The Brazilian president’s speech was delivered calm, if not monotonous at times, opening with a numbing sales pitch from his country to investors who have touted developments in sanitation and transportation services. He presented “a new Brazil whose credibility has been found in the world” – a country very different from the country devastated by the coronavirus under his watch and lashed by the fires in the Amazon, where Bolsonaro pushed for development.
The conservative populist leader stuck to established provocations on social and pandemic issues, repeatedly hinting at the importance of “the traditional nuclear family” and criticizing the pandemic lockdown measures. Doctors should be free to prescribe the use of “off-label” drugs against Covid-19, added the president, who has long championed the unproven antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.
Brazil has traditionally taken first place in the list of speeches by member states of the week-long General Assembly, and Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election next year, had already set his appearance pugnaciously, flouting publicly the UN “honor system” which calls for foreign delegations to be vaccinated before entering the building. Bolsonaro said last week that he would not get the vaccine because he already had Covid-19.
“Why are you taking a vaccine? To have antibodies, right? My antibody level is really high. I can show you the document,” he said on a live broadcast. on social networks. He added that he will only make the decision to get vaccinated “after everyone in Brazil has received the vaccine” – a dissonant voice as the General Assembly pushes this year to increase vaccination worldwide. and coaxing the richest countries to share more doses with the poorest. those.
But while the Brazilian president has tended to use appearances at the UN to dismiss foreign authority – showing a similar allergy to being told what to do when it comes to another global crisis: global warming – he seemed to avoid any direct confrontation on that front.
In 2020, on the UNGA podium, as flames raged in the Amazon, he told the writhing world to back off, saying foreign agents were exaggerating wildfires in “the country’s disinformation campaign. more brutal “. He has long painted the environmental concerns expressed by foreign governments, local indigenous groups and organizations as a prelude to an imaginary alien invasion of the Amazon.
This year, a calmer Bolsonaro acknowledged “environmental challenges” but boasted that the Amazon region experienced a 32% drop in deforestation in August compared to the previous year, citing figures from the Institute. Brazilian National Space Research Report indicating 918 square kilometers of deforestation. The number, however, is still nearly double what was recorded in August 2018, before the Bolsonaro administration.
In contrast, data from the Amazon Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon) – which monitors deforested areas by satellite – suggest 1,606 square kilometers of deforestation in August
, an increase of 7% compared to the same month last year. It is also the highest rate for August in a decade, according to satellite images from Imazon.
The president also called on other countries to do their part by honoring their climate finance commitments “to substantial amounts”. His own government has already received significant foreign aid from other countries to help stop deforestation – a tactic some conservationists in Brazil criticize, stressing that not all money allocated to environmental work in Brazil is spent in the first place.
Bolsonaro, never a fan of pandemic restrictions, acknowledged this in Tuesday’s speech to world leaders, saying that if he regrets “all the deaths that have taken place in Brazil and around the world”, the unemployment toll must be weighed against that of the coronavirus. Over the past year, he had frequently lashed out against municipal and state foreclosure orders in Brazil, even during the darkest times of the pandemic, when hospitals were filling to capacity and entire cities were running out. oxygen. More than half a million Brazilians have died in the pandemic – the highest death toll in the world after the United States.
A more moderate tone was expected from Bolsonaro this year, said Brian Winter, editor of Americas Quarterly and vice president of policy at the Americas Society / Council of the Americas. On the one hand, the mood in the assembly was simply different, with fewer right-wing populist leaders joining Bolsonaro in giving the middle finger to international interlocutors.
âBolsonaro is more isolated than ever,â Winter told CNN. “Trump on the left, Netanyahu is gone. The main country that really aligns with his brand of right-wing conservatism is Victor Orban’s Hungary,” he said. (Bolsonaro, however, had scheduled a meeting with conservative and anti-LGBTQ Polish President Andrzej Duda before he took the stage on Tuesday.)
This year, too, the challenges of climate change have never been clearer, with catastrophic fires and floods around the world. Brazil’s vast forest functions as an “air conditioner” for the world, influencing global temperature and precipitation patterns and absorbing carbon dioxide, and Winters says Bolsonaro had already previewed a new “constructive” tone on coordinating the climate protection at a summit convened by US President Joe Biden this spring, when Bolsonaro presented a plan to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030 and neutralize greenhouse gas emissions
In a meeting on Monday with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro displayed the same stubbornness in a gentle manner that he then displayed on the podium. The two leaders discussed the climate and Covid-19, and Bolsonaro “affirmed Brazil’s commitment to sustainable development,” read a statement from the Brazilian Foreign Ministry after the meeting.
But when it came to getting vaccinated at the behest of the United Nations, he was more still than ever.
During footage from the meeting at UN Headquarters, Johnson could be heard telling Bolsonaro, “AstraZeneca, this is a great vaccine. Get the AstraZeneca vaccine. I’ve had it twice.” Bolsonaro burst out laughing. âNo, not yet,â he said.
Reporting provided by Rodrigo Pedroso of CNN in Sao Paulo.