Police case in the forest

Image: Valeria Podes


The Bolsonaro government shows its rejection of the cause of the environment and its systematic adherence to the cover-up of the facts

The delegate who, until 15/4/2021, held the position of Superintendent of the Federal Police in the state of Amazonas publicly stated that he had gathered evidence that loggers falsified documents and gave a legal appearance to stolen wood stocks on illegal public lands. The press had already shown, days before, the landing of the Minister of the Environment at the scene of the alleged crime. He then sought to stage great administrative activity, including clothing resources that intended to suggest greater intimacy with the jungle than with the São Paulo business world. And he said, contrary to police investigations, there is “a presumption that there is a connection between the origin of the lot and the documents that are listed there.”[I]. Regarding this intervention by external forces in an investigation under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, the PF delegate superintendent, in a television interview, evoked the Palermo Convention[ii], according to which it is the nature of criminal organizations to infiltrate within the State[iii]. He was removed from office.

It was not the first time that, in the current government, employees are penalized when carrying out the function of enforcing the laws. In the field of the environment, the inhibition of those who apply the law has become, since 2019 – this is what the associations of civil servants say – a rule[iv]. Behold, after two years of consecutive signs of government encouragement to transgressions of environmental norms, the consideration of the Vice President of the Republic appears, for whom the Minister of the Environment, "extremely articulate", has an "economist" view of the environment[v]. What would the General understand by “economism”?

By declaring that the investigated agents should not be considered companies, but rather a “criminal organization”, the Federal Police delegate himself, now removed from office, stated that he feared that an undue “demonization” of the timber sector could contribute to increasing deforestation illegal. What concerned him, therefore, was not only respect for the law, but also the economy – the logging company, in this case. Economy, yes, but within the law – that's what would justify your crime report sent to the STF. However, by evoking the term “economism” in the episode of seizure of illegal wood in illegal public land, what the Vice President suggests is that the “extremely articulate” Minister places the economy above the law. The General would thus be joining all the media, civil society organizations and civil servants' associations that have been pointing out, for a long time, evidence of government actions to dismantle public agencies for the protection of the environment. Consideration of it would seem to differ only in adding a comprehensive sense to it; namely, the Minister runs over the law, but is articulate.

But it is possible that the Vice President was also referring to another type of economism – one that places the economy above all the environmental, cultural and diplomatic dimensions that have always motivated those who resist the predatory occupation of the Amazon; not to mention the same type of economicism by which the government justifies that hundreds of thousands of deaths in the pandemic are not a sufficient reason to take preventive measures, claiming that they could harm the progress of business.

Indeed, economism, applied both inside and outside the law, was diagnosed throughout the literature on the processes of occupation of the Amazon by logics and interests that have always threatened the existence of the peoples and communities that inhabit there and that have fought there for centuries , to protect the integrity of the forest.

In his classic text on the economicist fallacy[vi], Karl Polanyi points out the logical error of those who reduce the human economy to its mercantile form, who apply the concept of market to all economic phenomena; that extend the logic of scarcity to all fields of validity of a relationship between means and social ends. Other authors add to the repertoire of this error those who apply a specific institutional form of market – the so-called “mechanical market” – to situations in which other forms of market are in force. This is the case, for example, of the so-called market-encounter, very common in Amazonian communities. In it, agents are bound by a voluntary relationship that determines them mutually, engaging more in the exchange itself than in their interests, unlike the mechanical market that would connect them by a relationship external to its terms, guided by interest and the desire to money[vii].

Desire for money and immediate interest are, of course, the motivations of the agents of illegal deforestation now under investigation, as well as the politicians who represent them. In turn, attention is drawn to the fact that the removal of the PF superintendent took place simultaneously with the sending, on the eve of the international summit on climate, of a letter from the president of the Brazilian republic to the president of the USA, in which the former says intend to reduce “the appeal of illegal activities unequivocally and concomitantly with repression”[viii]. Now, the argument contained in this letter curiously coincides with that adopted by the Federal Police superintendent who had been removed. It is certainly not the first time that, in the discursive universe of this government, language is used to, in the terms of George Orwell's classic, defend assertions that cancel each other out, evoke logics that refute logic and try to change the past already well documented[ix].

