The fight for Brazil's Amazon
18:10 - Source: BEME
CNN  — 

Brazil has fired the head of a government agency that found a steep rise in deforestation in the Amazon, following a public spat with far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Ricardo Galvão, the director of Brazil’s National Space and Research Institute (INPE), said he was terminated on Friday after defending satellite data that showed deforestation was 88% higher in June compared to a year ago.

Galvão said in a video statement on Facebook that the agency let him go after a meeting with Brazil’s Minister of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications, Marcos Pontes.

He added that the scientific institute would continue to operate and it would now be up to Pontes to decide on his successor. An advisor to Pontes confirmed Galvão’s comments to state news agency Agencia Brasil.

Bolsonaro claims the data is wrong

The scientist butted heads with Bolsonaro after the damning satellite data was released earlier in June, turning the international spotlight on the President’s controversial plans to open up the world’s largest rainforest to industry.

Bolsonaro called the INPE’s findings “lies” and said they were harmful for trade negotiations, according to Agencia Brasil.

But Galvão stood firm, reaffirming the validity of his scientific institute, which has been monitoring the country’s forests since the 1970s. He said the president had made “inappropriate accusations [of] people of the highest level of Brazilian science,” in an interview with newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.

CNN contacted the Brazilian government for comment but has not received a response.

Brazil’s opposition leader in the lower house of Congress, Alessandro Molon, said in a tweet that Galvão “was attacked by the president and the environment minister for monitoring deforestation in the Amazon,” adding that Bolsonaro wanted to “hide under his lies.”

Controversial environmental policies

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, took office in January on the heels of a campaign pledging to restore the country’s economy by exploring the Amazon’s economic potential.

Brazil is home to two-thirds of the Amazon, and during the first few months of Bolsonaro’s presidency, the rate of rainforest destruction remained stable, according to the INPE. But it began to soar in May and June, the agency said.

Some 769.1 square kilometers were lost in June, six months after Bolsonaro took power – a stark increase from the 488.4 square kilometers lost in the same month the previous year, according to the INPE. It equates to an area larger than one and a half soccer fields, being destroyed every minute of every day.