By Marina Lopes
Brazil’s embattled president Jair Bolsonaro rejected calls for foreign intervention in the Amazon and said the country would use its resources for development in a speech to world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday.
The Amazon is not in flames, he said, but brimming with riches.
“We are open to explore our potential in a sustainable way, through partnerships that add value,” the president said in his first address on the world stage since fires sparked in part by an increase in deforestation, led to his international condemnation last month.
The right-wing leader vowed to cut back on environmental red tape when he was elected last year. Since he took office in January, deforestation rates in the Amazon have nearly doubled. In August, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research detected over 30,000 fires in the Amazon, triple the number for the same month in 2018.
Bolsonaro’s administration has written off the fires as seasonal, but critics say the government’s lax environmental oversight is to blame. Loggers and farmers in the Amazon often use fires to clear land for pasture. As deforestation rates increase, so do fires.
For Bolsonaro, recent calls for interference in the Amazon, which include calls for boycotts of Brazilian meat and leather, are an attack on his nation’s sovereignty. “Every country has its problems. But the sensationalist attacks that we have suffered, in large part at the hands of the international media because of the fires in the Amazon awoke in us a feeling of patriotism. It is a fallacy to say that the Amazon is a world heritage,” said Bolsonaro.
“The United Nations has played a fundamental role in the suppression of colonialism, and we cannot allow this mentality to return to these rooms and corridors at any pretext. We cannot forget that the world needs to be fed,” he said.
In a speech peppered with references to God, socialism and patriotism, Bolsonaro said foreign powers with an eye on Brazil’s natural riches “have an interest in keeping indigenous people living like cave men.”
Flanked by a team that included a Bolsonaro supporter and indigenous YouTuber, Ysani Kalapalo, the president said vast tribal lands are filled with gold, diamonds and uranium waiting to be explored. Bolsonaro specifically referenced the Yanomami tribal land, in northern Brazil, where illegal mining is so rampant that over half the population has mercury poisoning, according to a study done earlier this year by the research institute Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. The president also read a letter of support signed by a Brazilian agricultural indigenous group, denouncing exploitation by “countries who still see in Brazil a colony without rules or sovereignty.”
But Brazil’s indigenous and environmental activists said the president and Kalapalo do not represent them.
“He wants to deliver our land for exploration, and we will never abide by this position,” said Sônia Guajajara, head of the Brazilian Indigenous People’s Association. “The indigenous movement across the five regions of this country do not agree with Bolsonaro’s politics. We will continue fighting, opposing and making ourselves foes of this government,” she said.
Marina Silva, a former environmental minister who presided over a massive reduction in deforestation in the 2000s, said that the president’s speech further alienates Brazil from global attempts to preserve the environment.
“It is unfortunate, worrying and very sad to see Brazil, which was once a protagonist in the environmental agenda, deny the reality of the grave problem of deforestation,” said Silva. “Only someone completely deranged and delirious can negate that which the eyes can see.”
Credit: The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com