Environmental crime in neoliberalism

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By GERSON ALMEIDA*

The Bolsonaro government's commitment to destroying the environment in favor of the economic sector

The federal government's initiatives for the generalized dismantling of inspection and protection bodies for the national heritage, and the increasingly shameless action of illegal exploitation networks of all kinds, indicate a strong correlation of collaboration.

It is because of this collaboration between the Bolsonaro government and various criminal networks, which the corporate media insists on calling “businessmen” that we owe the acceleration of the exploitation of natural resources, the invasion of protected areas and demarcated lands for indigenous peoples and the rampant deforestation in the Amazon.

Still as a candidate for the presidency, Bolsonaro already announced that he would act to dismantle inspection and control bodies, especially in the environmental area. His statements had the explicit aim of building an alliance with spurious interest groups, always on the margins of legality. All of them perceived his election as an opportunity to put an end to the protection dam that, despite all the difficulties, represented the “National Environmental Protection System” (SISNAMA), built over many years of struggle.

The predator rush is great. In the first days of government, the dismissals of the state superintendents of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) began, and it was only a matter of time for all 27 existing superintendences to be replaced; the Secretariat for Climate Change and Forests was extinguished and the Brazilian Forestry Service was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. These are just a few examples of a huge list of initiatives meticulously thought out for a general dismantling.

The curious thing is that in order to carry out the weakening of the environmental control and inspection bodies, the management was largely militarized and the representation of civil society in the control instances drastically diminished. According to Transparência Brasil, in October 2020, there were 99 military personnel in commissioned positions in the bodies responsible for environmental policies. A single example illustrates the work in progress: Walter Mendes Magalhães Júnior, former commander of the well-known and violent ROTA, of the São Paulo military police, was appointed general coordinator of inspection at Ibama. In an investigation carried out by the PF, shortly after his appointment, he – as well as other peers – is attributed with issuing certificates that would attest to the regularity of exports of wood seized by American and European authorities, carried out by the company Tradelink Madeiras Ltda.

Clearly, the ongoing project is, from the State's management, to act strongly against the State's functions of regulating market action and to act diligently for the benefit of the most predatory sectors of capital. The discourse that tries to give legitimacy to the purest plunder is that of complete deregulation and the demand for total freedom for “market forces”, a euphemism used to mask the determination of neoliberal governments to transfer income and public assets to private control.

As everyone is aware that this government is based on fragile and democratically illegitimate foundations, there is an anxiety in not “wasting time” and consummating everything that is possible as quickly as possible, creating situations that are difficult to reverse later. There is a clear determination from these quarters that this government can pass, but its destructive work must remain a fact of life.

This project will result in an even more impoverished nation, but some will become “millionaire businessmen”, which is, for example, the almost reverent way in which the corporate media is referring to Aparecido Naves Júnior, arrested by the PF on the charge of having set fire to two Ibama helicopters, a typical crime of the most powerful militias in Latin America. The “businessman” became a “millionaire” with illegal mining on Yanomami lands.

Unlike the films in the afternoon session, in neoliberal governments such as Bolsonaro’s, there is no well-defined border separating the representatives of the State, responsible for enforcing the laws (the good guys), and the interests of those interested in circumventing them ( the bad guys). The fading of this frontier has generated authorizations for the export of wood without a license in Brazilian environmental management, the defense of automatic licensing for agribusiness, punishments and systematic constraints on Ibama employees for exercising their inspection obligations.

It remains to remember the emblematic case of Júlio Cezar Dutra Grillo, superintendent of Ibama in Minas Gerais, who “dared” to register that dams such as Brumadinho, if not diligently cared for, could pose a serious risk. In his words, “if someone is in charge of a risk management system, it breaks”. This statement cost him his exoneration and negligence resulted in one of the greatest environmental crimes in our history. The proper name is crime, because as it was possible to prevent and act, what happened cannot be classified as a disaster.

The setback in environmental protection policies in the country, whose symbol is the successive records of deforestation in the Amazon, should be seen as goals fulfilled by a government that actively acts against the law and leaves the way free for predatory actions. The Bolsonaro government has instituted a sort of “welfare state” for environmental criminals.

But this is not an outlier, however shocking. When talking about the moral issue nowadays, the sociologist Bauman draws attention to its inherent characteristic of “ambivalence”, and it would not be moral without a choice between good and evil” and it is for this reason that morality needs an ethical basis capable of guiding it. Ethics, still according to Bauman, would be “a code of laws that prescribes 'universally' correct behavior, that is, for all people at all times”.

The logic of neoliberalism does not involve any commitment to the notion of “universality”, of a common standard that is at least ideally accepted as necessary for all. By understanding “individual freedom” in a fundamentalist way, all regulation of social life comes to be seen as a limitation of individual freedom – the war against vaccines and the requirement for a vaccine passport demonstrate this well. In this way, neoliberal rationality cannot support the idea of ​​the common good, of collective interest.

The obscene acceleration of inequality demonstrates this divorce of neoliberals from the notion of the common good, which concentrates in the hands of just 2.153 billionaires a wealth equivalent to that of 4,6 billion people, about 60% of the world's population, according to a report by the Oxfam, January 2020.

Therefore, the effort of the Bolsonaro government to dismantle the regulatory, control and inspection bodies should not be understood as a political anomaly. Efforts in favor of the so-called “economic sector” express a broader social and economic logic, which dissociated “market interests” from any connection with the notion of “general interest”, which was the foundation of modernity. Neoliberals, therefore, act as true missionaries of inequality and do not miss an opportunity to glorify all kinds of abuse and deprivation as if they were development.

It remains for the critical conscience to rearticulate moral choices to an ethical standard of society that does not normalize exclusion, prejudices and obscene inequality, which involves conceiving the individual and society as non-excluding projects. Many things are necessary for this to happen and, among them, we need to stop treating the gangs that set fire to helicopters in the service of protecting natural resources and the most vulnerable populations, with deference, like “millionaires” and, yes, like the bandits that they are. .

*Gerson Almeida holds a master's degree in sociology from UFRGS and former secretary of the environment of Porto Alegre.

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