We Burn, You Pay: Brazil’s Brand New Negotiation Tactic

3 December 2019

Brazil’s Environment minister Ricardo Salles is taking a two-week break from all the trouble back home and enjoying the good wine and tapas in Madrid. In his spare time, he embarrasses his country’s professional diplomats by trying to play negotiator. His tactic: to blackmail richer countries into paying Brazil for burning down the Amazon rainforest.

Minister Salles has said he is coming to the COP to demand big money in return for environmental protections after the current government has systematically dismantled forest protection programs and  the existing funding channels that involve any control  and oversight systems, such as the Amazon Fund and other bodies that involve civil society and other stakeholders. 

The minister calls his management strategy “results-based environmentalism”. The results couldn’t be clearer: deforestation, which makes up the lion’s share of Brazil’s carbon emissions, has sharply increased this year €“ rising by 29% for the one-year period ending in July. Assassinations of indigenous and community leaders are increasingly common throughout the Amazon re gion, when they get in the way of the land-grabbers, ranchers and illegal miners who are feeling newly empowered by the efforts of President Bolsonaro and Minister Salles to support unsustainable economic expansion in the Amazon and dismantle the already fragile regulatory and enforcement systems. The latest case of violence happened this weekend, while the minister took his executive class flight to Madrid: Alessandra Munduruku, an indigenous activist against wildcat mining, had her house broken into and her computer stolen – in the very town where four firefighters were unjustly arrested last week, with Salles” blessing. 

In the current environment, potential donors must get clarity on the beneficiaries of any funding and systems of oversight and monitoring. There is a high risk of any funding being channeled to those very ranchers and land-grabbers who are busy illegally invading and deforesting parks, indigenous reserves and protected areas.

The current government has only acted to protect the environment or maintain even a pretense of controlling deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions when forced to, by overwhelming international pressure, particularly related to access to international markets for commodities like beef and soybean.

This COP is an opportunity for even stronger messages from diplomats and market forces. And to prevent any kind-hearted naive government to be bewitched by any “Pay me big for slashing and burning rainforests” narrative.


1. What will happen to the four firefighters arrested and released in Santarem?

  • Will be subject to further charges, arrests and harassment from the Brazilian legal system;
  • Be exempt from further formal charges because of a “lack of evidence” but remain under a cloud of suspicion and subject to further police action with little or no evidence;
  • Be completely exonerated and given a formal apology, and invited to continue their exemplary service to Amazonia.
  • Other (Please specify)

2. How will Minister Ricardo Salles respond here in Madrid to the arrest and release of the firefighters in Santarem?

  • Apologize for the blatant abuse of police authority and admit that it was a tragic miscarriage of justice;
  • Plead ignorance, stonewall, and defer to the police, courts and Brazilian justice system for a definitive response
  • Continue to feed fake news, conspiracy theories and baseless attempts to incriminate NGOs to his social media followers and any media gullible enough to accept fake news and conspiracy theories.
  • Other (please specify)

Go to CAN’s Twitter account @CANIntl to answer the quiz online!

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