Yet another blow to the image of Brazil’s Bolsonaro government was its removal from the list of speakers at the climate summit taking place today in New York. “Brazil has not put forward any plans to increase its commitment to climate change,” was the reason given by Luis Alfonso de Alba, the special envoy of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres charged with organizing the event.
In fact, Brazil definitely has a plan, but one that goes in precisely the opposite direction. This is the Barão de Rio Branco project, presented by the government as early as February in several meetings with political authorities and entrepreneurs, and which has now been brought to international attention thanks to the website The Intercept, which obtained access to unpublished documents and a recording of one of these meetings.
This project proposes the “development”—in other words, the destruction—of the Amazon region, deemed too “unproductive,” by building dams, highways and bridges, mining, occupying arable land and settling non-indigenous people from other regions of the country, thus going far beyond even the infamous colonization program implemented by the military dictatorship under the slogan “Occupy to avoid surrender,” which lead to the deaths of more than 8,000 natives.
The ostensible goal of the project is to get the Amazon to contribute no less than half the national GDP—compared to the current 8.6%—but the driving force behind it is linked to the same old obsession of the former dictatorship, which Bolsonaro unreservedly shares: namely, the fear that Brazil would lose control over the region, for example through a fantastic scenario of a Chinese invasion coming from the border with Suriname, where China has made large investments.
This fear is clearly shared by General Marques de Santa Rosa, head of the Special Secretariat for Strategic Affairs, as is apparent when listening to the audio recording of a meeting held on April 25 at the headquarters of the Federation of Agriculture of Pará: “On the eastern border of Siberia today, there are more Chinese than Cossacks. Russia is now facing a very serious national security problem. We need to wake up before the same problem happens here.”
But the Chinese are not the only supposed threat to Brazilian sovereignty over the Amazon. A no less serious danger is deemed to be the “globalist campaign” conducted through NGOs, the Catholic Church, the environmentalists, the quilombolas and especially the indigenous peoples. The latter are even being accused of wanting to create new states on the basis of ethnicity, particularly a Yanomami nation-state that would encompass Brazilian and Venezuelan indigenous lands—another of the old fears of the Brazilian military.
This obsession with a “loss of sovereignty” was particularly stoked by the current debate on the increasing deforestation and fires (which are still continuing, despite the dwindling of attention from the press) under the Bolsonaro government, with French President Macron calling for the Amazon to be given “international status.”
In order to avert these supposed dangers—to which one must also add the much-dreaded Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will start on Oct. 6 at the Vatican—the regime sees only one solution: integrating a region which is “unproductive” and “desert-like,” according to Santa Rosa, into the “national productive system,” through large infrastructure projects and a new influx of population. Santa Rosa had already said back in 2013 that “the biggest geopolitical problem of the Amazon is the lack of population,” and that “setting up indigenous reserves in the border area is a crime against the homeland.”
The Barão do Rio Branco program consists of three major public works projects, all in the border region of Pará, the best-preserved region of Brazil: a hydroelectric plant in Oriximiná, on the Trombetas River, meant to supply the free zone of Manaus, a bridge over the Amazon River in the city of Obidos and the extension of the BR-163 highway (built in the 1970s, during the dictatorship) to Suriname. This would come at the expense of 27 indigenous lands and protected areas in the border region, starting with the land of the Wayampi people in Amapá, the same setting where, back in July, community leader Emyra Wajapi, 68 years old, was murdered by garimpeiros (illegal prospectors for gold and diamonds).
The indigenous organizations have denounced the project, claiming it “will have destructive and irreversible impacts for us, as Indigenous peoples, and our ways of life, based on the sustainable use of natural resources, which has in fact helped us to preserve one of the largest areas of environmental protection on the planet.”
As for the implementation schedule, according to the Special Secretariat for Strategic Affairs, the plan “is still in the discussion and consideration phases,” waiting for a decree which would set up an inter-ministry working group in charge of drafting the program.