After yesterday’s revelation that Republican lobbyists were assisting Brazil’s extremist right-wing government in attracting American business investment in the Amazon — promoting opportunities in mining, agribusiness, and the energy sector in what was formerly pristine rainforest — The Intercept has now uncovered ties between a top donor to Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the ongoing destruction in the Amazon.
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The connection comes through Stephen Schwarzman —a major Trump ally and someone who has donated millions to Senator McConnell — the co-founder and CEO of Blackstone.
Schwarzman and Blackstone own a majority stake in Hidrovias do Brasil — one of two Brazilian companies controlled by the major U.S. investment firm — that have contributed in significant ways to the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest in the country as they expand deforestation to clear land for grain and soybean crops and build highways and shipping terminals.
Their work helps assist President Jair Bolsonaro’s vision of a manifest destiny for Brazil that includes milking the Amazon region of every resource and dollar that can be extracted without regard to environmental consequences
It is a vision that doesn’t respect or value the global environmental importance of the Amazonian jungle, a region of unparalleled biodiversity whose foliage is responsible for generating a large percentage of the earth’s oxygen.
The construction of the B.R. 163 highway — that winds from the state of Mato Grosso into the Amazon — by the Schwarzman-controlled company is particularly problematic since the deforestation involved in building the roadway is compounded by the subsequent clearing of the jungle on its perimeters to create additional farmland.
The deforestation of the Amazon was a major problem during Brazil’s military dictatorship that lasted from the mid-1960s until 1985. Subsequently, international pressure and environmental activism helped indigenous communities slow the destruction of the natural landscape considerably.
After the left-wing government of the Workers’ Party was ousted in 2016 in what many consider to be an illegal “soft coup“, Bolsonaro — often called the “Trump of Brazil” for his bombastic personality and extremist right-wing politics — appointed a “soy mogul” drooling for additional agricultural land as the Minister of Agriculture and the deforestation of pristine jungle shot back up.
Environmental groups who recognize the importance of the Amazon – 60 percent of which is in Brazil — know that preserving the rainforest is crucial to fighting the climate emergency since it absorbs significant amounts of the carbon dioxide that contributes to the warming of the planet.
With the impact of Brazilian deforestation affecting everything from how much rainfall U.S. farmers in the Midwest get for their crops to how much the average global temperature will rise, any company that assists the right-wing government in Brazilia in expanding business interests over the well-being of an irreplaceable global resource is complicit in ensuring that the climate emergency only gets worse.
While Blackstone denies that its work in the country is environmentally destructive, citing approval by the International Finance Corporation division of the World Bank, the IFC’s own studies show that its construction of a shipping terminal in the heart of the Amazon will only “accelerate conversion of natural habitats into agricultural areas, particularly for soy production.”
In the end, it’s unlikely that the current Brazilian government will do anything to stop its expansionist policies in the Amazon given its view of the area as a part of the nation’s patrimony that should be developed to maximize the country’s gross domestic product.
Only Brazillian voters can institute a regime change in their country to change government policy, but international pressure on Bolsonaro and on the international companies helping enable his policies must be kept at a maximum before the Amazon loses another fifth of its mass.
If that occurs — as is likely under Bolsonaro’s current policies — “the Amazon is at risk of a phenomenon known as dieback, where the forest becomes so dry that a vicious, cascading cycle takes over, and it becomes ‘beyond the reach of any subsequent human intervention or regret,’” as The Intercept article explains.
Putting profits over the continuation of civilization as we know it is more than short-sighted and selfish.
It is criminal and needs to be stopped as soon as possible.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by Ryan Grim at The Intercept.