Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s furious reaction to foreign criticism of his handling of Amazon fires reflects the sacred place the vast region occupies in the minds of Brazil’s military, for whom the rainforest is almost a raison d‘être.
While many around the world view the Amazon as a vital defence against climate change, within Brazil’s military the sparsely developed region represents a sprawling, resource-rich asset that they believe foreigners are desperate to control.
That helps explain why Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, reacted with fury to the world’s condemnation of his handling of the fires and initially slapped down many of its offers of help.
“There is foreign interest in the mineral wealth and biodiversity of the Amazon,” retired General Paulo Chagas, a friend of Bolsonaro’s, told Reuters. “When (foreigners) speak of protecting the Indians and the environment, that is just a cover to justify outside interference.”
“President Bolsonaro believes this totally. It comes from the cradle, the military academy.”
But the Amazon is not just a potent symbol of national sovereignty for the armed forces, officials, former soldiers and experts said.
It has also given Brazil’s embattled military, buffeted by budget cuts and demoralized after years of hostile leftist administrations, an area to defend on a continent where it faces few real foes. It maintains a significant presence in the Amazon, manning battalions, building roads and staffing military hospitals in the remote jungle region.
Via Reuters / Euronews