Demoted Amazon police chief turns to song to save the rainforest

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Alexandre Saraiva, a police chief in Brazil’s Amazon region for a decade, was discharged in January, a day after he led the country’s largest seizure of illegal lumber that he says is stripping the world’s largest rainforest.

Dispatched to a backwater job by President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, Saraiva has turned to song to urge rich countries to stop buying illegally harvested Amazon hardwood.

In a duet with a singer known as Esther, he levels his charges in “SOS AMAZON https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olK6m6NumE4,” with lyrics by Cristina Saraiva. It was released on social media as nations gather at the United Nations climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow.

“The Earth bleeds and burns. The fire flies and kills. I can’t lie and rest. I can’t just stay still,” he sings in a music video as images show piles of logs in forest clearings ready for shipment down Amazon river tributaries.

It also shows Brazil’s former Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, who resigned in June amid a criminal investigation into whether he obstructed a federal police probe of illegal logging.

Saraiva was relegated to a police job several thousand miles from the Amazon after calling for a probe into the role of Salles in the illegal wood trade.

Saraiva is calling for tougher European Union regulations

on the entry of illegal timber, and better auditing. He estimated that 90% of export papers are forged to hide their origin.

The EU is the main buyer of illegal timber from the Amazon due to lenient enforcement, prompting dangerous criminal organizations to tap a market estimated by Interpol at $152 billion a year, he said.

“With political will, it is possible to put an end to the deforestation of the Amazon in six months,” he told Reuters.

Environmental agencies also need to be strengthened after Bolsonaro defunded them in a push for more mining and commercial farming in the Amazon region, Saraiva added.

“The Amazon is ours, Brazilian,” he said, repeating Bolsonaro’s frequent defense of national sovereignty when dismissing European criticism of his environmental policies.

“But the obligation to preserve the Amazon is also ours.” Saraiva added. “And the international community needs to do its part and stop acquiring illegal Brazilian timber.”

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Sebastian Rocandio for Reuters TV; Editing by Brad Haynes and Richard Chang)

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