In Brazil, it is burning in the Amazon forest as bad as long - but the government under President Jair Bolsonaro has previously rejected financial aid from the G7 countries against the fire. What's more, the right-wing Bolsonaro has created a political climate in Brazil that speeds up both legal and illegal clearing and, apparently, is increasingly motivated to lay fires. The Amazon rainforest binds huge amounts of CO2 and is central to the global climate. So why do Bolsonaro and his government act that way? What is the political worldview behind the policy of the authoritarian president? Political scientist Oliver Stuenkel lives in São Paulo and gives answers.
ZEIT ONLINE: Brazil's government has long ignored the hardest Amazon forest fires for years. International criticism of inaction has dismissed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as a colonial presumption. Now he suddenly speaks of zero tolerance to polluters and sends military into the fight against the flames. How is this change of heart?
Oliver Stuenkel: You can not really talk about a change of heart . To send the army there says nothing about the climate policy of the Brazilian government, the fires are the consequence of this failed policy. Bolsonaro is not concerned with a change in Brazilian environmental policy, but rather with the fact that the international press is not reporting so badly about the country.
ZEIT ONLINE: French President Emmanuel Macron threatens Bolsonaro with a blockade of the free trade agreement of the EU with the South American economic block Mercosur, if he does not change its environmental policy. How important is the conclusion of the agreement for Brazil's farmers?
Stuenkel: It's no coincidence that Macron has threatened that, because the French government is not satisfied with the free trade agreement itself. But for Macron, protecting the rainforest is of course a serious concern. For Brazil, the agreement is important and the government celebrates it as a success. The farm lobby is now very worried and is also preparing for potential boycott movements against Brazilian products. If better climate and forest policies can be achieved in Brazil, it is not because the president believes that climate change is bad, but because he responds to the pressure of the farmers' lobby, which is part of his electorate.
ZEIT ONLINE: Are changes in Bolsonaro's environmental policy only possible because of economic pressure and because of the increasingly bad international image of Brazil?
Stuenkel: Yes, his government is composed of different factions. For Bolsonaro himself, the criticism of environmental policy is not so bad. The free trade agreement is not so important to him, he is more an economic nationalist, a protectionist, much like Donald Trump. In order to win the elections, he has but a liberal economist as Minister of Economy on board.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro lives from having an enemy image. For the US president it is China, for Bolsonaro it is the critics of his environmental policy. He calls them a Marxist conspiracy against Brazil, whose goal is to occupy the Amazon. Also in the Brazilian military, which gained influence under Bolsonaro, one often hears that criticizing the deforestation of the Amazon is only part of an international plan to subvert Brazil's sovereignty and gain access to natural resources.
ZEIT ONLINE: Bolsonaro had already announced before his election to relax environmental controls and abolish the Ministry of the Environment. He also says that protecting the habitat of primitive peoples is not important to him. This way of thinking is hardly comprehensible from our European point of view. What kind of ideology is behind it?