top of page

Brazil and the Amazon: Current destruction and Historical Exploitation

The rainforests of Brazil are being torn down” pontificated Joe Biden, during the first presidential debate just over a month a half ago. With the COVID-19 Crisis and the ensuing economic malaise and political turmoil that followed, many may have forgotten that this issue is still unresolved. The US politician and presidential contender, in what has turned out to be a confusing and not yet fully decided election, blamed this outcome on what he and many more left-leaning world leaders view as Trump’s inadequate foreign policy decisions, specifically in the realm of climate change prevention. Biden followed that statement with the threat that Brazil would endure serious repercussions if it continued to allow the devastation of the Amazon. As his solution to the issue of environmental devastation in the Amazon, Biden suggested the creation of a $20 Billion Contribution Fund from foreign nations which would be directed towards stopping Amazon Deforestation. If the South American Nation fails to use such funds to effectively slow the destruction of the “world’s lungs”, Biden holds that It should face “significant economic consequences

Brazil holds over 60% of the Amazon Rainforest and has struggled since its infancy with the reconciliation of economic growth and the preservation of its pristine natural resources. Singularly, deforestation has been steadily increasing during the Bolsonaro Administration. In an 11-year high, an area circa the size of Lebanon was deforested in Brazil’s section of the Amazon since 2019. Moreover, preliminary government data for 2020 points to a 34.5% increase in forest clearances since 2019 and satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, a federal agency, shows an increase of 60% since 2018. For the past 30 years, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Renewable Resources (IBAMA) has been the responsible body in Brazil’s struggle against Amazon Destruction.

Among the major causes of deforestation in the amazon are criminal logging operations

Brazil’s current president Jair Messias Bolsonaro has voiced severe distrust of the satellite data of IBAMA, calling it a “lie.” Bolsonaro has stressed that one of the main goals of his administration is to decrease regulatory red-tape and to boost the Brazilian economy through deregulation. This deregulatory goal extends to his Amazon Policy, which has differentiated itself from his predecessors Inácio Lula da Silva, and Dilma Rousseff, through its manifestation in the rolling back of environmental protections and the greater opening of the amazon to legal logging, mining, ranching, and industrial-scale agricultural operations.

Given Biden’s comments, the nature of the future relationship between himself and Bolsonaro as well as the policies of both nations toward the other looks, at the very best, bleak. Conversely, Bolsonaro has openly voiced admiration for the 45th US President Donald J. Trump and has seriously sought and cemented Brazil’s alignment with the Trump administration and its policies. Furthermore, both leaders have shown substantial dedication to the deepening of commercial, political, and military ties between the two colossi of the American continent. The strength of such ties will surely be tested in the occasion Biden arises to the US presidency, with Biden’s comments precipitating a virulent reaction from the Brazilian leader and key members of his administration.

The currentBolsonaro Administration historically stresses the need for the economic development of the region, believing the achievement of this goal necessarily involved deregulation of primary economic activities such as grazing and agricultural, which usually involve the clearing of sections of virgin forest. Bolsonaro released a personal statement, claiming that Biden’s statements during the debate were nothing but “coward threats towards our territorial and economic integrity.” Moreover, in response to the concerns about amazon deforestation, Bolsonaro stressed that the Brazilian state, within the scope of its capabilities, was taking substantial action against deforestation. This was followed by a reassertion of his view of foreign interest in the Amazon Rainforest as financially motivated and ultimately indicative of an attempt to undermine the sovereignty of the Brazilian state—but, what lies at the root of this diametrically oppositional attitude from the Brazilian Leader to foreign intervention in its Amazon policy?

The Bolsonaro administration’s negative response to Biden’s statements hinting at Direct US punishment of the Brazilian state is partly motivated by a vague antipathy to the United States. Such is inspired by the dark history of US involvement in Latin-America in a cornucopia of US-led regime changes, which replaced the duly and democratically elected leaders of often newly liberalized Latin American Nations with those who agreed with, and could be more easily controlled by the United States. The statements by Biden, therefore, can be seen as neo-imperialist attempts by the United States to assert its will over weaker nations politically misaligned with itself. However, the source of such resentment for foreign intervention in Brazilian affairs, a well-known theme in contemporary Brazilian politics, embodied in the President’s statement: “the greed of some countries towards the Amazon is a well-known fact” lies a deeper and bloodier period in Brazil’s history. The European Leaders who back a stronger stance against Amazon deforestation and largely politically align with Biden such as French leader Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, head the very nations which, through their long period of colonial exploitation, moulded Brazil into a primary economy destined and designed to serve European economic interests.

The current Amazonian crisis is likely to only be remedied with great difficulty. The long-standing exploitation of Brazil’s natural resources and the creation of an economic and political system designed to extract value from the land has had far-ranging repercussions and created a deep resentment, and economic challenges for the developing nation, who currently feels not asked and pleaded to but demanded and imposed upon. Regardless of the moral righteousness of his actions, Bolsonaro’s amazon policy is ultimately a result of the troubled history of the Brazilian Nation, which was crafted into a supplier of primary goods such as cattle and agricultural products to secondary economies who could aggregate value to these products for their enrichment. This historical inequity has bred a status quo where many Brazilians feel the expansion of the primary sector to be necessary for Brazil’s development to the same level as nations such as the US and those located in Western Europe. The Current Brazilian leadership wonders why the exploitation of their resources which historically enriched European nations, cannot be used in the effort to enrich Brazil itself. And, when faced with threats of foreign intervention led by the same states which owe much of their prosperity to the extraction of resources and colonial exploitation of Brazil, they meet these foreign demands to forgo economic expiation so we all may avoid environmental catastrophe with a bitterness reminiscent of a vengeful former slave, unwilling and uncaring to the mortal plight of its former masters.


bottom of page