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Marcos Pontes says of the lack of resources to monitor the Cerrado: "I think the English National Institute took a gamble."

Marcos Pontes says of the lack of resources to monitor the Cerrado: “I think the English National Institute took a gamble.”

With his name approved as one of Bolsonaro’s candidates for a federal vice presidency for Sao Paulo, Marcos Pontes’ former Ministry of Science and Technology (MCTI) days are numbered. The deadline to leave the government is April 2, six months before the first election round. Pontes, one of the 12 names counted by Bolsonaro who will have to leave the government to run for various positions in the upcoming elections, plans to join the Liberal Party (PL) in the coming weeks.

Pontes faced several crises and controversies during his little over three years in the science portfolio. The first major crisis was the departure of Ricardo Galvão from the management of the Institute for Space Research (INPE), after Bolsonaro questioned the reliability of the deforestation data created by the institute.

Since then, Pontes has had to face questions about meager investments in science – according to an IPEA survey, in 2020 the least amount was invested in 12 years in the region – the imminent end of the Cerrado monitoring program, blackouts at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development ( CNPq), among others.

On a visit to Vale do Paraíba, where INPE is based, on Tuesday (15) Pontes gave an exclusive interview with eco, commenting on these and other matters. Check out the main parts:

((Q)) eco: During your tenure as Prime Minister, you faced several crises: a crisis in the science budget, a crisis in INPE, a crisis in the credibility of the data generated in the institutes associated with MCTIC. How do you rate your administration in the face of these crises?

Marcos Pontes – Our management faced many challenges and we were able to overcome them all. I can leave the ministry reassured, because it is an organized ministry, including the budget part, and it is balanced. We have three sources: we have our own budget, which is not good, but it will get better. We have the Secretariat of Financial Structures, which today allows us to bring in budgets from abroad. People don’t realize it, but this is a massive innovation in funding science and technology in the country. Our FNDCT [Fundo Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico], giving us additional investments of R$5 billion annually. This changes the situation of science and technology and I am very calm, because I have all the structures ready, strategies, policies, plans and programs ready. Now come the fruits. In the health field, when do you imagine that Brazil will become a producer of vaccines? I thought Brazil was a producer, but it didn’t produce any vaccine, now we’re producing a vaccine for dengue, Zika, chikungunya, leishmaniasis, and now we’re going to have the first Brazilian vaccine against Covid-19. We will be more prepared for other epidemics,

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What will be your legacy at the head of the ministry?

I think organization, basically. Management to organize the system as a whole and prepare this machine for production. If you look at all developed countries, you will find that they share strong education, science, technology and innovations. From there you can improve all sectors. We managed to organize it. What I know how to do, which I’ve learned in my 20 years at NASA, is to organize teams, manage projects, and deliver results with them. It is very practical, i.e. turning an idea into reality.

Has the INPE organizational structure been reworked, largely without the servers’ knowledge, as a result of your organizational process?

INPE is paraphrased by Darcton [Darcton Damião, diretor interino do INPE entre agosto de 2019, após a saída de Ricardo Galvão, e outubro de 2020, quando Clézio de Nardin assumiu]. He took the lead and was very good at reorganizing INPE. Now, with more budget, things tend to improve a lot, and there are new interesting programs not only for INPE, but for all of Brazil.

You mentioned the production of vaccines. But at the same time that we have this production, we have a stance by the federal government against the vaccine…

The federal government has no dissenting position, the Ministry of Health has purchased more than 400 million vaccines that are distributed to all states and municipalities. Brazil is one of the most vaccinated countries on the planet.

But President Bolsonaro made several anti-vaccination statements.

But then you have to separate the following: As president, he’s done his job, which is allocate money to buy vaccines, allocate money for us to research and develop national vaccines. Now, as a person, let’s put it this way, I’m not commenting on that part. I comment as president and as president he provided the resources, we had the resources.

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We talked about the federal government’s position on the vaccine, but we have the issue of deforestation, the denial of deforestation in the Amazon. How do you deal with this issue?

We do not deny deforestation! I was talking to Joachim [Joaquim Leite, ministro de Meio Ambiente] All data was taken. He’s been working with a lot of interesting data regarding this that comes from INMET [Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia]from sensibam [Centro Gestor e Operacional do Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia]From the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure the accuracy of it there [desmatamento]. As the Department of Science and Technology, I am not fighting deforestation, but the Federal Police, Ibama, ICMBio are inside the forest. What I do is some news. We have the Amazônia 1 satellite and now we are developing the Amazônia 2, with the synthetic aperture radar, which we need to have this technology in the country. Plus, we’ve put 50 labs in the Amazon, and the scientists will spread out where they think they should be, and then we’ll have at least 750 scientists in the middle of the Amazon, watching, working with the communities. That is, for those who want to deforestation illegally, there are more problems. In addition, we have Project Providence, which are hundreds of cameras with artificial intelligence that determine biodiversity. Mamirauá Resex is the first sanctuary on the planet to be monitored 24 hours, 7 days a week, with artificial intelligence, in real time. We’ll have Amazon under surveillance. What can I do, I do.

In terms of monitoring deforestation in the Cerrado, are the resources needed to conserve it over the next few years really secured?

It was always a calling! I don’t know why this thing appeared [de acabar o monitoramento do Cerrado]I think INPE took a risk.

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That’s because the resource of FIP Cerrado, the World Bank program that maintained the program, is gone, right, a minister?

The supplier has always been in FINEP [Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos]It was just filling out the form. I said when I saw this news [para o diretor do INPE, Clézio de Nardin]: ‘Hi Clezio, you forgot how to fill out the form, right? Take that thing and fill that thing in there! I didn’t have a budget problem for that, no.