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According to government data, the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest in 2020 rose 9.5 percent from a year earlier.
According to official data from the government issued on Monday, deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest reached a 12-year high in 2020, with the levels of areas destroyed either by mining, logging, or agricultural interests soaring since President Jair Bolsonaro took office and weakened the work of environmental enforcement agencies.
The latest annual destruction is substantially increased from the 7,536sq km deforested in 2018 before Bolsonaro took office.
While environmentalists blamed the government for the rise, federal officials hailed the figures as a sign of progress in fighting deforestation, as the increase was far lower than the 34 percent increase recorded in 2019.
"While we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit," Vice President Hamilton Mourao told reporters at Inpe headquarters in the Sao Paulo satellite city of Sao Jose dos Campos.
Bolsonaro has weakened the environmental enforcement agency Ibama and called for introducing more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon region, claiming it will lift the region out of poverty. Environmental advocates said this had emboldened illegal ranchers, miners, and land grabbers to clear the forest.
"The PRODES figures show that Bolsonaro's plan worked. They reflect the result of a successful initiative to annihilate the capacity of the Brazilian State and the inspection bodies to take care of our forests and fight crime in the Amazon," the Brazilian non-governmental organization Climate Observatory said in a statement.
The president's primary policy response to the global outcry about the Amazon destruction has been sent in the military, who were first deployed in 2019 and are expected to remain in the region fighting deforestation and forest fires through April 2021.
European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron have fiercely criticized Brazil, arguing it is not doing enough to protect the forest. Joe Biden's victory in the United States presidential election has raised the possibility that the U.S. will also increase Brazil's pressure on the rainforest.
During one of his presidential debates, Biden expressed that Brazil should be helped financially to assist efforts to stop deforestation and then went on to threaten economic consequences against the Latin American nation if it did not. The comment drew an angry response from Bolsonaro, who said it was a threat against Brazil's sovereignty.