The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) sent a letter two weeks ago to American President Joe Biden and his Special Climate Envoy, John Kerry, in which he asks for a “direct channel” of communication with the US government on issues related to Brazilian Amazon.
The indigenous people want to be included in any debate promoted by the United States to negotiate about Brazil's environment, without the intermediation of the administration of Jair Bolsonaro, as would be customary in the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.
Elected with the proposal to face the challenge of climate change, Biden even mentioned the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest as one of his focuses of attention during a debate during the presidential campaign. Currently, Kerry and his team are organizing a Climate Summit on April 22, in which Biden intends to seal his global role in the subject and to make commitments on the theme of countries like Brazil, whose president, Jair Bolsonaro, was invited to the event.
It is in this context that the APIB letter, to which BBC News Brasil had exclusive access, reaches the White House and Kerry's office. In the communication, the indigenous people affirm that "to ensure and demand that the Brazilian State make use of its environmental legislation and its different protection agencies again, it is essential to include Indigenous Peoples in the negotiation and strategy development table".
Signed by Sônia Guajajara, national coordinator of the APIB, the letter lists as problems of the Bolsonaro administration not only the increase in deforestation since 2019, but the support to bills that would allow mining on indigenous land, the end of land demarcation processes, the lack of actions to remove invaders the land already demarcated and the weakening of environmental inspection bodies.
And it questions the real commitment of the Brazilian government to eventual goals agreed with the Biden government. “The Bolsonaro government's death project proposes the legalization of socio-environmental crimes and the discontinuation of policies to protect the Amazon rainforest,” affirmed the indigenous people in the letter.
According to the report, Brazilian indigenous groups are articulating with environmental conservation NGOs both in Brazil and in the USA to facilitate a meeting with the American executive before any announcement of collaboration between the countries is made in April. Consulted on the APIB initiative, the Itamaraty said that it was unaware of the letter's content, said “to recognize its full right to make its claims and proposals known”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed, however, that "it is worth remembering that the official bilateral dialogue takes place between representatives of the respective governments, who will always be attentive and receptive to the wishes and contributions of sectors of both societies".
The end of the turbulence between the USA and Brazil?
The relationship between Brazil and the United States went through troubled months during the campaign and the transition period of the American government. On the one hand, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro publicly expressed a predilection for Republican Donald Trump and even spoke of fraud in the election of Biden, in addition to taking weeks to congratulate him on his victory.
On the other hand, the then Democratic candidate made it clear that he would question the Brazilian government about the preservation of the Amazon, allying itself with the leaders of European countries, which, after signing the free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, interrupted the progress implementation of the treaty when claiming concerns with the current Brazilian environmental policy.
“Brazil's tropical forests are being destroyed. More carbon is absorbed in that forest than is emitted by the United States. I will ensure that several countries come together and say (to Brazil): ‘Here are US $ 20 billion (or R $ 115 billion). Stop destroying the forest, '”Biden said in a debate with Trump later in 2020.
The Brazilian government's response was immediate. Bolsonaro said Brazilian sovereignty was not for sale. And the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, went on Twitter to mock: “Just one question: is Biden's $ 20 billion aid a year?”
But after the inauguration of the Biden government and especially in recent weeks, the tone has changed. Brazilian ministers and representatives of the Democratic administration have held a series of conversations in which the central topic is the climate program of the American government, launched in January, which foresees the use of "market mechanisms" to promote the preservation of the Amazon.
At the head of the initiative on the American side are the Department of the Treasury, the State Department and the American Agency for International Development (USAID), in addition to the Special Climate Envoy, John Kerry. They are responsible for creating a project, which includes clear counterparts, to that the USA start to finance the Brazilian forest conservation.
And despite the initial negative response, the Brazilian government has made it clear that it is interested in environmental programs that involve money for the country's forestry services.
The negotiations have been made in conversations between the Brazilian Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, and the US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, between Biden's Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and Chancellor Ernesto Araújo and between Kerry, Araújo and Salles.
And if the intense agenda between Brazilians and Americans has not yet resulted in announcements of concrete measures, Brazilian Indians argue that it has been used by Brazilian management to suggest that the uneasiness between Brazil and the USA in matters of the environment has been left behind, but without this representing a turn in the position on the issue on the part of Bolsonaro.
After questioning data on deforestation in Brazil and saying that global warming was actually “climate alarmism” derived Marxist ideologies, Chancellor Ernesto Araújo said three weeks ago at a Council of the Americas event that “something that was considered an impediment (for the good relationship between Brazil and the USA) is totally out of the way ”.
"We are now working together as key partners for a successful COP-26 and full implementation of climate agreements." COP-26, the UN climate conference, will take place in November 2021 in the United Kingdom.
Last Saturday, 27/03, under intense pressure to open and let the post, Araújo went to Twitter to say that "the invitation of President Biden to Bolsonaro for the Climate Summit reflects the ability and determination of Brazil to build along with USA a modern environmental agenda, including investment, technology, job creation and vision of the future. We are already working on that ”.
“What we saw is that there was this recent conversation between Ricardo Salles, Ernesto Araújo and John Kerry that led the government to say that the problems with the Americans in relation to the environment were solved. And our understanding is that this government does not act with the truth, ”said Dinamam Tuxá, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), and one of those responsible for drafting the letter to the American government.
“In the speech, they try to sell an image that is not what we perceive in practice. To date, there has not even been a dialogue between this government and indigenous peoples to try to put together a strategy to fight invasions of our lands. What we want is not discourse, it is action, inspection. That is why the presence of indigenous people in the decision making of any measure for the Amazon by the American government is legitimate ”, continues Tuxá.
In the letter, the indigenous people also say that the conservationist interests of the native peoples and the Americans coincide and cite monitoring data the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which show that the demarcated areas are the least affected by deforestation.
In addition, they personally demand John Kerry's commitment to the indigenous people, recalling that in October last year, in a speech to honor leader Alessandra Munduruku, Kerry placed himself as a public ally to the indigenous cause.
For sources in American diplomacy listened to privately, although the Democrats have already publicly demonstrated different degrees of “hostility” to the Bolsonaro government, and sympathy for groups that oppose him, such as the Indians, the need to lead Brazil to commit to goals ambitious in the climate and environmental field, zero priority for the Biden management, obliges Kerry and the State Department to act with caution in opening channels with leaders outside the government structure.
It is a fine balance between exerting maximum pressure without, however, causing offense to the Bolsonaro administration.
A week ago, in an interview with the British magazine The Economist, Kerry made considerations on the subject. He said that he will not “just be dictating” what Brazil should do, but will work together with the country in search of solutions. Even so, the Climate Envoy recognizes that it will not be easy, since it is “a government that has felt harmed by the way it has been approached so far”.