RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In an effort to get more votes and win reelection, the governor of the Brazilian state of Rondonia on Friday revoked the protection of a large swath of Amazon forest.
Marcos Rocha, a staunch ally of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, signed a decree that abolished the Soldado da Borracha Ecological Station, which is 1,790 square kilometers (691 square miles).
In the decree, Rocha stated that the goal was to legalize about 760 land grabbers, from illegal loggers to cattle ranchers, inside the preserved area. By law, a designated ecological station forbids economic activity and human occupation.
The measure, likely to be challenged in court, opens the door for increased deforestation in the area, which is about twice the size of New York City. It also underscores that, while many people internationally and in Brazil want to protect the Amazon, many Amazon dwellers are in favor of development and believe it’s for them to decide.
“Even if it is revoked, this measure will have consequences,” Indigenous leader Txai Suruí told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It will make it more difficult to expel the invaders. They will destroy what’s left.”
Suruí added that the race has become a competition for whoever is closer to Bolsonaro.
In June, a police investigation inside the protected area identified a criminal organization that alone has deforested 96 square kilometers (37 square miles). About 39% of the area has been deforested, according to the latest state figures.
Rocha, a military police officer, is in a tight race against Sen. Marcos Rogério, another close Bolsonaro’s ally. In Congress, the lawmaker earned the nickname “pitbull” for his fierce defense of Bolsonaro during an inquiry commission that investigated corruption and negligence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rondonia state, which was developed and largely deforested by settlers of European descent in the 1970s and 1980s, is one of the most loyal strongholds of Bolsonaro, who also faces a run-off on Sunday against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Brazilians go the poll on Sunday, the runoff for races in which no candidate garnered a majority during the first round of voting earlier this month.
In the first round, Rocha got 39% compared to 37% for Rogerio.
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