It was a derogatory remark: "The deforestation and the fires of the Amazon will not stop," said Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing politician. He has many supporters in his country's powerful agriculture business and has often acknowledged his lack of interest in environmental issues. "It's a cultural thing," he added.
Bolsonaro has since last week, new, frightening statistics from the northern parts of the country: Even according to the official statements of the Brazilian authorities, deforestation in the Amazon has increased dramatically. In the twelve months from August 2018 to July 2019, it rose by almost 30 percent, to almost 10,000 square kilometers, one and a half times the area of the Black Forest. That's the highest value in more than ten years, and it went on after that. Tens of thousands of fires have destroyed more natural areas since August. It was only in November that the weather calmed down (in some adjacent areas such as the Cerrado and the Pantanal, it was still burning).
The threatened forest
Advance of chainsaws
© TIME graph
The fact that Bolsonaro did not comment more seriously is part of his government's policy: since the 1970s, about 20 percent of the Amazonas forest has been lost in Brazil, and the Bolsonaro government maintains a close link between the rise of chainsaws and general state development , "Amazonia is ours!" Is the President's war claim, which he has also thrown at international meetings to worried heads of state and NGO representatives from outside. He liked to tell his supporters that abroad they are simply against rapid economic development of the rainforest because they want to "keep Brazil small" or have their own eyes on gold and other raw materials under the forest floor.
The Bolsonaro government has brought a variety of legislative initiatives into parliament from the first few days of office, and has made sweeping administrative decisions to restrict the rights of conservation and Indian protection agencies. In the meantime, these have almost no means left to combat illegal logging, gold mining and cattle farming in the Amazon. While the President and his Minister of the Environment Ricardo Salles cheer the invaders again and again.
Bolsonaro, for instance, mocked the country's environmental officers as a "speeding ticket industry," blessing lumberjacks as the country's "true, hardworking people." The signal that emanates from such performances is also understood locally. Environmentalists or lobbyists of indigenous rights are now regularly threatened, imprisoned or murdered - and under Bolsonaro feel the forest destroyers in the right.
Now, there has been an interesting development in Brazil for weeks: now and then members of the Bolsonaro government speak out in front of an international audience for more protection of the Amazon. Even the energetic Minister of the Environment, Salles, who has been referred to in the Brazilian media as the "Anti-Environment Minister," announced last week that he wanted to "test new strategies" to stop illegal logging, illegal mining and land speculation.