Amazon rainforest is ours and not yours, Brazil tells the world

Managing the world’s largest rainforest is a Brazilian affair and foreigners should stop meddling in the Amazon, President Jair Bolsonaro’s top security adviser said in an interview.

"I don’t accept this idea that the Amazon is world heritage, this is nonsense," General Augusto Heleno Pereira said in an interview in Brasilia. "The Amazon is Brazilian, the heritage of Brazil and should be dealt with by Brazil for the benefit of Brazil."

Pereira’s comments coincide with government plans to review existing conservation areas amid growing pressure from mining and agriculture lobbies. This month the president canceled a trip to New York City after Mayor Bill de Blasio and activists criticized the president over matters including his stance toward the Amazon rainforest, whose conservation scientists say is key to the climate change debate.

Pereira, who led a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, had harsh words for non-governmental organizations that work in the country, saying that some of them operate as fronts for foreign interests. This month the president canceled a trip to New York City after Mayor Bill de Blasio and activists criticized the president over matters including his stance toward the Amazon rainforest, whose conservation scientists say is key to the climate change debate

"There’s a totally unnecessary and nefarious foreign influence in the Amazon," said Pereira. "NGOs hide strategic, economic and geopolitical interests."

First act

Bolsonaro took power in January with pledges to ease regulations, and has argued that pressure from pro-environment and pro-indigenous rights groups are hindering farmers and the mining industry. He has said that too many businesses have been unjustly penalized for breaking rules that have undercut commercial activity.

In one of his first acts as president, Bolsonaro stripped the National Indian Agency of the right to demarcate indigenous territories. He also moved the National Forestry Service to the Ministry of Agriculture. The moves, which Congress may still alter, outraged indigenous campaigners and environmentalists, but pleased Brazil’s powerful farm lobby.

This month, eight former Brazilian environment ministers warned in an open letter that Bolsonaro is dismantling environmental protections and hurting the country’s image abroad. Current Environment Minister Ricardo Salles responded by saying his office has maintained its autonomy and that NGOs are the ones hurting Brazil’s reputation.

"We have the capacity to carry out sustainable development in the Amazon without harming the rest of the world," Pereira said. "Now I can’t accept the rest of the world giving lessons on the Amazon."

(By Samy Adghirni)