Brazil's Bolsonaro hits back at Biden over rainforest

·3 min read
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has presided over a surge in Amazon deforestation since taking power in January 2019

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out Wednesday at Joe Biden for the US Democratic presidential candidate's "disastrous and unnecessary" comments on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in his first debate with Donald Trump.

Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed a "Tropical Trump" and openly admires the US president, told Biden Brazil would not accept "coward threats towards our territorial and economic integrity."

The row came after Biden name-checked Brazil at Tuesday's debate as he attacked Trump's record on the environment and foreign policy.

"The rainforests of Brazil are being torn down," Biden said.

"I would be gathering up and making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion, and say, 'Here's $20 billion. Stop tearing down the forest. And if you don't, then you're going to have significant economic consequences.'"

Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic who took office in January 2019, did not take kindly to the plan.

"As the head of state who has brought Brazil-US relations closer than ever before, after decades of governments that were unfriendly towards the US, it is really difficult to understand such a disastrous and unnecessary declaration," he wrote on Twitter.

"What a shame, Mr John Biden!" he added, mistaking the former vice president's first name in the English version of his tweet.

Bolsonaro has presided over a surge of deforestation and wildfires in the world's biggest rainforest.

Last year, his first in office, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased 85.3 percent, setting a new record, with a total area nearly the size of Lebanon lost.

The wildfires that devastated the rainforest last year triggered international outcry, forcing Bolsonaro onto the defensive. He ultimately deployed the army to the Amazon to fight the fires.

So far this year, the deforestation rate is down by about five percent, though the number of fires has increased 13 percent, to 75,362.

The Brazilian leader however defended his government's "unprecedented action to protect the Amazon and safeguard our environment."

- 'Environmental crimes' -

Returning to his playbook from last year's fire crisis, Bolsonaro said Brazil's sovereignty was being threatened by foreign interests keen on the Amazon's natural resources.

"The greed of some countries towards the Amazon is a well-known fact. However, the explicit demonstration of this greed by someone who is running for the presidency of his country is a clear sign of contempt for cordial and fruitful coexistence," he wrote.


Later, in a video address to a UN biodiversity summit, Bolsonaro said Brazil was "firm in its commitment to sustainable development and preserving our environmental wealth."

He accused "certain non-governmental organizations" of perpetrating "environmental crimes" to stain the country's image.

Bolsonaro has called environmental groups a "cancer" for attacking his policies, which include pushing for protected Amazon lands to be opened to mining and agriculture.

But he also faces growing pressure on the issue from allies, trading partners, international investors and powerful voices in the business world.

In June, 29 global investment firms managing nearly $4 trillion in assets sent an open letter to Bolsonaro, urging him to change policies blamed for accelerating the destruction of the rainforest.

Environmental destruction by Brazilian agribusiness firms is also threatening a long-sought trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur bloc, of which Brazil is a member.


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