Amazon fires

Brazilian police closer to Amazon forest arsonists

One of the first suspects to be heard by the police was Agamenon Menezes, president of the farmers's union in Novo Progresso, in the state of Pará.

Image credit: Repórter Brasil

A Brazilian police investigation is making progress to find, and hopefully arrest, land-grabbers in Pará State who led a movement called Day of Fire, which made this year’s Amazon fire season the biggest one since 2010 and caused global commotion over the fate of the Amazon forest.

The Day of Fire movement raised funds for fuel in order to spread flames more efficiently and rapidly. The land-grabbers are supporters of the government and used the fire fest to signal their support for Bolsonaro’s destructive view of the Amazon.

Arsonists hired motorbikers to ride into roads skirting the forest in order to spread flammable fluids, which helped triple the number of fires in the region.

One of the first suspects to be heard by the police was Agamenon Menezes, president of the farmers’s union in Novo Progresso, in the state of Pará. On Tuesday 22 police seized computers and other personal belongings of the farming leader through an operation called “Pacto de Fogo” (“Pact of Fire”).

The police is also investigating a businessman called Ricardo de Nadai, owner of a farming store called Agropecuária Sertão. He is accused of creating a WhatsApp group called Sertão, where its 70 members would have made arrangements for the “Day of Fire”.

The secret of the day of fire was cracked on August 05 by journalist Adécio Piran, who works for the website Folha do Progresso. The journalist had to leave the city after breaking the story as he started to receive death threats. “The arsonists ruined my business as they managed to press the business community into withdrawing adverts from the website,” says Piran.

According to Repórter Brasil, an independent investigative journalism website, the people behind the fire are making investigations difficult thanks to their contacts within the higher echelons of the federal government and the so-called Bancada Ruralista, the parliamentary squad in Congress that defends the interests of agribusiness.

Still according to Repórter Brasil, one of the strongest representatives of the agrilobby with the federal government, Luiz Antônio Nabhan Garcia, attended a party in the region in early September. He was the spinner of a narrative that tried to shift the blame for the fires to indigenous people. Agamenon Menezes also attended the event.

According to public prosecutor, Paulo de Tarso Moreira de Oliveira, the goal of  the “Day of Fire” was to make environmental monitoring harder, since it is difficult to trace so many fires going on at the same time. “We have investigated whether local leaders teamed up with the arsonists in order to mask their authorship, since no number of inspectors can handle so many fire detection zones. To deny the existence of the Day of Fire is to blatantly ignore satellite information” says the prosecutor.

In August there was a spike of 196 percent of fires in the Amazon region, up to 31,000 fires compared with 10,000 fires in 2018 in the same period, with massive loss of wildlife. Repórter Brasil says that two months after the Day of Fire was ignited, southwest Pará is a picture of devastation, with charred swaths of forest along dirt roads that shoot from the highway.

Field reporters have also sent eye witness accounts of the destruction inside nature reserves such as Flona Jamanxim and Reserva Biológica Nascentes Serrado Cachimbo, which are right next to areas of intense livestock activity, illegal logging and clandestine mining.

And the fires keep raging on. Earlier this month, the capital of Amazonas state, Manaus, was shrouded in smoke coming from forest fires around the city. The media may not be ablaze with news stories about the fire any more, but the forest still is.

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