Exclusive: Brazil's leading candidate would cut environmental fines - advisor

Nabhan Garcia (R), the head of farmers group, is seen next to Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker and presidential candidate of the Social Liberal Party (PSL) in Ribeirao Preto, Brazil April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcelo Teixeira

Thomson Reuters

By Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian farmers who break environmental laws in sensitive areas like the Amazon rainforest will face fewer fines for their infractions in a possible government of far-right front-running presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, his top agriculture advisor told Reuters on Tuesday.

Nabhan Garcia, a one-time congressman and long-time conservative leader in the agriculture sector and whose name is being floated as Bolsonaro's pick to be his agriculture minister, also confirmed plans to merge Brazil's environment and agriculture ministries.

"Yes, we have to merge the two. We need to reduce bureaucracy and give legal security to farmers," he told Reuters after a meeting with Bolsonaro's advisors in Rio de Janeiro hotel. "We have to finish this industry of fines, to end the persecution against rural producers in Brazil."

Brazil is home to about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, arguably nature's best defense against global warming, with the trees acting as absorbers of carbon dioxide. The destruction of the forest is caused primarily by illegal ranching, logging and farming.

The ability of Ibama, Brazil's environmental protection agency, to fine those who break environmental laws is one of the government's best defenses against the destruction of its forested lands, stoking fears that a Bolsonaro government would mean that deforestation would spike.

Ibama did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bolsonaro, who won 46 percent votes in last Sunday's first-round ballot, looks likely to become the next president of Latin America's largest economy. He faces leftist Fernando Haddad in an Oct. 28 runoff vote. Haddad took 29 percent the votes this past weekend.

Bolsonaro has said he is opposed to Brazil creating any more environmental reserves or areas set aside for the country's indigenous people. He has also said that he would exit the Paris Agreement climate deal due to disagreements over how the Amazon should be protected.

Garcia, a farmer who heads UDR, a right-wing rural political movement, said that a Bolsonaro administration would boost financial resources to farmers for the country's state-run development bank, BNDES.

"Instead of putting money into large meat packers, the BNDES should help rural producers," he said.

The advisor has traveled with Bolsonaro to the countryside in recent months, visiting top farming states like Mato Grosso and Goiás.

Garcia criticized the environment ministry, saying it is "at the service of non-governmental organizations and international interests."

(Writing by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Brad Brooks)

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