“We are open to explore our potential in a sustainable way, through partnerships that add value,” Bolsonaro said. It was his first address on the world stage since the worst fires in a decade hit the Amazon this year.
In a speech peppered with references to God, socialism and patriotism, he said foreign powers with an eye on Brazil’s natural riches “have an interest in keeping indigenous people living like cave men.”
Flanked by a team that included an indigenous supporter, he said vast tribal lands are filled with gold, diamonds and uranium waiting to be explored.
Marina Silva, a former environmental minister who presided over a massive reduction in deforestation in the 2000s, said Bolsonaro’s speech would further alienate Brazil from global efforts to preserve the environment.
“It is unfortunate, worrying and very sad to see Brazil, which was once a protagonist in the environmental agenda, deny the reality of the grave problem of deforestation,” she said. “Only someone completely deranged and delirious can negate that which the eyes can see.”
The fires, which continue, have been blamed largely on loggers and farmers, who set them to clear land for pasture and agribusiness. Bolsonaro campaigned last year on promises to open the Amazon for development; deforestation rates there have nearly doubled since he took office in January.
In August, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research detected more than 30,000 fires in the Amazon, triple the number for the same month in 2018.
Bolsonaro’s administration has dismissed the fires as seasonal, but critics have blamed lax environmental oversight. International criticism and calls for foreign intervention have rankled Bolsonaro, who has cast them as attacks on Brazil’s sovereignty.
“Every country has its problems,” he said. “But the sensationalist attacks that we have suffered, in large part at the hands of the international media, because of the fires in the Amazon, awoke in us a feeling of patriotism.
“It is a fallacy to say that the Amazon is a world heritage.”
Bolsonaro rejected a $22.2 million aid package offered by the Group of Seven last month to help fight the fires. He has said any assistance must respect Brazil’s sovereignty.
In describing the wealth of the Amazon, Bolsonaro named the Yanomami tribal land in northern Brazil. The research institute Oswaldo Cruz Foundation reported this year that illegal mining there is so rampant that more than half the population has mercury poisoning.
Bolsonaro read a letter of support signed by an indigenous agricultural group denouncing exploitation by “countries who still see in Brazil a colony without rules or sovereignty.”
“The United Nations has played a fundamental role in the suppression of colonialism, and we cannot allow this mentality to return to these rooms and corridors at any pretext,” Bolsonaro said. “We cannot forget that the world needs to be fed.”
Indigenous and environmental activists said the president and the indigenous supporter who appeared with him, Ysani Kalapalo, do not represent them.
“He wants to deliver our land for exploration, and we will never abide by this position,” said Sônia Guajajara, head of the Brazilian indigenous People’s Association. “The indigenous movement across the five regions of this country do not agree with Bolsonaro’s politics. We will continue fighting, opposing and making ourselves foes of this government.”