(CNN)The coronavirus pandemic has slowed the global economy, but deforestation in the Amazon is speeding up. While most of Brazil's major businesses remain shuttered under lockdowns and quarantine measures, many believe illegal loggers and miners continue to operate in the area with little to no regulation.
Deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating despite coronavirus
Deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest increased by nearly 64% in April this year, compared to the same month last year, shows data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Last month alone, more than 156 square miles (405.6 square kilometers) of rainforest were destroyed -- a vast swath more than double the size of Washington, DC.
The first trimester of 2020 had already seen a more than 50% increase in deforestation compared to last year, according to INPE data.
More than 3,000 soldiers from the Brazilian Armed Forces have been deployed to the Amazon, along with environmental officials, to help curb illegal logging and other criminal activities that could impact the rainforest, according to the Defense Ministry.
President Jair Bolsonaro has previously faced global criticism and condemnation for the deforestation occurring under his watch. The far-right and pro-business president has vowed to explore the rainforest's economic potential.
Last year, after mass fires consumed large swaths of the rainforest, Bolsonaro was accused of incentivizing the activity of illegal ranchers, miners and loggers, many of whom use fire as a quick way to cut down trees to clear room for crops and cattle grazing. By November 2019, the deforestation rate in the Amazon had risen to its highest level in more than a decade.
"We are well on track for another record year for deforestation and fires in the Amazon," Adriana Charoux, an Amazon campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil said in a recent press statement. "In the midst of the pandemic, Bolsonaro is doubling down on actions that would effectively disintegrate indigenous territories and lead to more deforestation for meat production.
One of the measures Bolsonaro is pushing for now is Provisional Measure 910 (MP 910), a law which could allow so-called "land grabbers" who illegally invaded public land from 2011 to 2018 to establish legal ownership. The measure was scheduled to be voted in Congress on Wednesday, but didn't have a quorum.
The hashtag #NoMP910 trended in Brazil Wednesday, with environmentalists and Brazilians in general protesting the vote. "It's our land, territory, place. Our environment is not a political-electoral bargaining chip," indigenous activist Mayalú Txucarramãe Tweeted on her personal account. "Stop the genocide and ecocide."
Bolsonaro has frequently criticized the amount of Amazon land officially demarcated as indigenous territory as excessive. During an event at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia last February, Bolsonaro said it was "abusive" for such a large portion of territory to be occupied by the regional tribes leaving "its goods hidden forever."
About 13% of Brazil is indigenous land, mostly in the Amazon. That land is officially reserved for the country's 900,000 indigenous people, which represents less than 0.5% of the country's population.
Activists worry that increasing commercial activity in the Amazon also carries a higher risk that outsiders will carry contagious diseases into indigenous communities -- including the coronavirus.
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