Bolsonaro government and environment



In Brazil, under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, elected based on the political weariness of the left, the environment is experiencing its most serious historical crisis

The right and neoliberalism

One of the characteristics of the political right, deepened from the beginning of the 1980s and based on the neoliberal primer, is an excessive anxiety to obtain profits at any cost. Direct or indirect profits arising from hasty policies, with a short-term vision and of a dubious developmental character, are generally distributed to the majority economic agents, who, as a rule, support a central core of support for right-wing governments. This nucleus is made up of holders of large capital: bankers and rentiers, agribusiness mega-entrepreneurs and wealthy entrepreneurs, mainly in the service area, able and capable of handling vast volumes of resources and marketing products and services on an international scale. Governments that rely on the neoliberal framework, including Brazil, have been highly permissive in the implementation of policies characterized by the search for a rapid expansion of agricultural frontiers and the service industry, institutionalizing the precariousness of work in a large part of the population. population, seen as a submissive source of labor and whose wages are nothing more than a monetary liability to be contained in the name of maximum profits.

The patience needed to wait for the recovery and renewal of natural resources, for sustainable economic growth and for sharing a country's wealth, constitute obstacles to be circumvented or removed in order to quickly reach obscure immediate developmental goals. For this reason, they usually have little or no appreciation for democratic institutions and constitutions, seen as obstacles to these objectives, since mobility in this field requires time with negotiations and social rearrangements. Its practices also include combating targets that offer some resistance: legislative representatives, the judiciary community, scientists, professors, thinkers, immigrants, artists, progressive parties, critical media, etc. On the cultural level, right-wing governments often take over national flags, using them in full or in part as symbols of their own political factions, with the aim of characterizing their opponents as saboteurs of the country.

To resort to a metaphor, we can imagine a fruit tree and a group of hungry people who depend on it. Most of this group defends waiting for the ripening time of all the fruits to then harvest and distribute them in order to satisfy everyone's hunger. A minority, however, formed by tyrants, is divided between containing the population while others kidnap the few fruits available just before the proper season, which are greedily consumed without sharing with others. Finally, after the premature harvest, they still destroy the tree to use the wood for their own benefit, leaving the rest of the group hungry and out in the open.

Therefore, one of the strong arms of right-wing governments are the police, security forces and militias, natural recipients of a considerable part of financial resources. The presence of several of its members in key command posts, in addition to guaranteeing the integrity of the government, legitimizes a recurring discourse of “strong government”; supposedly the most accredited to end corruption, even in places where it does not exist.

Right-wing and far-right experiences abound in the world. In addition to the classic examples of violent Nazi-fascist governments in Germany and Italy in the interwar period, the right came to power in Turkey and the Philippines, examples of countries more vulnerable to populism that usually takes advantage of the chronic inefficiency of impoverished educational systems and of endemic corruption. Other countries such as the United States, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Poland, and Switzerland also currently experience right-wing governments, but in these, the institutions and social protection policies, which have been in force for years, are solid enough to contain the predatory impulses of rulers of any authoritarian or autocratic hue. Furthermore, the European right has grown more based on the refugee containment discourse than on the promises of sustainable economic growth, although these are also part of the electoral menu.

The environment

As stated above, right-wing governments and voters, and notably those on the extreme right, in general have little or no appreciation for environmental conservation. In Brazil, under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, elected on the basis of the political wear and tear of the left, the environment is experiencing its most serious historical crisis.

Already during the transition of government, Bolsonaro tried to demote the Ministry of the Environment to a secretariat subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture, the latter strongly adhered to the predatory interests of big agribusiness. Due to the strong negative repercussions of the act, his own assistants recommended a retreat in this intention. However, his determination was so clear that he chose a minister prosecuted for an environmental crime, who disregards global warming and who defends large landholdings. In a recent meeting, the chosen Minister Ricardo Salles, taking advantage of society's attention, more focused on the pandemic health crisis, textually expressed his intention to soften environmental legislation as if it were "passing a herd through an open gate".

In line with his policy, Bolsonaro also began his term by vigorously contesting the official deforestation data announced by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), which made it possible to reliably consolidate data that showed the real dimensions of the devastated Amazon areas. In a discriminatory act, the respected director Eduardo Galvão would be fired just for announcing unfavorable numbers, showing the influence of the election on deforesters, who acted based on a certain implicit “political endorsement” arising from the presidential speech.

Turning to everyday practice, the representative has acted as a brute force to dismantle the sustainable and preservationist activities built decades ago, which placed Brazil as one of the world's exponents of environmentalist leadership. At that time – we can remember – due to the chronic lack of resources, we still had great difficulties in fully enforcing the sector's legislation. Despite this scenario, numerous acts have worsened the situation, reaching unacceptable levels. In just a year and a half of government, Bolsonaro managed to dismantle what took more than two decades of efforts, if not let's see.

Administrative measures:

Transfer of the Brazilian Forest Service, from the Ministry of the Environment to the Ministry of Agriculture, subordinating the fate of forests to the interests of agribusiness.
Repeal of the ordinance that allowed environmental inspectors to legally destroy equipment seized from criminal loggers and miners, purchased with proceeds from environmental crimes.
Limitation of the autonomy of technicians and field security at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMbio).

