Dossier shows Bolsonaro’s attacks against public transparency and access to environmental data

In De Olho na Política, Em destaque, Principal, Últimas

Fifth report in the Bolsonaro Dossier series reveals a deliberate government policy to conceal environmental and land data in favor of private interests; reported cases include denials of access to information, use of the General Data Protection Law to hide the names of landowners, and persecution of public servants

By Mariana Franco Ramos and Bruno Stankevicius Bassi

Check out the new report in the Bolsonaro Dossier series.

The anti-democratic character of Jair Bolsonaro’s government is not only expressed in the systematic violence committed against communication professionals. The withholding of information and the dismantling of transparency mechanisms represent another side his efforts against the public interest.

Between the imposition of a 100-year secrecy on data requested via the Access to Information Law (LAI) – 65 cases, according to a survey by Estadão – and the persecution undertaken against public servants and journalists, Agribusiness Watch mapped the main episodes of censorship that occurred in the country during the last four years.

The data are presented to the public in the report “Brazil Under Censorship“, the fifth in the series Dossier Bolsonaro, which narrates the history of government violations, related to the socio-environmental agenda and the capture of public power by corporate interests. Check out the first four dossiers here.

With a cover illustrated by cartoonist Renato Aroeira, the dossier exposes the increasingly frequent use of the General Law of Data Protection (LGPD) to deny access to data of relevant public interest, such as the list of names of individuals and companies fined for environmental crimes or for labor analogous to slavery. The observatory itself received this justification on two occasions when requesting data via LAI: first in a request, made on July 25th, for the list of farmers fined in Operation Abafa, conducted by the Military Firefighter Corps (CBM); and earlier, in 2021, in an attempt to access the updated database of the Land Management System (Sigef) of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which removed the name of the landowners from the files.

The silencing of public servants and press professionals, coupled with the concealment of data about the last four years of government, is part of a broader strategy by Bolsonaro – and his allies in the private sector – to hide his crimes and deprive future generations of an important part of our recent history.

You can access the full dossier at this link.

UNDER SALLES, IBAMA AND ICMBIO RESTRICT DATA

An analysis conduced by Fiquem Sabendo platform in the microdata of information requests released by CGU showed that the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) refused more information and hindered access to processes in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

The main reason cited was precisely that the information requested would be classified as confidential under the LAI (32% of denials), followed by “request requires additional data treatment” (15%), which is when the agency claims not to have the capacity to process all the information requested. According to the survey, the proportion of denied requests has more than doubled since the law came into effect.

Ricardo Salles started the “gag rule” in environmental agencies. (Reproduction)

Among the unanswered questions, there are requests for access to data on operations against deforestation in the Legal Amazon, the number of inspection actions carried out by the agency, IBAMA’s Specialized Inspection Group expenses, and the Petrobras report on the oil slicks on the northeastern coast.

Under the same argument, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) denied access even to basic data of individuals and companies fined in Conservation Units. “They sent a list, but taking out the names of the companies, with the argument that LGPD protected,” reported Luiz Fernando Toledo, director of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) and cofounder of Fiquem Sabendo. “It is a problem of public administration added to the bureaucracy commanded by the current government, which does not encourage transparency,” he adds.

This guideline of making it impossible to access relevant data on environmental issues was, in large part, drawn by former minister Ricardo Salles, now elected federal deputy in São Paulo, for the PL. “When President Bolsonaro came in, Salles started making violent attacks, and as recently as January 2019, he gave an interview to Folha saying that the data was not accurate enough,” says Ricardo Galvão, former director of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe). This view is corroborated by an ICMBio employee who, fearing reprisals, asked not to be identified: “It is a very unmeasured attempt at censorship, which has been going on since 2019.”

INCRA REMOVED DATA FROM ITS LAND BASE

At the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), the situation is no different from what occurs at IBAMA and ICMBio. In August this year, the agency removed the name of the land owners from its most updated database, the Land Management System (Sigef).

INCRA has made it impossible to access the names of landowners in Sigef.

Information that was public until then, such as the property code, process number, date and area, is no longer available on the Acervo Fundiário website, frequently accessed by researchers and journalists. A local government employee, who asked not to be identified, also pointed out the lack of internal disclosure of normative acts and the absence of direct communication with the press by the regional superintendencies as problems.

“We found out that in August 2021, the agency revoked several norms without internal disclosure,” he said. “The most that happens is the publication in the Diário Oficial da União (DOU), which means that if you don’t open it every day, you won’t get to know about it. According to him, at other times the publication was widely publicized by e-mail and on the internal electronic network. “There is an advance in the fact that the processes are electronic, but there is a restriction of information.”

Also according to the official, in the past the superintendencies produced information for reporters in a direct way. Under the current government, however, journalists who are in the regional offices throughout Brazil cannot communicate with the press. “Everything they are going to talk about, on any agenda, has to go through INCRA’s management.

“You have something disproportionate in the interpretation of the law, of taking away massive information of public interest that is not related to political propaganda, about the actions of the State, because of the possibility of that being misinterpreted,” comments Danielle Belo, from the Open Knowledge platform. “You can’t deny access to an entire administrative process because of personal data.

GOVERNMENT PROMOTES PERSECUTION OF JOURNALISTS

In June 2022, in a public hearing in the Senate, communication professionals denounced the growth of attacks during the Bolsonaro government. According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, between 2018 and 2021, Brazil fell eight positions in the world ranking of press freedom, occupying the 110th position among 181 countries analyzed. In addition, the country became the 2nd most lethal place for journalists on the continent, behind only Mexico.

There have been at least thirty murders of professionals in the last decade. In the first semester of 2021 alone, the NGO registered 330 attacks, an increase of 74% compared to the previous year. In the assessment of Bia Barbosa, advocacy coordinator of Reporters Without Borders, the positions of Bolsonaro, his sons and close authorities corroborate the data. “We monitor hashtags of hostility of attacks on journalists and communicators on a social network and, in three months, we collected more than half a million posts.”

According to the National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ), Bolsonaro was responsible for most of the attacks on press professionals in 2021, with 147 of the 430 offenses reported in the period, which included episodes of censorship (140 cases) and attempts to disqualify information (131 cases). Compared to 2018, when 135 cases were recorded, the increase was 218%.

| Mariana Franco Ramos is a journalist collaborating to Agribusiness Watch. |

|| Bruno Stankevicius Bassi is the project coordinator of the observatory. ||

Cover Illustration (Renato Aroeira/De Olho nos Ruralistas): fifth report in the Bolsonaro Dossier series reveals a deliberate government policy to conceal environmental and land data in favor of private interests

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