All posts by srajagopal

Environmental Appreciation or Possessive Nationalism? Bolsonaro’s “Advocacy” for the Amazon

Amidst a turbulent era in Brazilian politics with the impeachment of the country’s former president, Dilma Rouseff, and the unpopularity of her successor, Michel Temer, retired military officer Jair Bolsonaro took over as President of the South American country in January 2019. As he campaigned on right-wing promises such as halting new demarcations of indigenous lands and openly idolizing Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964-1985, his political rhetoric was and still remains deeply divisive and polarizing. Bolsonaro adopted the Portuguese phrase “Brasil acima de tudo,” which translates to “Brazil above all else,” highlighting the President’s highly nationalistic view of politics. In pursuit of growing Brazil’s economy, Bolsonaro purposefully ignores the negative effects of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest and the subsequent global outcry and instead continues to pass legislation that encourages private companies to wreck the resource-rich land all in the name of nationalism. 

As Jair Bolsonaro turns a blind eye, the deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest grows significantly and causes ramifications across the globe. According to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, the Amazon faced its highest rate of deforestation since 2008 in 2019 under Bolsonaro, showing a nearly 30% spike in deforestation rates from the previous year. This causes great concern, since the Amazon Rainforest is roughly half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests and is home to one in ten known animal species on Earth. The forest’s ability to contain  90-140 billion metric tons of carbon helps stabalize local and global climate, while deforestation releases catastrophic amounts of carbon emissions and expedites global warming. 

The recent uptick in harm to the Amazon Rainforest can be credited to the Brazilian President. Bolsonaro encourages farming and mining in protected areas of the forest, claiming that it will lead the country out of poverty. In August 2020, Bolsonaro’s environmental minister raised doubts regarding the previously-mentioned damning data on deforestation and the President himself fired the head of the government agency that tracks deforestation in Brazil. On top of his political negligence, Bolsonaro continually allows farmers to destroy the rainforest in anticipation of clear land to raise cattle, culminating in horrifying intentional fires that devastated the tropical area, inevitably causing global outrage.

The clear global harm of deforestation largely doesn’t worry the Brazilian President, rather he uses the global scientific community’s concern as another way to rally his supporters against globalism. Airing out his frustrations, Bolsonaro asserted to one European journalist that “The Amazon is Brazil’s — not yours.” This statement directly coincides with his famed slogan “Brazil above all else,” with both of the statements being fueled with highly nationalistic rhetoric. Bolsonaro diregards the global concern over the Amazon, and instead cites the concern as foreign interference with the growth of Brazil. Bolsonaro takes actions that he believes will better Brazil’s economy, ignoring the global environmental and humanitarian impact. Bolsonaro uses nationalistic rhetoric to encourage privatization and villainize foreign opposition. This misplaced nationalism and attack on foreign powers isolates the South American country, leading to global motions against the country such as a joint statement published by the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership urging Bolsonaro to take immediate action against deforestation. 

Jair Bolsonaro’s nationalism can be seen in subsets of his policies other than just those pertaining to the environment. Bolsonaro’s attraction to a capitalist Brazil leads him to ostracise Venezuela for its socialist government, motioning for an activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Recipricol Assistance so that the country can take military action against Venezuela. Bolsonaro disregards Brazil’s Indigenous communities as lawless perpetrators of violence, and enacts policies to shrivel Indigenous rights under the shroud of fighting for a stronger Brazil. Through and through, Bolsonaro expresses his nationalistic perspective to the world, taking action to highlight his vision of a perfect Brazil.As for how effective Bolsonaro’s nationalism is, his effectiveness has been widely disputed as his time in office has only lasted two years. However, as global carbon emmissions rise at record levels because of Bolsonaro’s negligence including his refusal of 22$ million from the G7 to combat fires, the world’s faith in Brazil has dwindled and the country faces the consequences of its nationalistic president.