Story at a glance

  • Fifteen U.S. lawmakers cautioned in a letter to President Biden that any support for Bolsonaro to fight deforestation should be conditional.
  • Deforestation in the Amazon has steadily increased in the past year under Bolsonaro’s tenure and endangers Indigenous communities.
  • The Amazon is one of the largest absorbers of carbon dioxide on Earth.

In an open letter to President Bident on Friday, 15 U.S. lawmakers cautioned that any support to help Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro fight deforestation should be conditional both on Bolsonaro’s efforts to significantly preserve the Amazon and to end impunity for environmental crimes and violence against environmental defenders. 

Friday’s letter comes after Bolsonaro wrote his own letter to President Biden on Wednesday asking for Biden and the U.S. government’s assistance to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and reduce the practice in the next two years. 

“In recent weeks, the Bolsonaro administration has repeatedly expressed interest in working with the United States on environmental issues,” the letter reads. “But, until now, it has demonstrated no serious interest in working with the multiple actors within Brazil who would play essential roles in any serious efforts to save the Amazon rainforest.”

Ahead of the Leaders Summit on Climate on April 22 and 23, which Biden and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are both slated to attend, members of Congress including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), expressed concern over Bolsonaro’s environmental policies. 

The letter’s signatories also question Bolsonaro’s intent, citing the Brazilian president’s history of weakening Indigenous rights and public denouncement of environmentalists.  


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“President Bolsonaro has publicly derided Brazil’s main environmental agency and sabotaged its ability to enforce the country’s environmental laws,” the letter reads. “Given this record of unmet climate commitments, it is our view that any U.S. assistance to Brazil related to the Amazon should be conditioned on the Brazilian government making significant and sustained progress in two critical areas: reducing deforestation and ending impunity for environmental crimes and acts of intimidation and violence against forest defenders.”

Data analyzed by Yale University suggest that Amazon deforestation rates rose by 25 percent in the first half of 2020, amounting to 1,184 square miles. This set the precedent for 2020 to be the worst year for deforestation in over a decade. 

During his presidential campaign in 2020, Biden criticized the deforestation of the Amazon and proposed $20 billion in federal funding to slow deforestation. 


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Scores of environmental advocacy organizations have advised the Biden administration to withhold funding until Bolsonaro improves his government’s climate policy.

A group of nearly 200 Brazilian groups penned a similar letter to the Biden Administration, noting that for Biden to pledge any funding to Bolsonaro would be jeopardizing both human and environmental rights. 

“Negotiating with Bolsonaro is not the same as helping Brazil solve its problems,” the second letter reads

Its signatories cite similar issues raised by U.S. lawmakers, notably that Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental policy has weakened law enforcement agencies and regulations, and encouraged the “invasion of indigenous lands” 

“Brazil is today a divided country. On one side there are indigenous peoples, quilombolas, scientists, environmentalists and other people that fight for life and against deforestation. On the other side is the Bolsonaro regime, threatening human rights and democracy and puts the Amazon in risk. Biden must pick a side”, Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, said.


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Published on Apr 16, 2021