Fri, Aug 30, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Gold and army influence Bolsonaro’s rainforest aggression

By Simone Iglesias and Bruce Douglas  /  Bloomberg

Among the tens of thousands of Brazilians who descended on the Amazonian goldmine of Serra Pelada in the 1980s was Percy Geraldo Bolsonaro, father of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro senior was among the wildcat miners who endured brutal working conditions in the quest for riches. The rainforest suffered too, with widespread environmental degradation as miners ripped apart the Amazon in their desperate hunt for gold.

It is an aspect of Brazil’s national psyche that resonates deeply with the president.

“Gold mining is a vice; it’s in the blood,” he told miners from the region in a video posted to YouTube in July last year. “We owe all we have to people with spirits like yours.”

Brazil’s president has been the subject of international opprobrium for fanning the flames of the Amazon’s destruction, with protests against his environmental policies both at home and abroad as well as interventions from celebrities like actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen.

However, his upbringing and early career suggest that he is not about to back down.

Indeed, Jair Bolsonaro initially rejected a pledge of 20 million euros (US$22.2 million) from G7 members to help fight the fires, sharpening a dispute with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said that G7 leaders must regard the Amazon’s plight as an “international crisis.”

All indications are that Brazil’s government is standing by Jair Bolsonaro on substance, if not on every aspect of his abrasive style.

There is consensus within the administration that Macron overstepped the mark with his criticism of Jair Bolsonaro over the Amazon, said three officials familiar with the thinking in Brasilia, asking not to be named discussing political strategy.

The fires currently burning through the Amazon are not significantly worse than those of previous dry seasons, they said.

Macron has to “take back the insults made against me” before there can be any discussion about aid to the Amazon, Jair Bolsonaro told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the money is a threat to Brazil’s sovereignty.


As well as affection for his father’s mining exploits, his formative years in the army shaped much of the president’s attitude toward the Amazon.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Portuguese army established forts in the Amazon that marked the founding of cities like Belem, Sao Luis and Manaus, while in the 19th century, Brazilian general Claudio Rondon led military missions to establish contacts with Amazonian tribes, giving his name to one of the states currently ravaged by fire: Rondonia.

Major modern development of the Amazon really took off during the period of the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

That military legacy translates into Jair Bolsonaro’s conviction that the region is a Brazilian and not a global asset; that its resources should be utilized and not left in the ground; and that any foreign interest stems from a desire to control the Amazon’s mineral wealth rather than preserve its ecosystem.

Given the context, Macron’s attempts to impose solutions on Brazil from outside were bound to raise hackles.

Sure enough, Jair Bolsonaro resumed the feud this week, lamenting Macron’s “unreasonable and gratuitous attacks on the Amazon” just hours after the French president responded angrily to Jair Bolsonaro’s jibe about his wife.

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