Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s Controversial Environment Minister, Resigns Amid Investigation into Amazon’s Illegal Logging

Salles’s tenure as minister since 2019 has been marked by high rates of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and a series of inquiries into alleged irregularities, which have led to growing public pressure for him to step down.

“I understand that Brazil, throughout this year and next year, in terms of international integration and also in the national agenda, must have a very strong union of interests, desires and efforts “Salles said at a press conference on Wednesday. “And to make it as good as possible, I submitted my resignation request to the president, which was granted to me.”

This month, Brazil’s Supreme Court opened an investigation into allegations that Salles obstructed a federal police investigation into illegal logging in the Amazon. The court order came after former Amazonas state federal police chief Alexandre Saraiva filed a complaint against Salles, alleging he disrupted the investigation that led to the more large seizure of illegal timber in Brazil.

Salles is under investigation for administrative plea, obstructing environmental inspection and obstructing investigation of a criminal offense involving a criminal organization.

The country’s federal police are also investigating allegations that he used his position to weaken inspections of timber exports by IBAMA, the country’s environmental agency.

Salles denies any wrongdoing.

Salles and President Jair Bolsonaro have come under heavy criticism for their environmental policies. For a time, Brazil was seen as a model for the world in some environmental indicators, with deforestation and carbon emissions falling in the 2000s and early 2010. But these trends were reversed under Bolsonaro. , deforestation and emissions increasing since taking office in 2019.
Less than a month before Salles took office in 2019, he was found guilty of altering environmental maps for the benefit of mining companies during his tenure as Sao Paulo’s environmental secretary in 2016.

Since the appointment of Salles, the federal government has eliminated several responsibilities under the Ministry of the Environment.

And as Covid-19 spread last year, Salles was infamous in April advising Bolsonaro to use the pandemic to weaken environmental regulations.

“We have to make an effort on our side here, while we are at this moment of tranquility in terms of media coverage, because he is only talking about Covid, and let the herd of cattle run and change all the rules and simplifying standards , “Salles said in the recording.

In September, the government attempted to revoke key regulations protecting the country’s tropical mangroves from commercial development – a move championed by Salles, saying the protective legislation “completely suffocates the economic sector.”

Following the resignation of Salles on Wednesday, President Bolsonaro has appointed Joaquim Alvaro Pereira Leite as Brazil’s new Minister of the Environment. Leite was a member of the Brazilian Rural Society and worked as Secretary of the Ministry of Environment at the Secretariat of Amazonia and Environmental Services since September 2020.

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