Brazil's Bolsonaro defends environmental record in speech to U.N.

by Reuters
Tuesday, 22 September 2020 14:44 GMT

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro is seen during a pre-recorded address to the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly in Brasilia, Brazil, September 16, 2020. Marcos Correa/Brazilian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

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BRASILIA, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro rejected international criticism of his government's environmental policies in a pre-recorded speech to a remote session opening the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

Bolsonaro also defended his handling of the world's second-most deadly coronavirus outbreak after the United States. The far-right leader, who has repeatedly downplayed the gravity of the virus, lamented the deaths that have passed 137,200.

The Amazon rainforest is experiencing its worst rash of fires in 10 years, while the Pantanal wetlands, the world's largest, has the most blazes ever recorded.

Environmental advocates blame Bolsonaro for emboldening illegal ranchers and land speculators who set fire to land to increase its value for agricultural use.

The president rebutted the accusations and said Brazilian agriculture feeds one billion people in the world and that the country has the best environmental legislation.

"And yet we are the victims of one of the most brutal campaign of misinformation about the Amazon and the Pantanal," he said, without specifying what information was false.

His government has said criticism of its environmental policies are just a cover for protectionism in Europe, where farmers see Brazil as a competitor and businesses have threatened to boycott products from Brazil.

Bolsonaro said his government is still committed to concluding a free trade agreement between the European Union and the South American trade bloc Mercosur.

He blamed the media for "politicizing" the pandemic and causing panic among Brazilians by telling them to stay home, leading to "social chaos" while his government "boldly" took emergency economic measures to avoid a deeper crisis.

Environmental activists protested against Bolsonaro outside the U.N. headquarters on Monday. They carried banners that read "Brazil in flames" and "No forest, No future" to call attention to the destruction of the rainforest that scientists see as vital to curbing climate change.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Bill Berkrot)