Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, researcher from Inpa (National Institute for Research in the Amazon) Philip M. Fearnside was the target of xenophobic attacks during a tumultuous public hearing on the environmental licensing for paving the BR-319, on Monday ( 27) at night in Manaus.
Priority work of President Jair Bolsonaro (no party), the highway between Manaus and Porto Velho is the only land connection between the capital of Amazonas and the center-south of the country. On the other hand, the project has been identified by the American ecologist and other specialists as the greatest current threat to the Amazon, as it makes possible the illegal occupation and deforestation of an immense untouched area of forest.
“How can a guy from the United States come here? How can the guy come from there and say what I’m going to do at my house. This house is ours. If we want to cut down all the trees, we cut them down. It’s ours,” said Sérgio Kruke, leader of the Amazonas Conservative Movement, into the microphone and to applause.
The Pocketnarista’s attack occurred shortly after Fearnside read a text in which he harshly criticizes the work. For the ecologist, paving the BR-319 has no economic justification and threatens an immense block of forest responsible for maintaining the supply of water vapor to São Paulo. In other words, deforestation there will reduce rainfall in the Southeast, according to him.
The American researcher stated that the Environmental Impact Study (EIA), which considers the work viable, focuses on the strip along the road’s layout and minimizes broader impacts, such as the construction of a state highway that would cut the interfluve between the rivers. Madeira and Purus, an area without deforestation.
Fearnside, 74, has lived in the Amazon for 45 years. In 2007, he was one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with thousands of other scientists from the IPCC, the UN climate panel, in recognition of warnings about global warming. He is one of the most cited researchers worldwide in academic articles on climate change.
To defend paving, Kruke, 41, cited no study. Instead, he claimed that a truck driver lost two tires last week due to poor road conditions. On social networks, he often posts photos alongside the stars of pocketbookism, including the president himself. In 2020, he was a candidate for councilor for the PRTB —the acronym of the vice president, Hamilton Mourão— and obtained 42 votes.
Fearnside’s intervention was interrupted by the president of the hearing, IBAMA analyst Rodrigo Herles, for having exceeded the allotted time. But he did not intervene in the xenophobic speech of the Pocketnarist and even thanked him: “Thank you for the collaboration within the time, thank you very much”.
The hearing, at a convention center, was preceded by a war of injunctions. In mid-afternoon on Monday, the Federal Court suspended, at the request of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), the holding of the event, accepting the argument of sanitary risk due to the Covid-19 epidemic and that there was a lack of planning to ensure a broad participation.
Despite the decision, the hearing was not demobilized by Ibama, while the Dnit (National Department of Transport Infrastructure) filed an appeal at the Federal Court of the 1st Region, in Brasília. The organization even distributed food to those who attended and chose to wait —the start was scheduled for 18:00.
At 9:18 pm, judge Italo Mendes signed an injunction authorizing the hearing to be held in Manaus and in three other cities in the region of influence of the BR-319. The event started then.
Contrary to the holding of the hearing, the BR-319 Observatory, which brings together entities such as the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab) and the Institute for Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Amazon (Idesam), decided not to participate in the event, citing risks to health because of the epidemic.
“The Public Prosecutor’s Office respects and accepts the court’s decision, but is concerned about the next steps in the licensing process. This is because IBAMA itself can understand that the study was not sufficiently discussed and demand new public hearings. Including because, at yesterday’s hearing, the quorum was very reduced”, says the Attorney of the Republic Rafael Rocha, of the MPF in Amazonas. “Our concern is that, with these comings and goings, licensing takes longer.”
The focus of the hearings and the EIA is the so-called Stretch of the Middle, with 405.7 km of unpaved road. The paving proposal is in the initial licensing phase (prior licensing), with the EIA and the Environmental Impact Report (EIA/Rima) under analysis by the licensing agency, Ibama.
For this process, however, Ibama did not activate its Transport Coordination (Cotra), as has been the custom for the environmental licensing of highways.
When questioned, the agency informed, via advisory, that it had chosen “a multidisciplinary technical team with more than ten years of experience at Ibama, with broad participation in licensing procedures throughout the country.”
In a telephone interview, the secretary of Support for Environmental Licensing and Expropriation of the Civil House’s Investment Partnership Program, Rose Hofmann, stated that, in addition to the four face-to-face public hearings, there will be consultations with indigenous communities, as yet undated. She assured that any prior license to pave BR-319 will only come out after completing this step.
Regarding the increase in deforestation and land grabbing due to the highway, which is already taking place in the Realidade (AM) region, Hofmann stated that the environmental licensing takes this impact into account.
“What we try to differentiate in the debates is what can be used as a condition by Dnit”, says the secretary. “There is a difference between which impacts need to be managed in the environmental licensing, focused on the project, and which are the needs that need to be addressed via reinforcement of territorial governance.”
Asked about governance amidst the increase in deforestation, especially in the south of Amazonas, and the drop in the application of fines by Ibama, she said she is optimistic about the “structuring actions” to combat the devastation. The secretary cited state inspection agencies, the Federal Highway Police and the Federal Police as future responsible for the permanent inspection of the highway.
On the insults suffered by Fearnside, the secretary, who was present at the hearing, stated that “the hearing is recorded and available on YouTube. Any participant who has been offended can seek action in this regard.”