Friday, August 23, 2019

Amazon fires burning Bolsonaro (Aug. 23, 2019)

Conflagrations in Brazil's Amazon rainforest have become a topic of high level international and national concern -- with backlash that could affect Brazil's global standing and trade. Dozens of fires are affecting different parts of the Amazon -- they are more severe than in previous years. In just a week, 9,507 new fires were detected and affected at least 32 natural reserves and 36 indigenous lands. Flights throughout the Amazon were suspended today because smoke affected visibility, and hospitals in the region are reporting an influx of patients with smoke inhalation related complications. (New York TimesWashington Post, Al Jazeera, see yesterday's post.) 

French president, Emmanuel Macron called for emergency talks on the subject at this week’s G7 summit. German chancellor Angela Merkel backed his call. (Guardian) UN secretary general, António Guterres, has also urged Brazil to take action. “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected,” he tweeted. “The ongoing forest fires in Brazil are deeply worrying,” the European Commission said in a statement on Thursday. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ariana Grande have joined the critical chorus.

At home, Brazilians overwhelmingly support Amazon protections, according to polls. A petition by the campaign group Avaaz asking the government to halt illegal deforestation has received 1.1 million signatures in Brazil. On Wednesday the Brazilian environment minister was booed at an international climate event in Salvador state.

Indigenous leaders in the northern state of Rondônia countered official attempts to downplay the severity of the fires, and described watching wild animals dashing out of areas of the forest as the flames approached, reports the New York Times.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sought to deflect criticism of his environmental policies -- he lashed out at world leaders, saying they are interfering in Brazil's domestic policies. He also said Brazil lacks resources to respond to the fires, and hinted he may deploy the army, reports Reuters.

What is causing the fires is also the subject of controversial debate. Experts link the massive increase in fires -- 85 percent this year over the last -- to deforestation, countering government attempts to link the flames to a supposedly more intense seasonal drought. (Buzzfeed) It's common for farmers to illegally clear land with fires during the dry season, but critics say they have been emboldened by the Bolsonaro administration's anti-environmental rhetoric and policies. (Economist)

This week Bolsonaro accused NGO's of arson aimed at embarrassing his government. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday 118 organizations of civil society condemned his allegation: The president doesn’t need NGOs to burn the image of Brazil in the world,” they said.

The fires -- and calls for action -- come as experts warn that deforestation is pushing the Amazon closer to a tipping point of self-destruction. Data shows a surge of deforestation this year, and activists say illicit activity is fueled by the Bolsonaro administration's rhetoric, which is dismissive of environmental and indigenous rights, reports the Guardian.

Bolsonaro's policies could affect trade. Yesterday Ireland’s prime minister said the country will vote against an EU trade deal with the Mercosur trade bloc unless Brazil takes action to stop the burning of the Amazon. The UK, on the other hand, has focused on a post-Brexit trade deal and abstained from commenting on the Amazon this week. Germany and Norway are withholding contributions to Brazil's Amazon Fund, but have not said whether Brazil's environmental policies will impact their stance on the Mercosur trade deal. (Guardian)

Brazil's agricultural sector, in turn, is starting to voice concern that the Bolsonaro administration's stance will hurt their market -- and could push an unusual alliance between agribusiness and environmentalists, say some observes. A lawmaker from the ruralist caucus in Congress, which usually seeks to expand agribusiness into the Amazon, worried that environmentalist backlash could prove harmful to the sector.  And a group of governors have voiced concern over the potential impact on trade, and are asking international donors to bypass the federal government and work with state authorities, on conservation efforts. (GuardianNew York Times)

More Fires
  • The fires are spreading across borders. In Bolivia's fires have destroyed 650,000 hectares of tropical rainforest -- possibly set by local farmers. Bolivia and Paraguay said they were cooperating to extinguish fires along their joint border, and Bolivian President Evo Morales said the country had contracted a Boeing 747 ‘Supertanker’ to help extinguish Amazon forest fires spreading from Brazil. (ReutersPrensa LatinaTelesur)
News Briefs

  • A wireless network created by video-game enthusiasts in Cuba is the target of an official crackdown on private networks, reports the Miami Herald. New regulations have unleashed a broader wave of repression that has also targeted independent journalists, artists and academics.
  • A significant Zika virus outbreak in Cuba in 2017 was unreported by global health authorities, reports the New York Times.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse survived an impeachment attempt yesterday in parliament. Opposition lawmakers have accused him of numerous constitutional violations. (Voice of America)
  • An Honduran court convicted former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla de Lobo on charges of fraud and embezzlement. The case is the first major achievement of the OAS-backed Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) and a landmark case for the country's corruption prosecutors, reports InSight Crime.
  • Interpol issued a red notice for a fugitive Colombian lawmaker and former FARC rebel commander Seuxis Paucias Hernandez, known by the alias Jesús Santrich. The U.S. has accused him of conspiring to smuggle cocaine, which Santrich denied before going into hiding in July. (Reuters)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's aggressive 2019 strategy for Venezuela is backfiring on numerous fronts, argues Oliver Stuenkel at Americas Quarterly. In fact, association with Trump has become a significant liability for presidential challenger Juan Guaidó.
  • A U.S. judge confirmed the Citgo Petroleum board of directors appointed by Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. recognizes as the country's legitimate leader. (Reuters)
  • Revelations of significant wrongdoing in Brazil's landmark corruption investigation -- Lava Jato -- led credence to theories that "the misuse of judicial powers against perceived enemies, is the new mechanism through which conservative elites, or foreign governments, or international capital, undermine democracies, taking the place of the old-fashioned military putsch," reports the Atlantic.
  • Paraguay's lower chamber of congress rejected an impeachment motion against President Mario Abdo Benítez on Tuesday. The result was expected after the two warring factions of the governing Colorado Party united in defense of the president, reports EFE. Protesters and opposition politicians dubbed the move an "impunity pact" aimed at protecting the Colorado Party's grip on power in the wake of an energy deal scandal that has affected Abdo Benítez's popularity, reports Telesur.
  • A very detailed account of the secret Itaipú dam energy deal between Paraguay and Brazil that unleashed said scandal, by Christine Folch at Global Americans.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri's drubbing in this month's primary elections demonstrates the limits of technocracy for the Economist. With few successes, Macri is running for reelection with a fear based campaign -- he sought to convince voters of the dangers of returning to his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. When she stepped aside, the vote became a referendum on the country's dismal economic indicators.
  • The Mexico City marathon is overrun by cheats -- the Economist.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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