Legal measures:

Revision of the list of threatened aquatic species.
Reduction or extinction of boundaries of Conservation Units.
Amendment of the future environmental licensing law, making it the exception rather than the rule.
Review of taxes applied to companies potentially causing environmental damage.
Flexibilization and reduction of fines imposed on those who commit environmental crimes.
Repeal of the decree that prohibited the advance of sugarcane monocultures in the Pantanal and the Amazon Forest.
Liberation and simplification of requirements for the commercialization of pesticides, many of which are prohibited in first world countries.
Auction authorization for seven oil blocks located in regions of high environmental sensitivity, ignoring technical reports from Ibama recommending the contrary.

Foreign policy

The government has opted for denying or minimizing global warming, a scientific reality supported by a myriad of highly robust evidence. Bolsonaro and his ministers have made contradictory statements about maintaining Brazil as a signatory to the Paris Agreement[I], generating tensions and uncertainties in the international community[ii]. In addition, due to weak policies to contain Amazon deforestation and the extinction of management councils, several countries, notably Norway and Germany, interrupted the flow of resources from the Amazon Fund, which financed environmental protection projects. Several economic actors in the international community are suspicious of the manipulation of numbers and the government's negligence in the face of the advance of fires in the Midwest and North of the country.

Land policy and forest peoples

The so-called forest people are the inhabitants of the Amazon Region (but not restricted to it) who live in harmony with the ecosystem, extracting its resources for subsistence, but without depleting them. They are usually formed by succeeding generations, whose stable populations have lived in the same areas for years. The main of these peoples are the indigenous people, who have been living there for thousands of years. However, from the last centuries, riverside peoples, quilombolas, rubber tappers, chestnut trees, small farmers and fishermen started to live from the extraction of products such as rubber, chestnut, balata, vegetable oils and many others. These peoples, who settled in small villages on stilts or on dry land, need intact forest and clean rivers to use natural resources without destroying them. Therefore, they are true guardians of the forest, denouncing eventual invaders and imbalances.

On the political level, right-wing and far-right governments despise them, since they constitute minorities that hinder the expansionist plans of agribusiness agents, cattle ranchers, prospectors, large entrepreneurs, illegal loggers and land grabbers, historical enemies of the whole forest. And with Bolsonaro, it is no different. One of the targets of their attacks is precisely their lands, the nerve center for the survival of these peoples. For this reason, land manipulation and the flexibilization of the use of weapons have caused an increase in violence not only against the forest peoples, but also in the agrarian structure of the whole country.

Land measures:

Reduction and blocking of new demarcations of indigenous and quilombola areas.
Suspension of processes related to agrarian reform, of interest to family farming.
Land regularization via self-declaration, which allows land grabbers to legalize illegally appropriated land.
Expansion of the borders of the Barreira do Inferno Launch Center (Alcântara, MA), and the consequent removal of quilombolas and indigenous descendants, residents of the surroundings.

indigenist policy

Closely linked to land policy, the government seeks to exterminate the Indians who play the role of true guardians of forests and natural environments. One of the flanks for its progressive extermination is the favorable regulation of mineral exploration, the construction of hydroelectric plants, and the exploration of oil and gas in demarcated lands. These undertakings often generate violent impacts on ecosystems; therefore, they need to be accompanied by a rigorous environmental and social compensation scheme. In this clash, indigenous people are extremely vulnerable and therefore need protection and monitoring.

The Bolsonaro government, in turn, signals that public bodies must work so that indigenous people are fully integrated into the urban population, thus collaborating to accelerate their respective extinction processes. For this reason, the government has appointed evangelists, whose philosophy is to replace the cultural values ​​of indigenous peoples with those of whites, to coordinate this social transition. Apart from the history of those religious groups, of practicing labor and sexual exploitation with vulnerable populations, the work carried out decades ago by anthropologists from the National Indian Foundation (Funai) was also disregarded, which has all the knowledge to decide on the pertinence of any integration and, if it occurs, to protect the values ​​cultivated for centuries by these populations. Otherwise, Brazil loses a cultural heritage of undeniable value, and the forests lose their main allies.

The end

At least on the environmental front, Jair Bolsonaro is not alone. By strictly following the guidelines of the right-wing and far-right parties, he represents what any ruler of this ideological hue would do. Still from an environmental point of view, let's recognize that Bolsonaro is extremely transparent. Since before his election as president, still in the position of federal deputy, he has always made his intentions clear by preaching the need for a militarized government, which governs for portions of the population faithful to their creeds and frontally against any sustainable value. Keeping due proportions, the US government of Donald Trump does the same, as well as the others mentioned above. Perhaps it was important, at least hypothetically and from the point of view of historical learning, that the Brazilian people knew what it was like to be governed by an extreme right-wing party. The unfortunate thing is that the price of reality is being too high.

*Ophelis by A. Françoso Jr is a Biologist, master and doctor from the Institute of Biosciences of the University of São Paulo.

*José Eduardo Pereira Wilken Bicudo is a Biologist, Retired Full Professor at the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo and Honorary Professor at the University of Wollongong (Australia).


[I] The Paris Agreement is a treaty that governs measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from 2020, in order to contain the global warming below 2 ºC, and reinforce the countries' capacity to respond to the challenge, in a context of sustainable development.

[ii] Darby, M. Brazil: Bolsonaro threatens to quit Paris climate deal. Climate. exchange news, August 14, 2018; Bilenky, T., T. Fernandes & P. ​​Watanabe. Global warming is a secondary issue, says future minister. Folha de São Paulo, 10/12/2018, p. B9.

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