The Anavilhanas Nature Reserve on the Rio Negro in Brazil. Photo: Lalo de Almeida, The New York Times

Brazil’s new President, Jair Bolsonaro, who is ultra-conservative and ran on a promise of deregulation similar to President Trump’s, has moved the administration of Brazil’s extensive protected areas in the Amazon from the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs to the Agriculture Ministry.

  • This “paves” the way for new and increased development, which had long been urged by powerful business and agriculture interests, as some development was taking place illegally already because protections and enforcement on indigenous lands were increasingly weakened in recent years.
  • Bolsonaro tweeted in defense of the decision that “More than 15% of the national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and quilombolas. Less than a million people live in these isolated places in Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. Let us together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”

Many environmental and native rights groups had feared the worst for millions of acres of native controlled and protected lands in the Amazon rainforest after Bolsonaro was elected last year, according to The Washington Post. Sônia Guajajara, one of the country’s most prominent indigenous leaders, said in a tweet, “Have you seen? The breakup has begun.”

Some experts questioned the constitutionality of the move.  The New York Times stated that “Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, passed as the country emerged from a 21-year military dictatorship, established strong protections for Brazil’s historically marginalized groups, seeking to make amends for decades of institutionalized discrimination and brutality.”

Why This Matters:  This power shift is more than just re-arranging the deck chairs in a new administration, as the government claimed in trying to minimize its impact.  Many predict it is just the beginning and that many more anti-environmental policies are likely to be rolled out in the weeks ahead.  This move puts at risk a major source of climate change mitigation and the land rights of a million native Brazilians, not to mention the decades of work of many environmental groups who were succeeding in slowing the growth of deforestation in Brazil.  Brazil was previously known for its strong environmental protection — just like the U.S.  Not so much anymore for either nation.

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