UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attacked the media on Tuesday for “lying” about the fires in the Amazon and criticized international concern for the rainforest as fueled by interest in the region’s biodiversity and mineral wealth.
A day after shunning a high-profile U.N. meeting on climate change, Bolsonaro used his speech to the General Assembly to re-enforce Brazil’s sovereign right over its 60% share of the Amazon.
“It’s wrong to say the Amazon is part of a global heritage and wrong to say, as scientists affirm, that our rainforest are the lungs of the world,” Bolsonaro said.
The surge in fires in the Amazon this year, the highest since 2010, has caused worldwide concern over the rainforest, considered a bulwark against climate change, and criticism of Bolsonaro’s government for not doing enough to stop the deliberate setting of fires to expand pastures.
Climate change has been at the top of the agenda at this year’s gathering of world leaders, with Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg urging immediate action to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
Bolsonaro said the dry weather at this time of year favored fries, both spontaneous and illegal, stating that the rainforest is not being devastated by the blazes “as the lying media says.”
He added that the “sensationalist attacks” his government has sustained from the international media over the fires have sparked Brazilian patriotism.
The right-wing president took office in January with a plan to develop the Amazon by building roads and extending agriculture and mining into indigenous reservations.
At the U.N., Bolsonaro insisted that Brazil is one of the countries that most protects its environment and uses only 8 percent of its territory for agriculture to produce food that the world needs.
He criticized non-governmental organizations for wanting to “keep our indigenous people like cavemen” on isolated reservations that account for 14 percent of Brazil’s territory. He said they could improve their lives if minerals under their reservations were tapped - from gold and silver to uranium, niobium and rear earths.
Bolsonaro included a indigenous woman, Ysany Kalapalo, on his delegation at the assembly. Her presence was rejected by the 16 tribes of her Xingu park reservation.
Environmental groups said Bolsonaro had failed to convince the world he is looking after the Amazon.
The Brazilian Climate Observatory said his speech would not stem a rising outcry for a boycott of Brazilian products that could hurt agribusiness, one of his main bases of support.
Greenpeace said fires, deforestation and violence have risen in the Amazon under a government that has weakened enforcement against environmental crimes and plans to allow foreign mining companies onto indigenous reservations.
“For the rainforest and its people, Bolsonaro is the problem not the solution,” said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator.
Trying to move away from the topic of the Amazon, Bolsonaro stressed Brazil was working with other nations, including the United States, to restore democracy in Venezuela which was suffering the “cruelty of Socialism” under what he called the “nefarious regime” of President Nicolas Maduro.
Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Jamie McGeever, Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Grant McCool