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Analysis: The outside world forced Bolsonaro to act for the environment


The world's eyes are on Brazil. The fires in the Amazon are engaging an entire world and are on the agenda of the G7 Summit. President Bolsonaro has underestimated the power of environmental issues. His handling of the crisis risks weakening Brazil's position and striking back against the country financially.

The fires raged, the days went on, but it took time for Bolsonaro to act. At first, the president chose to relativize the fires: "It always burns like this year". Then he pointed out scapegoats without evidence: "It is environmental organizations that have turned on". And when Macron described the Amazon as "our house," he accused France's president of colonialism.

Brazil can be punished financially

But suddenly Bolsonaro was facing a situation of demonstrations at Brazil's embassies around the world and plans for consumer boycott against Brazilian meat. When several EU countries with France at the forefront threatened to halt the gigantic free trade agreement between the EU and the South American Mercosur countries - which has taken 20 years to negotiate - Bolsonaro was forced to act.

In a televised speech to the nation, he gave orders to send the military to extinguish the fires and promised zero tolerance for the harvest in the Amazon. But the credibility problems are obvious to a head of state who has spent his entire political career describing environmental protection as an obstacle to economic development and called the world's commitment to "environmental psychosis".

New builders dream of prosperity

In October 2018, I interviewed Indigenous people Almir under a mighty Amazon tree. There were only days left for the presidential election and he was worried. The big favorite ex-militar Jair Bolsonaro had the support of the landowner lobby and promised open previously protected nature reserves and indigenous territories for economic exploitation.

But in the region, support for Bolsonaro was strong. Many settlers dreamed about how new pastures, soybeans and mines would bring prosperity to a poor part of the country. On election night, Bolsonaro received 78 percent of the votes there in the state of Rondônia.

Felling and fires are increasing

As president, Bolsonaro has chosen a new direction for the Amazon - economic growth should come first and what happens in the Brazilian rainforest is Brazil's uniqueness. But the outside world thinks differently. Many see the Amazon as a key area for the climate issue and harvesting there as a symbol of an imminent climate disaster.

The situation in the Amazon has reached a critical point during Bolsonaro. It is true that forest fires are common this year, but the new president's rhetoric seems to have encouraged those who cut down and severe cuts in the environmental budget make it more difficult for authorities to control the situation.

According to the Brazilian space agency INPE, fires have increased by 84 percent compared to last year and the harvest in the Amazon increased by 278 percent when compared with July this year with the same month last year. Experts believe that there is a clear connection between areas where harvesting is taking place and where fires are spreading.

Conflict with Europe

Although the fires are extinguished, much of Bolsonaro's political capital has already gone up in smoke. Norway and Germany have already withdrawn support for a fund that has invested billions on sustainable development in the Amazon after the Brazilian government changed the rules of the game for environmental work.

But the world is bigger than Europe. As the relationship with the EU cuts, ties with ideological soul mates are strengthened - Bolsonaro is now turning to Netanyahu and Trump for international help with the fires. And Brazil's soya growers see new opportunities in the huge Chinese market as the trade war between China and the US stops US soy exports.

"We don't know what to do"

When I call the indigenous leader Almir from Rondônia he sounds abandoned. The forest is burning and the territory of the Suruí people has been invaded by armed men in search of gold. "We don't know what to do," he says. Almir and the indigenous people are threatened with a world and a way of life.

For President Bolsonaro, the Amazon issue has become the first major international crisis. At stake is Brazil's economic future and the country's place in the international system.

Source: svt

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