies are the most frequent visitors to IBAMA, with 292 meetings. Despite the evident public interest, only in a few cases the topic of the meetings is described in the official agendas. Among the most frequent companies at the environmental agency are: Vale, Shell, Neoenergia, Volkswagen and Rumo S.A., which together account for 109 meetings – 23.4% of the total number of meetings between companies and government during the term of the agency’s president, Eduardo Bim.

What is common among the companies most received by the MMA is their lack of commitment to the country’s forests: a large part of them are responsible for committing crimes against the flora – including deforestation – or are indebted to the Brazilian State for millions in fines.

Vale S.A – including Samarco, Fundação Renova, Salobo Metais and CSP – is the champion company in terms of fines and visits to the MMA during the Bolsonaro administration. The company is the protagonist of the two biggest mining-related environmental crimes in Brazil: the implosion of the dams in Mariana, in November 2015, and Brumadinho, in January 2019, both in Minas Gerais.

Another peculiar relationship is that with the Spanish bank Santander. Between March and May 2022, representatives and investors from Santander Brasil S/A met four times with the current Minister of the Environment. Although the bank is not on IBAMA’s list of infraction notices during the Bolsonaro administration, in 2022 the institution was benefited in its past fines by IBAMA’s Order n. 11996516/2022-GABIN, which considers invalid the notification of violators by edict for the presentation of final allegations. The rule brings slowness to the process of fines and embargoes and should represent a loss of R$ 3.6 billion in fines for environmental violations, according to a report by Agência Pública.

In the case of agribusiness, the highlight goes to the performance of Agro Santa Barbara (AgroSB): the company met five times with Eduardo Bim between 2019 and 2022. One of the companies managed by banker Daniel Dantas and controlled by the investment fund Opportunity, AgroSB operates in agricultural and livestock markets from farms located in the south of the state of Pará, in addition to its headquarters in Palmas. The company is accused of deforestation, use of pesticides as a chemical weapon, slave-like labor, and the creation of an armed militia.

INSPECTION IN THE AMAZON IS THE LOWEST IN 21 YEARS WITH BOLSONARO 

“I will no longer allow IBAMA to go around fining left and right, as well as ICMBio. This party will end”. The statement made by Bolsonaro one month after assuming the presidency of the Republic was made during the graduation ceremony of cadets aspiring to be Army officers at the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras in Resende (RJ), where he studied in the 70s.

The president’s hatred against environmental agencies is personal. In March 2019, IBAMA servant José Augusto Morelli – who, in 2012, fined the politician R$10,000 for practicing irregular fishing in the Tamoios Ecological Station in Rio de Janeiro – was exonerated from his position as head of the Air Operations Center of the Environmental Protection Directorate, at the president’s behest. “I am living proof of the neglect, the partiality, and the terrible work done by some IBAMA and ICMBio inspectors,” Bolsonaro complained. “This is going to end.”

And indeed, the work of IBAMA and ICMBio has been largely destroyed during his administration. In 2020, the Ministry of Environment recorded 385 embargoes or seizures in the Amazon, a number seven times lower than in 2018, when there were 2,589, according to the Climate Observatory. Another study, from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), points out that there was a vertiginous reduction in the notices issued for infractions against the flora in 2019 and 2020, reaching the lowest ever recorded in the last 21 years in the nine states of the Legal Amazon.

In the period from 2012 to 2018, an average of 4,620 annual fines were issued in the Legal Amazon for violations against flora, and in the 2019-2020 period only 2,610, a reduction of 43.5%. This is despite the rise in deforestation rates, which broke records. In 2019, there were 10.1 thousand km2 and, in 2020, 10.9 thousand km2.

The neglect is explicit in the Union’s budget. In the 2020-2023 Multi-Year Plan (PPA), one of the federal government’s main planning instruments for public policy, only 0.03% of the total budget of R$ 6.8 trillion was allocated to environmental protection.

WITH SALLES AND LEITE, TECHNICAL OPINIONS ARE DISMISS TO FAVOR DESTRUCTION

A close ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, former Minister of the Environment and elected federal deputy Ricardo Salles (PL-SP) gained greater notoriety when he suggested “passing the buck” on environmental laws and regulations while the media and the country worried about the pandemic, which started a little over a month ago.

Salles’ replacement, Joaquim Leite was a councilor of the Brazilian Rural Society for 23 years. (Divulgation/MMA)

Bolsonaro’s support was not enough to hold Salles at the frontline of government after the scandal with loggers in Pará in June 2021, in which the then-minister was accused of facilitating, by means of a dispatch, the “regularization” of more than 8,000 shipments of illegally exported wood between 2019 and 2020 to the US and Europe, according to the investigation of the Federal Police’s Operation Akuanduba. Even though he was removed, however, the interest groups that supported Salles continued to have free doors in Bolsonaro’s government, after the appointment of Minister Joaquim Leite who, for 23 years, was an advisor to the Brazilian Rural Society (SRB), one of the funders of the Instituto Pensar Agro, the ideological arm of the FPA.

Even being more discreet than his predecessor, Leite does not fail to attend events with Bolsonaro and organized by agribusiness. According to the observatory’s survey, the new minister met 15 times with members of the FPA, one of them at the headquarters of the parliamentary front – the same as the IPA – in the South Lake of Brasilia.

Appointed by Ricardo Salles, Ibama’s president, Eduardo Fortunato Bim, who has already been a legal advisor to Fiesp, another organization that finances agribusiness, openly accepted the influence of ruralist leaders in the appointment of the agency’s regional superintendents. In Rio Grande do Sul, for example, superintendent Claudia Pereira da Costa was elevated to the position through the influence of congressman Alceu Moreira (MDB-RS), former president of the FPA, whom she usually accompanies in party events.

In seven months of management, she reduced by 64% the environmental supervision in the state and, under the same modus operandi as Bim, she overruled technical decisions of her employees. In February 2021, Claudia suspended the infraction notices for three vessels belonging to the president of the Fishing Shipowners Union of Rio Grande do Sul, Sérgio Daniel Maio Lourenço, and his family members. In December 2020, the agents had fined the companies R$211.5 thousand for lack of mandatory tracking and expired authorization.

Check out other cases of political appointment in the agency in the report Environment Inc. Click here to download the full document.

Cover illustration (Renato Aroeira/De Olho nos Ruralistas): report shows environmental agencies being taken over by agribusiness and mining companies and organizations

Alceu Luís Castilho is editor-in-chief of Agribusiness Watch. |

|| Luís Indriunas is assistant editor of the observatory. ||

READ MORE:
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Agribusiness Watch releases report on the corporate funding behind the agribusiness lobby in Brazil
Report details the allotment of agrarian reform in Brazil and its electoral use by Jair Bolsonaro’s allies

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