‘Brazil is not supporting’ deforestation

‘Brazil is not supporting’ deforestation

Senior Brazilian politician tells The Irish Times new laws will take fight to deforesters

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro created the impression that Brazil was encouraging the deforestation of the Amazon, but this was not the case, one of the country’s top politicians has said during a visit to Ireland.

“I believe the narrative in relation to the environment has been causing a lot of damage, and could have very serious consequences for Brazil,” the speaker of the Brazilian chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, said during an interview with The Irish Times.

More than 60 per cent of Brazil was made up of preserved or recovered forest, he said, speaking through a translator.

“The Brazilian laws don’t allow and don’t protect those who deforest or burn down our forests. And our businessmen, especially our agri-businesses, don’t have an interest [in it being believed] they have been sponsoring fires in the Amazon.”

He said the law, the parliament and the agencies charged with protecting the Brazilian Amazon were all working to preserve the forest.

“In the next few weeks we want to introduce laws that will be more severe for those who deforest not only public but also private land.”

Asked about comments by the EU’s incoming trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, that the planned Mercosur trade agreement gave the EU leverage to pressurise Brazil to protect the Amazonian forests, Maia said it was not helpful to link the two issues.

“Part of what we are trying to do is to counteract this narrative which does not help the situation. We do not believe that associating the trade [deal] in this way will help counteract this narrative.”

During an address to the United Nations Assembly in September, Mr Bolsonaro responded to statistics showing an 84 per cent jump in the number of forest fires this year, compared with the same period in 2018. He said the fires might be caused by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Maybe – I am not affirming it – these [NGO people] are carrying out some criminal actions to draw attention against me, against the government of Brazil,” the controversial president said.

Similar statistics

Maia said he was not disputing the statistics but the fact was there had been similar statistics in the past.

“At other times in the past, we had more burning than now. But there is no concrete encouragement by business or by the parliament to encourage the fires, or for the authorities to turn a blind eye.”

He said it was the case that Mr Bolsonaro created an impression that Brazil might be supportive of deforestation “but there are no concrete acts in terms of changing the law or easing the work of the [forest monitoring agencies]”.

“It is a problem that Brazil needs to face, without denying that there is a problem. Because when you deny a problem it [looks] like you are supporting the action, and Brazil is not supporting this.

“Most of Brazilian society, and [including] those people in agribusiness, are [not] supporting this. Because this is harmful to the image of Brazil and to Brazilian business as well.”

The parliament is demanding that the agencies in charge of the forests do their job, “regardless of what the president says”.

Maia, a member of the centre-right Democrats party, is a senior political figure in Brazil and is playing a central role in pension and other reforms being implemented in a county with 210 million people.

During a visit to London prior to coming to Dublin, he met with parliamentarians there to discuss social media being used to promote political extremism.

‘Increase in hatred’

“Media platforms need to be more accountable and take more responsibility for this increase in hatred,” he told The Irish Times.

Social media companies need to discuss with legislators how problems can be prevented, and not just react to what has already happened, he said.

“These hatred [promoting] or extremist actors are in the digital world, and politicians are still in the analog world.”

Liberal democracies had to network and work with the social platform providers to protect democracy and the institutions, he said.

There was “an international network of extremist groups who believe in nationalism and past religious ideas and whose intent it is dismantle democracies across the world. I don’t know who is behind this”.

A parliamentary commission in Brazil was trying to find out “who is financing this, and who is producing the content, some of which is very good”. The content is designed to “increase hatred” for democratic institutions such as courts and parliaments.

Liberal democracies needed to network together so they can regulate these platforms together and limit them, without breaching the limits of acceptable censorship, and without limiting freedom of expression, he said.

“In Brazil we have seen self-mutilation – the mutilation of young people has grown a lot recently. It is stimulated by social media and networks. So [social media] is not just influencing politics, it is affecting the lives of young children all over the world.”

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