Jair Bolsonaro wants this protected area to be a “Brazilian Cancún”

. Aug 24, 2019
cancún Jair Bolsonaro wants Angra dos Reis do be Brazil's Cancún

As news of the Amazon forest fires goes viral on social media, President Jair Bolsonaro has come under the microscope for the environmental neglect pushed by his administration. Supported by agriculturalists, Mr. Bolsonaro’s discourse favors increasing the commercial exploitation of Brazil’s natural resources. Since May, Mr. Bolsonaro repeatedly proposed turning Angra dos Reis, a small beach town close to Rio de Janeiro, into what he calls the “Brazilian Cancún.”

Famous for its islands, crystal-clear

water and biodiversity, Angra is protected by environmental reserves. To make the area more appealing to tourists, Mr. Bolsonaro’s project would dismantle the Tamoios Ecological Station, which protects five percent of the bay of Ilha Grande, located close to Angra dos Reis.&nbsp;</p> <h2>What does the project propose?</h2> <p>Inspired by Cancún, the famous tourist destination in Mexico, the project’s main goal is to stimulate the regional economy by way of tourism. The plan is currently valued at BRL 1 billion, and Mr. Bolsonaro announced that he has already contacted investors from Israel, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.</p> <p>“Cancún generates USD 12 billion per year. What does Angra generate? It only makes money from selling [traditional Brazilian foods] <em>cuscuz</em>, <em>cocoroca</em>, and coconut water,” said Mr. Bolsonaro.&nbsp;</p> <p>The proposal envisions a series of infrastructure projects, including the development of a major highway and the construction of a tourist complex at the local marina. Moreover, the regional airport would feature a new terminal and an expanded runway. The plan also anticipates the reactivation of a local passenger train as well as the construction of desalination and sewage treatment plants.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro initially said that the proposal would be approved through a presidential decree. He later corrected himself, acknowledging that it must first pass through Congress. A bill has not yet been drafted.</p> <h2>What about the local nature reserve?</h2> <p>Bolsonaro’s Cancún project has been met with hesitancy since it plans to close the Tamoios Ecological Reserve. The area is comprised of 29 islands, some of which are very small. The one-kilometer radius around each island is also protected. In reality, most of the reserve is actually underwater.</p> <p>The region is extremely diverse, featuring river dolphins, seahorses, and sea turtles. In certain seasons, even penguins can be spotted as they migrate through the area. In order to protect local flora and fauna, boats can visit the reserve, but tourists are not allowed to fish, dive or land on the islands.&nbsp;</p> <p>In June, the area made the UNESCO World Heritage list, encouraging environmentalists who were worried about the Tamoios Ecological Reserve’s closure.</p> <h2>Things are not always what they seem</h2> <p>Although the law prohibits tourists and fishermen from threatening local species, the reality is very different. Mr. Bolsonaro said that the reserve actually protects “absolutely nothing.” Moreover, he argued that the region can be enriched through a more progressive approach to tourism.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Tourism and the environment can be conciliated for the good of the population,” the president claimed.</p> <p>Those who visit the reserve will frequently see fishing boats illegally operating in the area. With little regulation, diving has become common practice, according to Nelson Palma, the vice president of the Organization for the Sustainability of Ilha Grande (OSIG), an environmental group aimed at protecting the region’s natural resources.</p> <p>“The reserve doesn’t protect ‘absolutely nothing,’ but it protects very little. If you go to the region you’ll see all kinds of fishing,” said Mr. Palmas. “But I also understand that the [personnel in charge of regulating the region] isn’t capable of attending to the entire area. The reserve protects very little, but it protects what it can.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Brazilian agencies in charge of environmental regulation face critical conditions. For example, the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency (Ibama) is partly in charge of overseeing the Tamoios Ecological Reserve. However, the institute’s local headquarters are literally falling to pieces, leading to the building’s partial closure.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Support for the “Brazilian Cancún”</h2> <p>Despite resistance from environmentalists, the project has received some praise. Ulisses Covas, the president of the Angra and Ilha Grande Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, said that Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan could double local revenue.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Tourism needs to become more of an economic priority in this region through investments in infrastructure that don’t negatively impact the environment,” said Mr. Covas in an interview to newspaper <em><a href="">O Globo</a></em>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Angra town hall is against abolishing the local ecological reserve, but presses for more lenient laws that make space for “responsible tourism,” such as diving. They also argue that current regulations are too restrictive and actually promote irregular behavior.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Other setbacks</h2> <p>As Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan faces some backlash, other local issues may hinder the president’s plan for a “Brazilian Cancún.” The ecological reserve is located between Paraty and Angra dos Reis, two cities that have become increasingly violent.&nbsp;</p> <p>While the national average is 26.99 homicides for every 100 thousand inhabitants, Paraty has a rate of 58.33 homicides for every 100 thousand inhabitants. Moreover, Angra dos Reis has an average of 36.92 homicides for every 100 thousand inhabitants, according to the Ministry of Health’s System of Information on Mortality (SIM).</p> <p>“I really don’t believe in [this project] because how are you going to turn Angra into Cancún?” said Mr. Palmas. “Angra [is similar to] Rio when it comes to violence and Paraty is no different. [The reserve] is right between two very big security concerns.”</p> <p>While the plan faces intense criticism, Mr. Palmas does not entirely reject it. As an environmentalist, he believes in the protection of the nature reserve, but also envisions a more effective system that conciliates tourism and decreases irregular activity.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I always battle for the environment, but I’m extremely unsatisfied with how conservation units work in Brazil,” said Mr. Palmas.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><em>Correction: A previous version of this article said Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s plan was budgeted at BRL 1 million. It has been corrected to BRL 1 billion.</em>

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Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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