While some discontented ruralists maintain that “the degree of illegality in the deforestation identified in the Amazon region destroys the country’s credibility”[X], with the removal of a delegate who has just documented the long-known relationship between deforestation and notary robbery, the government does not hesitate to expose to the world, on the eve of an international climate meeting, its rejection of the cause of the environment and its support systematic concealment of facts. On this occasion, as warned by chief Raoni[xi], the government spares no shame in extending the reach of this operation to the diplomatic spheres.

* Henri Acselrad is a professor at the Institute of Research and Urban and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IPPUR/UFRJ)


[I]  F. Maisonnave, "After controversy with PF, Salles meets with businessmen and waves with the release of wood in PA”, Folha de São Paulo, 7/4/2021.

[ii] The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, also known as the Palermo Convention, defines organized crime as “(…) a structured group of three or more persons, existing for some time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious breaches or those set forth in the Convention, with the intention of obtaining, directly or indirectly, an economic or other material benefit” https://lfg.jusbrasil.com.br/noticias/1060739/definicao-de-crime-organizado-ea - convention-of-palermo

[iii] https://g1.globo.com/am/amazonas/noticia/2021/04/15/alexandre-saraiva-delegado-pf.ghtml First Vice-President of the Chamber, Marcelo Ramos, claimed, in turn, that Minister Salles was an “ally of criminals”. E. Sardinha, “Accused by the PF, Salles sees the fence close and turns the ball on the Esplanada”, https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/meio-ambiente/acusado-pela-pf-salles-ve-cerco -se-close-and-turn-a-ball-at-the-time-on-the-esplanade/

[iv] “Threats to institutions such as the STF, the press, public servants, traditional populations and ineffectiveness in confronting environmental crimes cannot be the keynote of a government that claims to be democratic”, Public note, Ascema Nacional repudiates threat from the President of the Republic and announces measures, November 2019. http://www.ascemanacional.org.br/nota-publica-ameaca-aos-servidores-publicos-da-area-ambiental/; “(…) in recent years, IBAMA and ICMBio have come under attack and suffer from the lack of structure, especially evidenced by the closing of units, blocking new tenders, destruction of environmental laws, interference by politicians allied with segments supervised by law , budget cuts, among others.”; Open letter from the Federal Environmental Agents of Brazil and other Ibama Servers, August 2019.

[v] Mourão says he hopes that the new head of the PF in the AM will act as a predecessor fired in a crisis, https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2021/04/mourao-diz-esperar-que-novo-chefe-da-pf-no-am-atue-como-antecessor-demitido-em-crise.shtml, 16/4/2021.

[vi] K. Polanyi, The Economist Fallacy, in Man's Subsistence and Related Essays, ed. Counterpoint, Rio de Janeiro, 2012, p. 47-62.

[vii] A. Berthoud, Marché rencontre et marché mécanique, Cahiers d'Economie Politique, Annee 1992 n. 20-21, p. 167-186

[viii] “In a letter to Biden, Bolsonaro asks for support for the US and promises to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030”, https://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2021/04/15/em-carta-a-biden-bolsonaro- promises-zero-illegal-deforestation-by-2030-and-asks-for-US-support.ghtml

[ix] George Orwell, 1984, Co. of Letters, SP. 2005.

[X] J. Chad, “Bolsonaro's letter to Biden was a 'missed opportunity', says former negotiator”, https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/jamil-chade/2021/04/16/carta-de- bolsonaro-for-biden-was-a-missed-opportunity-says-former-negotiator.htm

[xi] “Cacique Raoni tells Biden that Bolsonaro lies and asks to ignore him”, https://oglobo.globo.com/mundo/cacique-raoni-diz-biden-que-bolsonaro-mente-pede-para-ignora-lo -24974293

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