one has been arrested or even indicted a year after ‘Fire Day,’
an attack organized by ranchers and businessmen from Novo Progresso,
which tripled fires in southwest Pará state on August 10-11, 2019.
Civil (State) Police and the Federal Police investigations have yet
to point out who is responsible for the incident, which was organized
on a WhatsApp group and included a ‘kitty’ to buy fuel and hire
bikers to spread the flames, as detailed by Repórter Brasil in
October last year.
devastation, which in 2019 reached record levels for the last decade,
aroused worldwide commotion and mobilized heads of state to defend
the forest. This year, burning season is just beginning in the
world’s largest tropical forest, but satellite data already show
that fires have increased over last year.
to the Science Director of the Amazon Environmental Research
Institute (IPAM), Ane Alencar, one of the drivers for successive
increases in forest destruction is the lack of punishment. “Impunity
is the cancer that spreads deforestation and fire in the Amazon.”
first hypothesis investigated by both Civil and Federal Police is
that the ‘Fire Day’ was organized by businessmen and ranchers
from Novo Progresso, who were questioned and had their documents,
cell phones, and computers seized during Federal Police’s ‘Pact
of Fire’ operation.
those investigated is the president of the Union of Rural Producers,
Agamenon Menezes. Cattle ranchers’ pressure target reserve areas
such as the Jamanxim National Forest, which they want for pastures.
There are 618,000 cattle heads in Novo Progresso alone – with a
population of 25,000.
the investigation conducted by Civil Police in Novo Progresso states
that the fire on that August weekend was spread by dry weather. In
addition, the Police understood that such fires happen every year.
Despite being under confidential procedures, Repórter Brasil learned
from police officers that the investigation does not point to any
suspects or authors.
Police, in turn, did not finish the forensic analysis of the
equipment seized in operation ‘Pact of Fire.’ The investigation
was not finished either. “We depend on the analysis of the media’s
content. Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed everything,”
explains Sérgio Pimenta, the sheriff in charge of the investigation.
last year, information regarding the Federal Police investigation has
not been given to the Federal Prosecution Service. The standard
procedure is for information to be shared with the prosecutors every
three months. They feel discouraged, Repórter Brasil found out. “If
no steps are taken in this investigation for so long, it will be
clear that it was not a priority,” says one of the sources
interviewed by Repórter Brasil, who requested anonymity.
Civil Police investigation, in turn, was sent to the Judiciary and
the Public Prosecution Service – without pointing out any authors.
The Prosecution stated in a note that it requested that the records
be returned to the police to take “further and necessary action for
a better analysis of the facts,” but without detailing what that
action was and claiming that the procedures are confidential.
fact that hindered the investigations, according to police officers
heard privately by Repórter Brasil, is that local ranchers and
businessmen are well connected with deputies and senators from Pará,
especially those who are part of the so-called ruralist caucus. They
also have communication channels to the top federal government
officials. Another fact that also contributed to delay investigations
was a conflict between civil and federal police in Pará.
conflict started when three federal police officers were arrested by
civil and military police (two distinct state police forces) in Novo
Progresso. They spent a night at the police precinct until they were
properly identified – in November 2018. The arrest caused the
dismissal of a local Civil Police sheriff.
dispute became fiercer when sheriff Vicente Gomes, head of the Civil
Police Superintendence of Tapajós, determined that the Novo
Progresso police should not pass the statements taken under the ‘Fire
Day’ investigation on to the Federal Police.
and other local authorities are members of one of the WhatsApp groups
where the ‘Fire Day’ would have been organized, called ‘Jornal
A Voz da Verdade’ (The Voice of the Truth Newspaper) with 256
members. The details of the arson, however, were organized in a
smaller group called ‘Sertão,’ with 70 members and without
police officers, as revealed by Repórter Brasil. When the report was
published, Gomes said he would not comment.
regarding ‘Fire day’ also revealed that the Civil Police
precincts in Novo Progresso and Castelo dos Sonhos (an Altamira
district near Novo Progresso) are not working in synch. While Novo
Progresso investigators took testimonies from influential ranchers
and businessmen in the region, officers in Castelo dos Sonhos
arrested three landless rural workers on the grounds that they were
suspected of being responsible for the coordinated arson attacks in
three landless rural workers were in jail for 50 days, and a court
order released them after Repórter Brasil questioned the reasons for
their arrest. One of the prisoners denounced the presence of illegal
loggers in the settlement where they lived. “When the police
arrived at my house, I thought they’d come to arrest the loggers,
but they arrested me instead,” she told Repórter Brasil, in an
interview published in October 2019.
region affected by ‘Fire Day’ involved areas in the towns of Novo
Progresso, Altamira, São Félix do Xingu, and Itaituba. That
weekend, the satellites of the National Institute for Space Research
(Inpe) detected 431 fire spots in the areas of the four towns, which
represented 39% of the 3,026 fire spots recorded across Brazil over
the weekend. The most affected areas were the Jamanxim National
Forest and the Nascentes Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve.
agreement between ranchers and loggers that resulted in ‘Fire Day’
was revealed on August 5, 2019 by journalist Adécio Piran, from
Pará-based news website Folha do Progresso. After publication, Piran
left town for two months because of the death threats he received. He
has been Novo Progresso’s Environment Secretary since May.
recent decades, Brazil had managed to reduce the area deforested in
the Amazon during dry season to around 5,000 square kilometers. In
the last cycle (August 2018-July 2019), 10,000 square kilometers were
destroyed. According to Ipam, 15,000 square kilometers are expected
to be destroyed between August 2019 and July this year, says Ipam’s
science director Ane Alencar. “That is a reflection of the feeling
of impunity that we are experiencing in this government,” he says.
For her, in addition to impunity, another factor behind the steady increase in Amazon destruction is that the criminals who burn it and deforest it began to feel encouraged by discourses and actions stressed since President Jair Bolsonaro’s election.