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Brazil Church leaders call for international pressure on Bolsonaro to save Amazon

SÃO PAULO – Bishops from the Amazon region are asking the international community to put pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to do more to protect the ecology of the vital area.

Notorious for his erratic policies on the environment, Bolsonaro has not attended the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and only sent a short video instead.

The absence of the federal government prompted different social actors from Brazil to make an effort and establish their own direct relations with members of the international community gathered at the summit.

Social activists denounced the current government’s failure to preventing deforestation, and Brazilian state governors created a coalition to directly negotiate international deals on green projects.

On November 5, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) in Brazil released a video addressed to COP26’s participants in which a group of bishops reaffirmed their commitment to the protection of the rainforest and asked the international community to put pressure on the Bolsonaro administration.

Eight bishops and a priest appear in the video. Seven of the prelates are Europeans who have been working in the Amazon for years.

Each one of them speaks in his native language: Spanish-born Bishops Jesús López Mauleón of Alto Xingu-Tucumã, Italian-born Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino of São Félix do Araguaia, French-born Bishop Dominique Denis of Santíssima Conceição do Araguaia, Irish-born Bishop Derek Byrne of Primavera do Leste-Paranatinga, German-born Bishop Norbert Foerster of Ji-Paraná, Polish-born Bishop Marcos Piatek of Coari, and Austrian-born Bishop emeritus Erwin Kräutler of Xingu.

Brazilian-born Archbishop Roque Paloschi of Porto Velho concludes the 2-and-a-half-minute clip.

Brazilian Father Justino Rezende, a member of the Indigenous Tuyuka people, also sends a message in his native language. Kräutler, who heads REPAM Brazil, is the only non-Brazilian who speaks Portuguese in the video.

“I dearly urge the attendants of COP26 to hear the cry of the peoples, of the waters, and of the forests of the Amazon and put pressure on the Brazilian government to effectively commit to the protection of the native peoples, the forests, and the waters of the Amazon,” Kräutler said in the clip.

The message reflects the distrust environmental activists have towards Bolsonaro. Kräutler said he does not think the president will change his policies concerning conservation.

“Until when will Brazil tolerate the current president’s actions, frankly harmful to the country’s good name and disrespectful of international agreements signed by Brazil itself? I don’t believe the current president can, by himself, adopt other path and ‘convert’,” he told Crux.

The Austrian-born bishop said that Bolsonaro did not attend COP26 because he “was afraid of being questioned for his actions,” and that his speeches during international summits are “full of lies.”

“Everybody knows that the Amazon is being destroyed by wildfires, other forms of deforestation, and invasions [by ranchers and illegal miners and foresters.] I have lived for 56 years in the Amazon and I’m an eyewitness of what is happening,” he said.

“But the president appears [in a video] saying that Brazil is a model for the whole world in the preservation of the Amazon and the environment,” he added.

In Kräutler’s opinion, it’s wrong to establish a deal with the goal of halting the destruction of the Amazon by 2030, as several countries did in the summit.

“Over the next ten years, thousands of square miles of forests will be destroyed in the Amazon. Only a metamorphosis in that region can avoid that. We cannot establish deadlines anymore to end criminal deforestation,” he said.

Vasino called Bolsonaro an “obstinate liar” who “cannot bring any change.”

“We can only wait for his defeat in the next election, or for his removal from office before that,” the French-born prelate told Crux.

Vasino said that few international leaders still give any kind of credit to Bolsonaro. “Only his likes in Italy, like Matteo Salvini, or in Hungary, like Viktor Orbán,” he said.

“The international community as a whole is pretty aware now that you cannot have any illusion with this administration. Most newspapers in Europe either despise or mock him,” the bishop added.

Bolsonaro was in Italy when COP26 began, where he attended the G20 meeting. Instead of going to Glasgow along with most of the other leaders, he visited the small city of Anguillara Veneta, where his Italian ancestors were born, and received honorary citizenship from the mayor. He also met with Salvini and other rightwing leaders in the country.

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