Brazil’s Bolsonaro Makes Threats Against the Amazon

Fabiano Maisonnave


This article was originally published in Climate Home News. Republished with permission.


No more Paris Agreement. No more ministry of environment. A paved highway cutting through the Amazon.


Not only that. Indigenous territories opened to mining. Relaxed environmental law enforcement and licensing. International NGOs, such as Greenpeace and WWF, banned from the country. A strong alliance with the beef lobby.


In a nutshell, this is what Jair Bolsonaro, who is sailing towards Brazil’s presidency after taking a near-majority in a first round vote last week, has promised for the environment.


An enthusiast for torture and the 1964-85 military dictatorship, the retired army captain is famous for racist, homophobic, authoritarian and misogynistic rhetoric. But his views on how to manage Earth’s largest tropical rainforest are just as grim.  


Bolsonaro has galvanized voters in urban centres who are disillusioned with the political establishment’s corruption scandals and attracted to his “tough-on-crime” positions amid rising criminality rates. He received 46 percent of the vote on Sunday and now faces a 28 October run off with the Workers Party’s Fernando Haddad, who polled 29 percent.


In the Amazon, illegal loggers, miners, land-grabbers, as well as large land owners have rallied to his banner. Here, they don’t expect Bolsonaro to enforce the law. On the contrary, the hope is that he fulfills his promise to obliterate nearly all environment and pro-indigenous legislation. He won massive support in rural central western states and all but one Amazonian state.


In August, Bolsonaro raised eyebrows internationally when he pledged to join Trump’s US and withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement. That means the country would no longer be committed to curb its emissions from the deforestation of the Amazon, which is a bigger source of greenhouse gas than the burning of fossil fuels.



Bolsonaro accepts the climate is changing dangerously. CHN asked him about this during a press conference in April, and he said the solution was in controlling the growth of the world’s human population.


What happens in the next few months will impact the future of the Paris Agreement and the global climate


“This explosive population growth leads to deforestation,” he said. “Because you will not grow soy on the terrace of your building or raise cattle in the yard. So we have to have a family-planning policy. Then you begin to reduce the pressure on those issues that lead, yes, in my opinion, to global warming, which could be the end of the human species.”


Yet he praised President Trump’s policy on the Paris deal and implied that it was part of a UN plot to strip Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.


“Congratulations to Trump. If it were good for them, [the US] wouldn’t have denounced it,” he said, adding that a concept for a “136 million hectare ecological corridor” that would be “under world’s control, not ours” had “been discussed”. ” I don’t know how deeply,” he added.


Brazil’s current environment minister Edson Duarte said: “Instead of spreading the message that he will fight deforestation and organized crime, he says he will attack the ministry of environment, Ibama and ICMBio [Brazil’s federal environment agencies]. It’s the same as saying that he will withdraw the police from the streets.”


Speaking to the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, Duarte said: “The increase of deforestation will be immediate. I am afraid of a gold rush to see who arrives first. They will know that, if they occupy illegally, the authorities will be complacent and will grant concordance. They will be certain that nobody will bother them.”


Indigenous lands


Bolsonaro’s environment policies are tied to racist attitudes towards minorities and Brazil’s indigenous peoples. In a speech last year, he said: “Minorities have to bend down to the majority… The minorities [should] either adapt or simply vanish.”


Expressing a view common to military circles, he has claimed, without evidence, that indigenous land rights are part of a Western plot to create separatist Amazonian states supported by the UN.


“Sooner or later, we will have dozens of countries inside [Brazil]. We won’t have any interference in these countries;the First World will exploit the Indians; and nothing will be left for us,” he said last year.



Bolsonaro has promised to open indigenous lands to mining and other economic activities. About 13 percent of Brazil’s territory is recognized indigenous lands, most of them are in the Amazon. They are a major barrier to protect the forest, and only 2 percent of rainforest deforestation has occurred inside indigenous territory.


The law protects indigenous rights. Article 231 of the 1988 constitution states that indigenous peoples have “original rights over the lands that they have traditionally occupied,” although the land belongs to the state, and they have no ownership rights over minerals.


But there are concerns about whether Bolsonaro will respect these laws. Several analysts have warned Brazil could slip towards authoritarian rule. These fears have increased in the past weeks. His running mate, General Antônio Mourão, has argued for a new constitution without popular participation and raised the possibility that Bolsonaro could proclaim a self-coup. 


Both Bolsonaro and Mourão have defended the excesses of Brazil’s military dictatorship, which displaced and killed (intentionally or through diseases) thousands of Indians in the Amazon, amid an effort to build roads and hydroelectric dams in the forest. The armed forces have never recognized any wrongdoing.


“If he wins, he will institutionalize genocide,” says Dinamam Tuxá, the national coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, in a phone interview with Climate Home News. “He has already said that the federal government will no longer champion indigenous rights, such as access to the land. We are very scared. I fear for my own life. As a national leader, I am sure I will be punished by the federal government for defending the rights of the indigenous peoples.”


This article was originally published in Climate Home News. Republished with permission.


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Fabiano Maisonnave (Climate Home News)
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