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The nightfall in the afternoon and Bolsonaro’s environmental disaster

Translated by Clara Baeder


The great writer from Amazonas Milton Hatoum discussed, in his latest novel, the contradictions of the authoritarian Brazil under the military dictatorship. The title, A Noite da Espera – o Lugar Mais Sombrio [The Night of Waiting – the Gloomiest Place], sounded premonitory. On Monday (August 19) afternoon, the country’s largest city, São Paulo, had its gloomy night when, at 3 p.m., the darkness fell. The soot night in São Paulo was a tragic metaphor for what is happening in Brazil.

In a combination of climatic phenomena, the smoke that covered the sky of São Paulo originated from the destruction of the Amazon which, since August 1, has been the target of uninterrupted burning. States like Acre, Amazonas, Rondônia and Mato Grosso do Sul have already been put on alert and admit that they do not have the adequate conditions to control the fires. After several alerts from national monitoring bodies, attacked by the government, even a NASA report announced that the fires in the Amazon are the result of deforestation.

In yet another absurd statement, Bolsonaro blamed environmental NGOs for promoting the fires. Deceitfully, the government pretends to be unaware that farmers in southern Pará, Rondônia and Mato Grosso have announced the coordinated initiative for starting intense fires last weekend, which they called “Fire Day”, to signal their support for the president and their “willingness to work”. It is clear that the scandalous increase in fires is the result of the policy of Bolsonaro’s government and his minister Ricardo Salles, based on attacks against the indigenous peoples and quilombolas [those who live in communities formerly organized by fugitive slaves].

The dismissal of INPE President Ricardo Galvão following the announcement of a record increase in deforestation in June and July foreshadowed the current tragedy. Bolsonaro tramples any scientific or objective criteria in order to end any possibility of questioning or critical thinking within the structure of the state.

All over the world, there is a contradiction that opposes the policy of accelerated dispossession advocated by the extreme right on behalf of capitalist accumulation and the growing limitation of natural resources. The very high temperatures recorded this summer in Europe, the frequent climatic disasters all over the world or the “death” of glaciers are the latest morbid symptoms that serve as a wake-up call about the future of the planet. The extreme right is a supporter of the flat Earth model and of climate change denial. It is impossible to separate the struggle in defense of the environment and the future of humanity from the relentless struggle against the extreme right. In Brazil, this is expressed in the popular and social struggle in defense of the Amazon against Bolsonaro and Salles.

The policy and politics of destruction

In an interview to the foreign press, Bolsonaro stated that his goal as the President is to “destroy” certain institutions and achievements made in Brazil in recent decades. This is his more general strategy, visible in the government’s different interventions in education, science, public service and economics. Bolsonaro and Guedes are in charge of a policy of destruction: handing over national public property (this week, the privatization of another 18 state-owned companies was announced), dismantling public education and the entire Brazilian system of scientific research.

While in recent years the territory of Brazilian forests, particularly the Amazon, was already being destroyed by initiatives such as changes in the Forest Code and the construction of hydroelectric power plants such as Belo Monte, the policy of destruction gained an unprecedented speed with Bolsonaro and Salles. The government has promised to put an end to indigenous and quilombola lands. Ricardo Salles, who organizes and leads these efforts, has always been an agent of mining and ruralism, an important person on the extreme right of São Paulo and a militant of climate change denial.

The policy of destruction promoted by the government led to intervention in inspection and scientific bodies such as Ibama, ICM-Bio, INPE, among others. The recent amendment of 16 items of the Forest Code, always under the aegis of cutting red tape, is in fact a clear stance of restriction of inspection and control to systematic deforestation promoted by large landowners, miners and mining companies. The liberalization of firearm ownership in the countryside completes this policy, facilitating the formation of armed militias to defend the interests of landowners.

Important agribusiness and mining sectors are the major stakeholders of this destructive course. Not by chance, they are part of the militant and organized base of Bolsonarism. At the end of July this year, the Ministry of Agriculture approved the use of additional 51 types of pesticides in the Brazilian market, totaling almost 300 new pesticides released in 2019. The approval pace for pesticide use is considered the highest in history. The results of the policy of destruction were felt beyond the Amazon. The large mining companies, in turn, are interested in opening new exploration areas and are responsible for two of the biggest environmental crimes ever seen in the world: the rupture of the Mariana and Brumadinho dams in Minas Gerais.

Defend the Amazon and the environment

The aforementioned data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) show that, from January to August 19, there was an 83% increase in forest fires in Brazil compared to the same period in 2018. In addition, the institute revealed that 65% of the fires that occurred in forest areas in Brazil in 2019 occurred in the Amazon; in 2018, these were 20%.

The critical stance of foreign countries, faced with this scenario, has increased. Since the beginning of the year, Bolsonaro and Salles were threatening to close the Amazon Fund, to which countries such as Norway and Germany contributed. The crusade against the fund was guided, according to the government, by the need to “cut the money for NGOs”. After the announcement that the two European countries would cut the contributions to the fund, the pressure increased this week after the release of images of the early nightfall in the largest city in the southern hemisphere, caused by soot from the fires.

The foreign press had already been highlighting the issue, as shown by the cover of The Economist magazine, a prominent publication of the transnational bourgeoisie, which highlighted the increase in deforestation in Brazil as a result of Bolsonaro’s policy. The statements of Emmanuel Macron, French president, proposing that the G7 addresses the issue, followed by criticism from governments of Germany, Canada, Ireland, Finland and even the United States, have raised concerns for agribusiness leaders, who fear the use of sanctions and the loss of markets for Brazilian exports of meat and grains.

It is clear that leaders like Macron are using the environmental issue to strengthen their internal political positions – in the case of France, in the face of pressure from the country’s agrarian lobby and the growth of the Green Party in the election to the European Parliament. The exposure of Brazilian issues by foreign powers, in turn, is the result of the anti-national policy and environmental destruction promoted by Bolsonaro – which unconditionally aligns with the Trump government and the climate change denial policy of the international far right. By openly lying and blaming environmental NGOs for the fires, Bolsonaro employs arguments against foreign interference in an attempt to hide the obvious: his government, which is pro-USA, gives away the national heritage and defends the interests of the transnational bourgeoisie, is one of the greatest threats to national sovereignty in Brazilian history.

It’s time to mobilize

Therefore, it is necessary to stimulate the mobilization in defense of the Amazon, a heritage of the Brazilian people, and against Bolsonaro’s attacks on the environment, science and national culture. The mobilization against this government, which is authoritarian, criminal and gives away our heritage, can and must take advantage of the growing confusion of the dominant class that supports the government in the face of the risks of losing export markets to agribusiness. But, above all, it is necessary to establish links with mobilizations around the world against the dispossession of natural resources and the destruction of the environment promoted by transnational corporations that threaten the survival of peoples.

It is time to expand internal and international accusations, build and support mobilizations in Brazil and abroad. There are actions scheduled in more than 100 cities around the world. On our part, we will encourage and actively participate in the protests of August 24 and 25 against Bolsonaro’s destructive environmental policy and for the immediate overthrow of Ricardo Salles, an accomplice in environmental destruction. With this struggle, we will take a fundamental step in organizing the mobilization for a global climate strike on September 20.

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