The armed forces, alongside environmental officials, police and other government agencies, began with an operation in a national forest in Rondonia state, near the Bolivian border, Vice President Hamilton Mourao said at a news conference.
President Jair Bolsonaro authorized the deployment, sending in troops three months earlier than in 2019, when Amazon fires grabbed global headlines.
“We don’t want to be labeled by the rest of the world as an environmental villain,” Mourao said.
Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said the armed forces are establishing bases in three Amazon cities, with 3,800 troops mobilized against illegal logging and other crimes, at an initial operational cost of 60 million reais ($10 million).
Azevedo said each base was also assigned five specialists in chemical warfare to help avoid spreading the novel coronavirus through the operations.
The military is currently authorized for deployment for 30 days ending June 10. That could be extended with the approach of the dry season, when forest fires generally spread, and the military will seek to assist in fire prevention, Mourao said.
“We have no doubt this problem will continue to exist,” he said. “We don’t consider this the best job for the armed forces, to be always engaged in this type of action, but unfortunately it’s the means we have to limit these crimes from happening.”
The armed forces will continue to be used until environmental agencies, like the main enforcement agency Ibama, increase their staff, Mourao said. An economic downturn and budget restrictions have prevented Ibama from hiring new agents, thinning its ranks.