When US President Joe Biden met Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for the first time ever yesterday at the Summit of the Americas, Biden made the embarrassing choice of praising Bolsonaro’s management of the Amazon, which is nothing less than an affront to Brazilians fighting to protect the rainforest.
Since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest have been destroyed in the Amazon, including inside numerous Indigenous territories that are facing overwhelming invasions by illegal loggers and wildcat miners.
The Bolsonaro administration has sabotaged Brazil’s environmental law enforcement agencies while sidelining civil society from policymaking. The president has falsely accused civil society organizations of environmental crimes. His government has maintained a hostile stance towards Indigenous peoples’ rights, promoting the adoption of several legislative initiatives that would arbitrarily curtail their rights to their territories, which are among the best protected forests in the Amazon. It has not demarcated a single Indigenous territory since it took office, even though it is obligated to do so under Brazil’s Constitution.
These actions have taken a dramatic toll on multiple fronts, leading to the highest annual deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the past 15 years, according to the government’s own figures. The environmental destruction is accompanied by a 138 percent increase in cases of invasion of Indigenous lands and the highest number of land conflicts since 1985, according to national organizations Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) and the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
In addition to being divorced from reality, Biden’s statement is remarkably tone deaf. Last Sunday, Brazilian Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Philips were reported missing while they investigated invasions of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in Amazonas state. The Brazilian government’s search and rescue efforts have been underwhelming. Local Indigenous people fear the two may have been victims of organized crime, underscoring the growing power of these mafias in the region as environmental law enforcement has retreated under Bolsonaro.
Biden has shamefully squandered the opportunity to leverage his meeting with Bolsonaro to support the courageous defenders of the Amazon. These defenders are putting their lives on the line to protect the world’s largest rainforest and a vital bulwark against climate change. Biden should correct this mistake and press Bolsonaro to reverse his damaging policies, urging Bolsonaro to get Brazil back on track in fighting deforestation and protecting forest defenders from violence.