Brazilian embassy under fire for Amazon response

Published by Kayle Crosson on

August 23rd, 2019

The Brazilian embassy in Ireland has come under fire for its social media response to the unprecedented rate of fires burning across the Amazon.

The fires that broke out in multiple Amazonian states this month came on the heels of reported deforestation to make way for cattle ranches and soy plantations.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday that appears to be in response to criticism of policy under President Jair Bolsonaro, the Embassy claimed that “facts and figures and not rhetoric” prove that “Brazil is a true environmental conservation champion”.

The post states that the country “protects some of the most significant biodiversity hotspots in the world” and that conservation units and indigenous reserves amount to “more than 50 per cent of the Amazon”.

A thread of comments on the Embassy’s page quickly appeared criticising the post, including claims that such statements were “adhering to the propaganda machine created by the [Brazilian] government”. Another comment stressed that the post was “fake news”.

Luan Camargo who posted a comment on the post voicing his discontent told The Green News that “at the very least the timing was wrong” for the post.

“It’s very sad to see the embassy expressing the views of a specific political party or individual. My personal opinion is that they should remain neutral,” he said.

Since taking office in January this year, the right-wing Bolsonaro government has expressed interest in pursuing economic activities in the rainforest-covered region such as agri-expansion.

Mr Bolsonaro has frequently said that environmental regulations are hindering economic development and his government has cut funding and staff at state environmental agencies.

The majority of deforestation in the Amazon in recent years is due to the expansion of the beef industry and as a result, Brazil has now become the world’s largest beef exporter.

Additionally, parts of the rainforest have also been cleared for exported soybean production, which often serves as animal feed for cattle in Ireland.

Embassy protest

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) found that 70,000 fires have started in the Amazon since the beginning of this year, an 83 per cent increase from 2018.

About half of this year’s fires began in July, the same month that saw a new record set for the highest Amazonian deforestation rate in a single month.

Eight out of the 10 municipalities most affected by the still-raging fires have also accumulated the highest number of deforestation alerts, INPE also said

A daytime blackout descended on Sao Paulo earlier this week partially due to smoke from the fires that traveled thousands of kilometres to the populous city via easterly winds.

The former director of INPE was fired earlier this month after a very public face-off with Mr Bolsonaro who questioned the validity of the Institute’s data highlighting an increase in deforestation since he took office.

Extinction Rebellion Ireland (XRI) is set to hold a demonstration outside the Embassy in Dublin today to urge the Brazilian government to protect and restore the rainforest, as well the region’s indigenous communities and environmental activists.

Protest organiser and XRI member Anne Marie Kelly said that protecting rainforest habitats in the face of climate catastrophe is a “first priority”.

“Bolsonaro has decided that he wants to develop the Amazon rainforest for the extraction of fossil fuel and mining resources, and intensive production of beef cattle,” she said, as well as supporting the intensive farming of soy to feed these cattle.

“In the past 18 months the rate of deforestation of the Amazon has increased rapidly. This has serious impact on the livelihoods and indeed lives of the indigenous peoples who live here. In addition, environmental activists are being killed.

“I can no longer be silent on what is happening, and hence started this protest,” Ms Kelly said. “If we don’t halt it very soon, there will be no chance to control it later,” she continued.

On Wednesday, Mr Bolsonaro accused environmental groups of setting fire to the Amazon, claiming that their motivation was due to national funding cuts to NGOs. When pressed for evidence, Mr Bolsonaro said no written records existed and that it was just his “feeling”. 

“Those who destroy the Amazon and let deforestation continue unabated are encouraged in doing so by the (current) Bolsonaro government’s actions and policies,” Danicley Aguiar of Greenpeace Brazil said in response.

“Since taking office, the current government has been systematically dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy,” he added.

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.