BRAZIL – Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched a cantankerous and conspiratorial defense of his environmental record, blaming Emmanuel Macron and the “deceitful” media for hyping this year’s fires in the Amazon.
In a combative 30-minute address to the UN general assembly, Bolsonaro denied – contrary to the evidence – that the world’s largest rainforest was “being devastated or consumed by fire, as the media deceitfully says”.
“Our Amazon is larger than the whole of western Europe and remains virtually untouched – proof that we are one of the countries that most protects the environment,” Bolsonaro claimed.
About 17% of the Amazon has been destroyed over the last 50 years with some scientists fearing the rainforest could reach an irreversible tipping point if that rises to 20% or 25%.
Brazil’s international reputation has been put through the wringer since the notoriously outspoken populist took office in January, with Bolsonaro locking horns with a succession of world leaders, including the French president, Emmanuel Macron.
With Brazil battling to repair its overseas image after the Amazon fires crisis, some observers had expected Bolsonaro to strike a softer note at the UN summit.
Instead, Brazil’s president went on the offensive, starting his speech with a Trumpian excoriation of socialism and concluding with an obscure broadside against the leftist “ideological thought systems” he alleged had invaded Brazilian schools, universities, homes and even souls.
“With these methods, this ideology has always left a trail of death, ignorance and misery, wherever it has gone,” Bolsonaro said.
At the heart of Bolsonaro’s speech – which Brazilian fact-checkers said contained nine falsehoods and five imprecise claims – was a lengthy counter-attack against domestic and international criticism of his highly controversial vision for the Amazon and Brazil’s indigenous communities.
“Any country has problems. But the sensationalist attacks we suffered from the large part of the international media over the fires in the Amazon awakened our patriotic feelings,” he said, accusing foreign critics of questioning Brazil’s sovereignty over the region in a disrespectful and “colonialist” manner.
That line was a clear jab at Macron with whom Bolsonaro is locked in a long-running diplomatic feud that escalated last month after the French president urged international action over the Amazon fires and Bolsonaro responded by insulting Macron’s wife.
Bolsonaro reiterated pledges to reduce the size of protected indigenous territories and to open such areas up to commercial mining.
“Brazil now has a president who cares about those who were here before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500. Indians don’t want to be poor landowners living on rich soils – especially the richest soils on Earth,” he said.
Bolsonaro claimed the foreign NGOs and governments who opposed that view did so because they themselves had their eyes on the mineral wealth and biodiversity within Brazil’s indigenous reserves.
But Sônia Guajajara, one of Brazil’s best-known indigenous leaders, dismissed Bolsonaro’s attempt to pose as an indigenous defender as a farce.
“This is an attempt to trick the world and show he has support. But … it is another of his big lies. It doesn’t matter what image he wants to project. What matters are his actions – which the world whole is seeing,” she said.
In a statement, the Brazilian Climate Observatory NGO said: “As expected, Bolsonaro’s speech … has doubled down on division, nationalism and on ecocide … Bolsonaro’s policies bring an immediate risk to all humankind.”