United Nations Headquarters
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday bore little resemblance to his earlier speeches to world leaders. The Brazilian leader praised Brazil’s development under his government and wiped out political rivals, but the Brazilian leader seemed more focused on appealing to voters at home as the country’s presidential election looms next month.
Bolsonaro, the first world leader to speak on stage at the UN headquarters in New York City, spent much of his speech describing economic and political achievements, saying that poverty, inflation and unemployment are declining in the country.
Indeed, these indices have all shown small declines in the past two to three months, although the overall economic picture is somewhat grim, with one in 10 Brazilians currently unemployed and inflation of 8.73% in August, compared to the same month last year.
The president, who has long positioned himself as business-friendly, also argued that privatization and deregulation under his administration have fostered a better economic climate in the country, and called for the continuation of that governance model — a not-so-subtle call for reelection.
Right-wing Bolsonaro faced left-wing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the October polls, appearing to wave him off straight in his speech, telling the assembled world leaders: “Only between 2003 and 2015, when the left ruled over Brazil was Petrobras’ debt burden due to mismanagement, political subdivision and deviations is $170 billion,” he said, referring to the state oil company.
“The person responsible for this was unanimously convicted in three cases,” he continued, an unmistakable reference to da Silva, whose conviction was overturned by Brazil’s Supreme Court in March 2021 — paving the way for the former leader to launch a trial. political challenge with Bolsonaro this year.
Socially conservative themes from Bolsonaro’s election campaign also emerged during his UN speech. “Other fundamental values for Brazilian society, reflected in the human rights agenda, are the defense of the family, the right to life from conception, self-defense and the rejection of gender ideology,” he said.
As in previous years, the Brazilian president also opposed environmental concerns over Brazil’s management of the vast Amazon rainforest, telling the General Assembly that two-thirds of the entire Brazilian territory is still covered with native vegetation,” which is exactly as it was when Brazil was discovered, in 1500,” he said.
“In the Brazilian Amazon, an area equivalent to Western Europe, more than 80% of the forest remains untouched, contrary to what the major national and international media are reporting,” Bolsonaro added.
Nevertheless, under Bolsonaro’s presidency, deforestation in the Amazon has reached its peak, and the president himself has explicitly called for increased development and economic activity utilizing the country’s natural resources and vast protected forests.
As CNN previously reported, Brazil lost more than 33,800 square kilometers (13,000 square miles) of rainforest in the Amazon between 2019 — when Bolsonaro took office — and 2021, according to the Brazilian Space Research Institute (INPE), a government agency. That is an area larger than Belgium, with an average loss of 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 square miles) per year.
His rival da Silva — or Lula, as he’s commonly known — is seen as having a greater chance of protecting the environment, recently telling CNN Brasil that in his administration there will be “no deforestation in the Amazon.” During his presidency, which ran from 2002 to 2010, deforestation in Brazil fell by 65%, according to INPE
Brazilian domestic politics is nothing new to many in New York, with pro-Bolsonaro supporters and critics expressing their views in the streets around the UN headquarters.