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Top Brazil official says no halt to Amazon protections

The environment ministry had previously said the economy ministry had blocked over $11 million for environmental protection, a move that would have demobilized over 1,300 firefighters, hundreds of inspection agents, six helicopters and 10 planes.

President Jair Bolsonaro and Salles face criticism in Brazil and abroad because of their calls to develop the Amazon as fires and deforestation rise in the region. The prospect of a halt to the environment ministry’s protective efforts in the Amazon and the ecologically important Pantanal wetlands sparked criticism from environmental advocates and Mourão, who was appointed by Bolsonaro as the coordinator of a military-led effort to fight illegal burning and unauthorized development in the Amazon.

Mourão told reporters in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, that no operations would be stopped despite Salles’ statement.

“Let us hope he thinks it over and comes to the conclusion that he did not take the best line of action,” the vice president said.

Bolsonaro put the army in charge of protecting the rainforest in May, following international demands for action after a string of massive wildfires in the Amazon.

Instead, The Associated Press has found, the operation dubbed “Green Brazil 2” has had the opposite effect. Under military command, Brazil’s once-effective but recently declining investigation and prosecution of rainforest destruction by ranchers, farmers and miners came to a virtual halt, even as this year’s burning season picked up.

The Brazilian army appears to be focusing on dozens of small road-and-bridge-building projects that allow exports to flow faster to ports and ease access to protected areas, opening the rainforest to further exploitation. In the meantime, there have been no major raids against illegal activity since Bolsonaro required military approval for them several months ago, according to public officials, reporting from the area and interviews with nine current and former members of Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency.

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