He was one of Jair Bolsonaro’s last truly “controversial” ministers. Ricardo Salles, head of the environment ministry since January 2019, announced his resignation on Wednesday 23 June. The latter had been in the hot seat for several weeks after being implicated in a case of illegal Amazon timber exports in May.
“You are part of this story, Ricardo Salles. The marriage between agriculture and the environment is almost perfect. Well done “, said the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, congratulating the now former minister, on the eve of his resignation.
In a brief speech, Mr. Salles announced his departure, citing personal reasons, and stressed that he had followed the directions of the government during his tenure, namely, to aim “The balance between economic development and environmental protection”.
The 46-year-old lawyer is the premier environment minister accused of environmental crimes. On May 19, the federal police raided its offices, at the request of the judge of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), Alexandre de Moraes. The former minister and ten officials in his administration are accused of promoting a “Major transnational criminal network for facilitating the smuggling of timber”, according to the judge.
“The bête noire of NGOs”
In June, Mr. Salles was targeted by a second investigation. He is accused of interference in the context of Operation “Handroanthus”, which resulted in the record seizure of 226,763 cubic meters of wood, illegally extracted in the Amazon, in December 2020.
Part of the ideological wing of the far-right government, M. Salles will be replaced by Joaquim Alvaro Pereira Leite, current secretary for the Amazon and environmental services in the ministry. The appointment of this former advisor to the Brazilian Rural Society, an organization representing the interests of agribusiness, provoked strong reactions from the opposition.
“The fall of Salles is not the end of the fight: his successor is part of the lobby of the agribusiness and of this anti-environment government which will continue the ravages in progress”, tweeted MP Alessandro Molon (Brazilian Socialist Party), leader of the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies. The exit of the “bête noire of NGOs” does not augur a drastic change according to environmental defenders. This resignation “Does not mean, however, that the Bolsonaro government is going to put an end to its harmful environmental projects”, reacted Greenpeace. “Salles is the symptom, not the disease”, added the Brazilian NGO collective Climate Observatory.
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