Bolsonaro trying to dispel environmental villain image at US climate summit

By Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Apr 21 (EFE).- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro this week will participate in the climate change summit convened by his US counterpart, Joe Biden, a meeting at which he will try to dispel his image as a environmental villain amid growing pressure from the international community.

The ultra-rightist Brazilian leader has found himself obligated to moderate the tone of his environmental policy after Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, although Bolsonaro had resisted recognizing the US leader’s election win, suggesting that massive election fraud had occurred in the November vote.

With the Thursday summit as a backdrop, Bolsonaro took the first step toward improving bilateral relations with the US after former President Donald Trump’s election defeat, sending a letter to Biden in which he said he was ready to work with the international community to ensure “environmental protection” for the Amazon region, most of which lies within Brazilian territory.

Bolsonaro, who is in favor of economically exploiting the natural resources and indigenous lands in the Amazon, modified his stance with the approach of the upcoming summit and promised to end illegal deforestation in Brazil by 2030.

However, he said that his plan will require “huge resources” and asked for “all the help possible” from the international community.

During his election campaign, Biden warned that Brazil should contain the “destruction” of Amazonia or face “significant economic consequences,” and he also said that if he were elected president – as, in fact, occurred – he would offer $20 billion to the Bolsonaro administration to end deforestation in the region.

The Brazilian leader reacted harshly to this offer, however, and warned at the time that he would not agree to “bribes, criminal demarcations or unfounded threats.”

The recent change of direction in Bolsonaro’s rhetoric runs counter to the line he had taken, which had included the reserve army captain clearly showing his support for reducing environmental fines, halting the demarcation of indigenous lands and promoting the interests of rural producers.

During the same week in which Bolsonaro sent his message to Biden, the police chief in Amazonas state filed a lawsuit before Brazil’s Supreme Court to open an investigation against the Environment Ministry, headed by Ricardo Salles, for allegedly obstructing a probe into the confiscation of illegally cut lumber.

For non-governmental organizations, the anti-environmentalist actions and rhetoric of the Bolsonaro administration are behind the increase in deforestation in Amazonia, which has reached record levels during the rightist leader’s mandate.

The devastation of the Amazon region has eroded Brazil’s image abroad and has sparked warnings from the market. A group of 280 ecological firms and movements, including Brazil’s largest banks and agri-business companies, earlier this month demanded that the government adopt “more ambitious goals” for the protection of the huge rainforest.

The suit comes in addition to one filed by a sizable group of global investment funds last year in which they warned of a potential withdrawal of capital if Brasilia did not strengthen its efforts to halt deforestation and wildfires.

Assorted actors in recent days have publicly urged Biden not to give in and reach a bilateral accord with Brazil on the environment until there is a concrete reduction in the deforestation rate.

A group of 36 US and Brazilian artists – including Leonardo DiCaprio, Katy Perry and Caetano Veloso – on Tuesday published an open letter to Biden in which they expressed their deep concern about the signing of a potential bilateral accord and called for “urgent action” to deal with threats to the Amazon.

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