Bolsonaro says ‘lying’ media hypes Amazon wildfires

‘Wrong to say . . . that our rainforest are the lungs of the world,’ Brazil’s president tells UN

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro addresses the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Tuesday. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro addresses the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Tuesday. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

 

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has launched a cantankerous and conspiratorial defence of his environmental record, blaming French president Emmanuel Macron and the “deceitful” media for hyping this year’s fires in the Amazon.

In a combative 30-minute address to the United Nations 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,” Mr Bolsonaro said.

About 17 per cent 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 per cent or 25 per cent .

“It’s wrong to say the Amazon is part of a global heritage and wrong to say, as scientists affirm, that our rainforest are the lungs of the world,” Mr Bolsonaro said.

Brazil’s international reputation has been put through the wringer since the notoriously outspoken populist took office in January, with Mr Bolsonaro locking horns with a succession of world leaders, including Mr Macron.

With Brazil battling to repair its overseas image after the Amazon fires crisis, some observers had expected Mr Bolsonaro to strike a softer note at the UN summit.

Broadside

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,” Mr Bolsonaro said.

At the heart of Mr Bolsonaro’s speech 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 Mr Macron, with whom Mr 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 Mr Bolsonaro responded by insulting Mr Macron’s wife.

Mr 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.

Mineral wealth

Mr 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.

In an attempt to portray himself as a friend of Brazil’s indigenous communities Mr Bolsonaro invited a rare indigenous supporter, Ysani Kalapalo, to attend his address and donned an indigenous necklace after arriving in New York.

But Sônia Guajajara, one of Brazil’s best-known indigenous leaders, dismissed Mr 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.” – Guardian