Monday, August 26, 2019

Bolsonaro sends troops to fight Amazon fires (Aug. 26, 2019)

Fires and international pressure finally sent Brazil's government into crisis mode. This weekend President Jair Bolsonaro's administration began deploying a military operation aimed at combatting intense blazes in the country's Amazon. But the goal is dual: protecting the forest and Brazil's external image, reports the Washington Post. The military is aiming to put out widespread forest fires, but commanders also said an important part of the mission was creating "a positive perception of the country," reports the New York Times.

On Saturday Bolsonaro gave a speech promising a “zero tolerance” approach to environmental crimes -- a sharp about-face after social media threatened boycotts of Brazilian products and European countries said trade deals might be on the line. 

The crisis has brought to the fore a central tension over the Amazon -- which Brazil considers a matter of sovereignty, but is considered a global priority by international activists and some world politicians. How the international community phrases demands for environmental protection will be key in determining response, warn some experts. If demands veer towards interventionist, Bolsonaro might succeed in rallying nationalist response, according to the Washington Post.

This morning G7 countries announced an immediate $20m aid package to help Amazon countries fight wildfires and launch a longer-term global initiative to protect the rainforest. The plan would involve a reforestation program, details of which will be revealed at next month's U.N. general assembly meeting. But it was not immediately clear whether Bolsonaro will cooperate, reports the Guardian. On Twitter his first reaction was to criticize French President Emmanuel Macron for treating Brazil as if was "a colony or a no-man’s land."

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said G7 countries will be seeking a more collaborative approach on the issue, after diplomatic clashes on the Amazon fires last week. (See Friday's post.)

Funds will be made available immediately, to pay for fire-fighting planes, said Macron. He also promised to "offer concrete support with military in the region within the next few hours," reports the BBC.

The extent of the Bolsonaro administration's plan to undermine environmental protections is stunning. OpenDemocracy accessed a government powerpoint outlining a strategy to thwart international conservation efforts and sideline indigenous rights in the Amazon.

  • While international attention has focused on Brazilian blazes, Bolivia's unique Chiquitano forest is also being devastated by vicious forest firesPresident Evo Morales suspended his re-election campaign yesterday, after initially downplaying the crisis -- and asked for international aid to assist in combatting the flames which have destroyed 2.5 million acres of forestland in the eastern state of Santa Cruz. Morales critics say the destruction -- traced to illlegal fires started by small-scale farmers clearing land -- were encouraged by the Morales administration's push to capture votes by handing out land to peasants and opening up new areas to agribusiness, reports the New York Times. A month ago Morales announced measures aimed at increasing beef production for export -- 21 civil society organizations are now calling for the repeal of this decree, arguing that it has helped cause the fires and violates Bolivia’s environmental laws, explains Claire Wordley in the Conversation.
More Amazon on fire
  • The fires are real, but a lot of the pictures circulating on social media are not of the current blazes, and some are not even from the Amazon -- New York Times.
  • Not that the scope and severity of the fires is anything less than alarming. Satellite imagery paints a potent picture. (Washington Post)
News Briefs

  • The U.S. Trump administration backtracked on a plan to slash foreign aid, last week. (PoliticoNew York Times) The plan would have an cut estimated $4 billion in unallocated foreign aid funding this year. (See last Monday's post.)
  • Negotiating an exit to Venezuela's crisis is uncomfortable given the players at the table, but it's the only possible way out of the labyrinth, argues Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed. The Norway-mediated dialogue between the government and opposition is the best option, but talks have been undermined by U.S. sanctions that allow Nicolás Maduro to play the victim of imperialism.
  • An estimated 10,000 Venezuelan migrants crossed from Colombia to Ecuador this weekend, ahead of a new visa requirement that went into effect today, reports EFE. Local authorities voiced concern that the new regulation would push more migrants to cross illegally, with added risks, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Jamaica is afflicted by an outbreak of violence -- the government has responded by calling a state of emergency and sending troops onto the streets. The majority of the country's homicides -- 80 percent -- are carried out with firearms, most of which come from the U.S., where loose regulations make them easy to purchase. Jamaica is just one of the countries in the region where U.S. arms are fueling carnage, reports the New York Times.
El Salvador
  • Former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes is accused of large scale corruption -- investigative reporting shows how he spent lavishly on his personal life even as social priorities in El Salvador languished due to lack of funding. He has received asylum in Nicaragua, and says the accusations are politically motivated. But efforts to bring Funes to a Salvadoran court go well beyond partisan bickering, writes Óscar Martínez in a collaboration between El Faro and El País.
  • Mexico is the second most dangerous country in Latin America for women -- and activists are angry that the López Obrador administration hasn't made gender issues a priority, despite campaign promises. Worst, austerity plans are affecting much needed initiatives including child-care and women's shelters, reports the Conversation.
  • Mexico's government reached a preliminary deal with four private energy companies that could resolve a months-long conflict over natural-gas-pipeline contracts, reports the Wall Street Journal. The issue is considered a test of the López Obrador administration's commitment to honoring existing contracts with the private sector.
  • Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei will face a highly complicated security panorama, primarily regarding impunity, corruption and the country’s ever-present gangs, reports InSight Crime.
Brazil vs France
  • Bolsonaro and Macron sparred on a whole different issue on the side of the Amazon conflagration -- Bolsonaro made disparaging comments about French First Lady Brigitte Macron's appearance on Twitter. To which Macron responded today in a press conference: "I myself believe Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that from their president. I believe the Brazilian people, which is a great people, are a bit ashamed of those kind of behaviors. ... I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope they will very soon have a president that acts like one." (Washington Post)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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