Rains reach Pantanal but damage is done

. Sep 21, 2020
pantanal wetlands environmental disaster Photo: Lucas Ninno/TBR

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This week, we explore the causes behind the Pantanal crisis, one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazil’s recent memory. And the little-known cases of child abduction during the dictatorship are taken to the UN.

How the Pantanal wetlands became a graveyard of ashes

After four months of drought, it has finally rained in the Pantanal region

— the world&#8217;s largest wetland, famed for its wildlife. The precipitation has mitigated several blazes across the biome, which has seen unprecedented levels of destruction in 2020. By August 3, fires had destroyed 1.2 million hectares of land in the Pantanal; a month later, the Brazilian Environmental Agency (Ibama) estimated that 2.9 million hectares had been affected — which represents 19 percent of the entire region.</p> <ul><li>No less than 90 percent of the Sesc Pantanal Reserve — the main conservation site dedicated to research in the wetlands —&nbsp;has been destroyed. The fires are not only devastating to fauna and flora but may also affect scientific study for years to come.</li></ul> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3795321" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3795321/embed" aria-label=""><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p><strong>How it happened.</strong> Antônio Nobre, a researcher at the National Institute for Space Research, compares Brazil&#8217;s &#8220;climate dystopia&#8221; to a plane crash. &#8220;It&#8217;s never one reason, but a multitude of factors that lead to the disaster.&#8221; Here are the main determinants:</p> <ul><li><strong>Climate change.</strong> Brazil is seeing progressively <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2018/11/22/climate-change-brazil-warmer-drier/">warmer and drier</a> weather conditions — which make forest fires more hazardous.</li><li><strong>Amazon fires.</strong> The destruction of the rainforest to the north of the Pantanal affects the “<a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2020/09/15/pantanal-wildfires-in-brazil-continue-to-rage-out-of-control/">flying river</a>” phenomenon, which consists of the movement of large quantities of water vapor transported in the atmosphere from the Amazon Basin to other parts of South America.</li><li><strong>Criminal activity.</strong> The Federal Police has launched an investigation into illegal fires started by landowners, seeking to clear land for pasture. On multiple properties, cattle herding began just days after blazes subsided. The fact that multiple fires happened simultaneously suggests that ranchers may have coordinated their actions — as <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/08/28/amazon-fires-whatsapp-brazil-bolsonaro-macron/">was the case last year in the Amazon</a>.</li></ul> <p><strong>Government role.</strong> The Jair Bolsonaro administration has faced harsh criticism for its laissez-faire stance toward the environment. Back in April, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the government should use the coronavirus crisis — which monopolized press coverage at the time —&nbsp;to &#8220;run the cattle herd&#8221; through environmental restrictions.</p> <p><strong>Consequences.</strong> On Friday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said his country will oppose the ratification of the Mercosur-EU trade deal, citing environmental concerns about Brazil. Elsewhere, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Germany have either rejected or expressed reservations about the deal.</p> <p><strong>Strange alliance.</strong> A group of 230 institutions — including environmentalists and big agro firms — <a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2020/09/17/deforestation-agro-giants-and-ngos-take-a-stand-against-bolsonaro/">banded together in an alliance</a> that would have seemed impossible years ago. These companies asked the government to take real action against deforestation in the Amazon and Pantanal biomes.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>As ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles become the norm among major investment firms, big players are forced to play by certain standards to avoid being blacklisted by markets.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Child abduction during Brazil&#8217;s dictatorship</h2> <p>The Vladimir Herzog Institute, a São Paulo-based non-profit focused on defending human rights causes and promoting studies related to the dictatorship, will present information of child kidnappings during the Brazilian military regime (1964-1985) at the United Nations today.</p> <ul><li>The complaint is based on the work of journalist Eduardo Reina, who discovered at least 19 cases of children of political prisoners being illegally adopted by military families.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Similar stories are famous in Argentina, where at least 500 children were seized by the military junta that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983. There was no such data about similar practices in Brazil until Mr. Reina&#8217;s investigation.</p> <p><strong>Rulebook.</strong> The Brazilian dictatorship followed similar guidelines to a rulebook used in Argentina. &#8220;It said that infants and children under 6 years old could be adopted by other families. Older than that, it was said the children were already &#8216;contaminated by their parents&#8217; subversion&#8217; and should be killed,&#8221; said Mr. Reina, in a recent <a href="https://ponte.org/livro-revela-sequestros-e-adocoes-ilegais-cometidos-pela-ditadura-militar/">interview</a>.</p> <p><strong>Monitoring.</strong> The Vladimir Herzog Institute will also present a secret report showing that the Brazilian Air Force operated a secret service that monitored over 25,000 people identified as opponents of the military regime.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>The Defense Ministry said that &#8220;any assessment of past events outside of their historical context is completely inadequate, distorts reality, and can misinform people.&#8221; It is important to remember that President Jair Bolsonaro has constantly sung the praises of the military regime, and once said the dictatorship&#8217;s only flaw was that it &#8220;didn&#8217;t kill enough people.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Tensions.</strong> The complaints come at a time when Brazil is already becoming a pariah in the international community — and are presented just one day before Mr. Bolsonaro delivers the opening address of the United Nations General Assembly.