Brazil's President Michel Temer has signed an executive order relieving up to 60 percent of the environmental fines imposed on ranchers and agribusiness firms found guilty of illegal deforestation.
The measure was presented as an attempt to attract foreign investment. According to the Brazilian Institute of Environment, the total sum of pending fines amounts to about US$1.5 billion
The discounts will be applied on condition that the firms and ranchers agree to reinvest the amount discounted into conservation projects.
But environmental groups and opposition figures accused Temer of giving more concessions to the 200 legislators who represent the interests of the agribusiness sector in the lower chamber, known as the “bancada ruralista.”
The move comes just before the Brazilian lower house of Congress votes on corruption charges against Temer.
But a congressional committee rejected them last week and the lower house is expected to do the same.
The plenary session vote is expected on Wednesday.
Temer survived an earlier corruption charge in the lower house in August in connection with the same graft scheme in which prosecutors accused him of arranging to receive a total of US$11.8 million in bribes from the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA. He denies any wrongdoing.
The discount decree was signed less than a week after the president also granted the private sector crucial modifications to the legislation fighting modern slavery in the country
The new law, sought by Brazil’s powerful farm lobby, would derail enforcement efforts that have freed 50,000 workers from slavery-like conditions since 1995, according to federal prosecutors and labor inspectors.
Responding to the criticism, President Michel Temer said on Friday the decree would be modified but not revoked.
Restriction of freedom will only refer to the use of force or armed guards against the workers therefore impeding them from leaving the workplace.
Temer was also severely criticized in August for another executive order to reduce the surface of a natural reserve located in the middle of the Amazon forest by about 46,000 square kilometers.
But the government was forced to backdown and revoked the law which would have opened the zone to logging, mining and agricultural use.