Ignoring the mandatory requirement to be vaccinated, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro traveled to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. There, he issued a defense of his administration, which is widely questioned domestically and internationally over its overall health and environmental policies. But his presentation was widely criticized as unrue.
Bolsonaro said he wanted to present “a Brazil different from that published in a newspaper or seen on TV.” Facing falling popularity ahead of the presidential elections in Brazil next year, Bolsonaro raised expectations of a more moderate speech. But this didn’t happen, as he chose to distort facts in favor of his narrative.
He was the only G20 leader attending the UN General Assembly that hasn’t been vaccinated yet. When meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro said he “still” didn’t take the jab, while in Brazil he regularly says he won’t be immunized. “I had Covid. I have a very high immunization rate,” he told to reporters in New York.
You can’t make this up
In his speech, wearing a face mask (something he doesn´t do in Brazil) Bolsonaro said his government “supports vaccination” but rejects the obligation to get a vaccine. He once more supported “early treatment” drugs for Covid-19 such as hydroxychloroquine, which scientists have already dismissed as ineffective.
He said he didn’t understand why “many countries along with much of the media” positioned themselves against early treatment of Covid-19, adding that “history and science will know how to hold all of them responsible.” He also highlighted the government’s “generous” Covid-19 welfare program that assisted Brazil’s poor. But the reality is far direr.
Brazil suffered the world’s largest Covid-19 death toll after the United States, with over 21 million confirmed cases and 590,000 deaths. The handling of the pandemic is now being discussed by the Brazilian Senate, where representatives from vaccine manufacturers said they offered vaccines that were rejected by the government.
In New York, the Brazilian delegation was involved in several striking episodes. A group of protests shouted “genocide” in from of the residence of the Brazilian mission to the UN, to which the Brazilian Minister of Health Marcelo Queiroga replied by showing them the middle finger. Queiroga, unvaccinated, contracted Covid-19 in NYC.
To top it all off, Bolsonaro’s cruel defiance didn’t stop at the pandemic.
Bolsonaro also painted a rosy picture of his administration’s environmental record. He said deforestation dropped 32% in August compared to a year ago. This is technically true, but taken out of context: the figures are still higher than when Bolsonaro took office, and a total 918 square kilometers of forests were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon in August, Brazil official data showed. Much of this is burned by ranchers who want to grow cattle.
In his speech, Bolsonaro ironically asked “which other country in the world has a policy of environmental protection” like the one of Brazil. This sparked rage among Brazilian environmental leaders, who over the past few years, have witnessed how Bolsonaro has allowed illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, and miners to destroy the Amazon since he took office in early 2019.
While he was visiting New York, a group of environmental activists flew over the Amazon to show what’s actually happening in the rainforest. They captured images in two Amazon states between September 14 and 17. While the images don’t lie, “the same cannot be said of Bolsonaro’s speech” a press release from the activists reads.
“What we saw from above was the forest covered in smoke and unchecked devastation on the ground. Setting fire to the forest is part of the deforestation cycle, which includes the initial removal of the most valuable trees, a financial benefit for those who invest in land grabbing,” Romulo Batista from Greenpeace Brazil said in a statement.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon only fell by 1.2% from January to August 2021 compared with the same period in 2020, according to government data. The decrease amounts to 6,026 square kilometers. Annual deforestation rates remain double what they wereduring January to August 2018, before Bolsonaro took office and weakened environmental regulations.