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>On Friday, investment bank BR Partners will hold its initial public offering. According to a financial statement, the company plans to raise up to BRL 885 million (USD 164 million). BR Partners said it intends to sell 34.6 million units, each consisting of one common share and two preferred shares. Depending on the issuance of over-allotments, the offer may rise by 35 percent.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Unemployment peaks in Brazil</h2> <p>Brazil&#8217;s unemployment rate reached 14.3 percent in the last week of August —&nbsp;a 1.1-percent bump from the previous week. At the beginning of May, the rate sat at 10.5 percent. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the recent surge in unemployment is explained both by the fact that many people continue to lose their jobs, but also that more people are leaving self-isolation to look for work.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3795117" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3795117/embed" aria-label=""><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <ul><li><strong>UNGA. </strong>President Jair Bolsonaro will deliver the opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow. As we said in our <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/09/16/what-bolsonaro-plans-to-say-to-the-united-nations-next-week/">September 16 Daily Briefing</a>, he ordered his advisers to “dig up all the data that can put Brazil in a positive light compared to other countries.” Mr. Bolsonaro will try to counter accusations of his mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, as well as dodging responsibility for the current environmental tragedy in the Pantanal wetlands.</li><li><strong>Inflation. </strong>On Wednesday, the government will publish the IPCA-15 index, a mid-month preview of monthly inflation. Economists expect the data will show an acceleration in price rises — especially for food products. Items such as rice, soy oil, and beef have become up to 30 percent more expensive in recent weeks —&nbsp;a trend that has <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/09/09/food-inflation-triggers-warning-for-brazil-bolsonaro/">worried the government</a>, as food price hikes are especially hard on the poor. President Jair Bolsonaro has even asked vendors to &#8220;be patriotic&#8221; and reduce their margins to &#8220;close to zero.&#8221;</li><li><strong>Interest rates.</strong> On Tuesday, the Central Bank releases the minutes of the last Monetary Policy Committee meeting, which could give markets some indication of what will happen to Brazil&#8217;s benchmark interest rate. Analysts believe that rising inflation could force the committee to start bumping up the rates once again.</li><li><strong>Congress.</strong> After a six-month hiatus, the Senate will hold in-person sittings again this week. The plan is to hold at least 35 confirmation hearings for government-appointed authorities, which have stalled due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, the government works to negotiate the confirmation of provisional decrees that are set to expire.</li><li><strong>Bolsonaro.</strong> On Friday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is scheduled to undergo surgery to remove a bladder stone. Early in September, Mr. Bolsonaro told supporters he had a stone &#8220;larger than a bean&#8221; and decided to remove it as &#8220;it was hurting [his] bladder.&#8221; The government&#8217;s press service has not responded to any request for comment on the matter so far.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <ul><li><strong>Data protection.</strong> The <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/08/07/pandemic-fuels-confusion-around-brazil-data-protection-law/">General Data Protection Law</a> came into effect on Friday, but the government has yet to create a regulatory body to monitor the implementation of new rules on handling citizens’ personal information. Business associations warn that the lack of regulation will lead to unnecessary litigation and insecurity about how the new law will be interpreted.</li><li><strong>Emergency aid. </strong>From now until the end of the year, emergency coronavirus aid payments will be of BRL 300 (USD 57) as opposed to the usual BRL 600. To maintain the benefit until the end of the year, the government <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/09/17/pressure-mounts-brazil-deforestation-tragedy-continues/">cut its value in half</a> due to budgetary constraints. The aid program has accounted for <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2020/08/20/what-happens-when-brazils-coronavirus-emergency-aid-ends/">97 percent of the income</a> of Brazil&#8217;s poorest 10 percent. This demographic is now expected to lose 44 percent of its purchasing power instantly.</li><li><strong>Hunger. </strong>Brazil has made an <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/09/18/food-insecurity-hit-10-2-million-brazilians-before-the-pandemic/">unwelcome return to the world’s Hunger Map</a> — the list of countries in which over 5 percent of the population is undernourished. New data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics shows that 4.6 percent of households faced severe food insecurity in 2018. In the space of five years, over 3 million Brazilians moved into the category of those who regularly have nothing to eat, the total number of citizens in this situation stands at 10.2 million.</li><li><strong>Venezuela.</strong> United Nations investigators say the Venezuelan government has engaged in a pattern of systematic violence since 2014, aimed at consolidating power and stoking fear among its citizens. A <a href="https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26247&amp;LangID=E">411-page report</a> lists “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and other crimes.” It also accuses President Nicolás Maduro and some of his top aides of torturing protesters, imprisoning political rivals, and sexually abusing detainees.</li><li><strong>Peru.</strong> President Martín Vizcarra survived an <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2020/09/14/peru-martin-vizcarra-impeachment-political-turmoil-pandemic-rages/">impeachment vote</a> on Friday, ending a political battle that threatened to worsen Peru&#8217;s political crisis while the country battles the Covid-19 pandemic. A motion to impeach Mr. Vizcarra fell flat after military leaders voiced their support for the president — and members of the opposition called for stability amid the major health crisis. Despite enforcing strict lockdowns before many European nations, Peru has seen <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2020/08/26/six-months-of-the-coronavirus-in-latin-america-podcast/">coronavirus deaths</a> increase sharply and has become the country with most per capita fatalities by the virus.

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