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Experts: Brazil's Amazon rainforest at risk if Bolsonaro wins presidency

Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro’s declarations on the environment are a source of deep concern among activists

Monday 22 October, 2018
Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil.
Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil. Foto:CARL DE SOUZA/AFP

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Environmentalists fear the Amazon rainforest, the "lung of the planet," will be sacrificed to the interests of agroindustry if Brazil's far-right Jair Bolsonaro comes to power.

One of the most controversial campaign promises made by the frontrunner to win Brazil's presidency is to merge the ministries of Agriculture and Environment.

Bolsonaro seems to have already made his choice between safeguarding the country's natural heritage and the interests of the landowners.

"Let us be clear: the future ministry will come from the productive sector. We won't have any more fights over this," Bolsonaro said at a press conference on October 11, four days after winning the first round with 46 percent of votes.

"If elected, it will be the beginning of the end for the Amazon," leftist Fernando Haddad, Bolsonaro's rival from the Workers' Party (PT), said on Wednesday.

According to Geraldo Monteiro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), "As he's backed by the agrobusiness lobby in Congress, which is really strong, Bolsonaro virtually wants to make the environment serve the interests of agrobusiness."

"Not one more centimetre”

Bolsonaro has also several times evoked studies to build hydroelectric power stations in the Amazon, which implies the construction of massive dams that would greatly impact water courses and require communities to be moved.

That issue has long been a contentious one between Brazilian authorities and indigenous tribes –  a very sensitive topic after one project already under construction, the “Belo Monte” project, which when finished will be the third-biggest dam in the world.

In February, Bolsonaro said that if elected, he would not give up "a centimetre more" of land to indigenous communities claiming traditional land. 

During a visit to the Amazonian state of Roraima in August, the candidate also spoke against the "Shiite controls" of state environmental agencies, ICMbio and Ibama, which "harm those who want to produce." 

General Oswaldo Ferreira, who would become minister of Transport in the event of Bolsonaro’s victory, said in a recent interview with the Estado de São Paulo newspaper that those agencies only worked "to piss people off."

The president of Ibama, Suely Araujo, reacted saying that "the implementation of projects with strong environmental impact without the necessary analysis would imply a setback of four decades."

"Serious consequences"

Emilio La Rovere, director of the environmental studies laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), said that Bolsonaro's speech "recalls the doctrine that reigned at the time of the military dictatorship [1964-1985]."

This doctrine of "development at all costs" is harmful to the environment, which is this way seen as an "obstacle" to road construction or mining exploitation, he argued.

According to the researcher, Bolsonaro’s promises could have "serious economic consequences on a larger scale," putting at risk Brazil's efforts to preserve its exceptional biodiversity.

The emission of greenhouse gases has been significantly reduced thanks to stricter legislations against deforestation; loosening those rules could obstruct "the transition to a low-carbon economy", warns La Rovere.

Following in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro also threatened to pull the country out of the Paris agreement on climate change if the deal "would compromise national sovereignty."

"It would be a setback to see another great economy presided over by someone who denies the importance of the fight against global warming," said Lisa Viscidi, an expert at the The Dialogue analysis centre.

La Rovere said pulling the country of the agreement could cause Brazil to face "trade sanctions from several countries on its exports of meat or soybeans."

By Louis Genot, AFP

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