Brazilian environmental groups on Tuesday blasted President Jair Bolsonaro's environment minister after he dismissed the murdered Amazon rain forest defender Chico Mendes as irrelevant.
I don't know Chico Mendes, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles told journalists on an interview show late Monday night, when asked about the famous Brazilian rubber tapper, union leader and environmentalist who was murdered in 1988.
As environment minister, Salles oversees the Instituto Chico Mendes, which is named after the environmental advocate and oversees Brazil's protected conservation areas.
Bolsonaro downplayed environmental concerns during his 2018 far-right presidential campaign, threatening to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement on climate change and advocating more mining and economic development in the Amazon rainforest.
Salles told interviewers on TV show Roda Viva that he hears contradictory accounts about Mendes' life, saying environmentalists praise his work while local farmers claim he used the rubber tappers to advance his own interests.
It is irrelevant. What difference does it make who Chico Mendes is at the moment? Salles said.
His comments fueled criticism of the administration's stance, which environmentalists say is excessively pro-business and farm interests.
Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao sought to downplay Salles' comments. Chico Mendes is part of Brazil's history in the defense of the environment, he said. It's history, just like other figures that there have been in our history.
Marina Silva, a former environment minister who organized alongside Mendes as a teenager in the state of Acre, said Salles is misinformed about the activist.
Despite the ignorance of Salles, Chico's struggle lives on! she wrote on Twitter.
Salles also confirmed that he would travel to the Amazon for the first time this week. His press office could not immediately clarify if it was his first visit as minister or his first-ever trip to the region.