The Real Reason There Is So Much Hype Around The Amazon: Its About Corporations

By Theodore Shoebat

The fires in the Amazon rainforest are being hyped for industrial interests. Norway, angry that Bolsonaro has reduced funds to environmental NGOs, has reacted by refusing to send 30 million euros to the Brazilian government’s Amazon preservation department (Amazon Fund). Norway is the biggest funder to Brazil’s Amazon protection office, but is not doing this because it really cares about the Amazon rainforest. The NGOs that have been receiving Norway’s funds have been making sure that environmental regulations are enforced, but these regulations hurt small local businesses and not major corporations. Norway has a huge industrial presence in the Amazon, with its oil, mining and fertilizer companies. One Norwegian mining company, Hydro, has been responsible for massive pollution in Amazonian rivers. Hydro is mainly owned by the Norwegian government; thus, the Norwegian government does not care about protecting the rainforest, but about its own industrial domination in the region. What Norway’s funding has been doing is making sure that local competition remains small and its own corporations remain dominant. At the end of the day, the hype around the Amazon has to do with corporations. 

Bolsonaro has been very hostile to environmentalist NGOs in Brazil. In January of 2019, Bolsonaro cut off 24% of funding for Brazil’s main environmental agency, the Amazon Fund, the main conduit by which NGOs receive funds. When Bolsonaro suspended the board of directors and the technical committee of the Amazon Fund, this provoked the Norwegians to cut off its aid for the cause of the Amazon and stopped 30 million euros from being sent to the Amazon Fund. Norway’s Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen told the Dagens Naeringsliv newspaper:

“Brazil broke the agreement with Norway and Germany since suspending the board of directors and the technical committee of the Amazon Fund … They cannot do that without Norway and Germany agreeing”.

In other words, ‘We, northern Europeans, rule over you.’ 

Norway has been the biggest funder for Amazon environmental protection, giving 830 million euros to the Amazon Fund since its creation 11 years ago. Yet, Norway has a major industrial presence in the Amazon. For example, there are three Norwegian firms in the Amazon: Equinor (oil), Yara (fertilizer maker) and Norsk Hydro ( aluminum producer that dominates in mining). While the Norwegian government has shot out accusations against Brazil for deforestation, the Norwegian government is also the biggest shareholder of Hydro which according to the Pará Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) and nearly 2,000 lawsuits has been responsible for massive amounts of contamination of rivers in the Amazon rainforest. Hydro has not paid a $17 million penalty that it owes for pollution in 2009.  So then, if its not about protecting the rainforest, then what is it? The observation is quite obvious: Norway is upset that Bolsonaro has reduced regulations which penalized small businesses and did not damage significantly its major companies.  

False media is being spread around to increase the hype around the Amazon. For example, the Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo retweeted a photo of a wetland on fire with the words, “The Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen”. But the photo was from 2013 and was not of the Amazon but of the Taim Ecological Station in the southern part of Brazil. Another celebrity, Leonardo DiCaprio, posted a photo and said “The lungs of the Earth are in flames,” but the photo was 20 years old. Madonna and Jaden Smith also shared a photo that was over 30 years old (it appears to have been shot in 1989).

But in the midst of all of the inflated craze about the Amazon fires is that they are neither new nor cause by “climate change”. “Deforestation is neither new nor limited to one nation,” reported CNN. “These fires were not caused by climate change,” stated The Times. What is being repeated frequently is that the Amazon could all burn to a crisp and that if this happens the earth will lose 20% of its oxygen. Dan Nepstad, a lead author of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, was very blunt about the hype surrounding the Amazon’s oxygen:

“It’s bullshit … There’s no science behind that. The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen but it uses the same amount of oxygen through respiration so it’s a wash. … The Amazon produces a lot of oxygen, but so do soy farms and [cattle] pastures.”

The fires in the Amazon are really nothing to be surprised about given the fact that there have been worse fires in the rainforest in the past. Nepstad notes that while the fires in the Amazon are 80% greater than the fires of 2018, its only 7% more than the average fires in the Amazon. Leonardo Coutinho, one of the most prominent journalists in Brazil when it comes to environmental issues, told Forbes that there were worse fires in the Amazon in the early 2000s:

“It was under [Workers Party President] Lula and [Environment Secretary] Marina Silva (2003-2008) that Brazil had the highest incidence of burning … But neither Lula nor Marina was accused of putting the Amazon at risk. … What is happening in the Amazon is not exceptional … Take a look at Google web searches search for ‘Amazon’ and ‘Amazon Forest’ over time. Global public opinion was not as interested in the ‘Amazon tragedy’ when the situation was undeniably worse. The present moment does not justify global hysteria.”

So if there have been worse fires, and there was no hype, then the fixation on the Amazon right now has nothing to do with the rainforest and everything to do with some other interest, and since greed is what controls nations, then money is at the heart of the agenda. spoke with a correspondent of ours who lives in Brasilia named Marcos and he concurred:

“There are criminal arsonists, and there are regular burns that happen during the dry weather. This is a problem that isn’t new, many international NGOs have settled in the amazon forest, not just in Brazil by the way, and their activities are not monitored. We need to make things right, but the burning is expected to happen in dry weather and the armed forces are investigating the criminal arsonists. Normal stuff.”

Brazil’s Chief of Staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, has affirmed that Western coverage on the Amazon fires have exaggerated the situation. “There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say,” said Lorenzoni.

So what is the point of exaggerating the fires in the Amazon? Why would the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, be the biggest voice out of all politicians outside of Brazil about the fires in the Amazon? Officials within the Brazilian government are arguing that this has nothing to do with the rainforest and everything with entrenching upon Brazilian natural resources. President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, accused the French government for having a “colonialist mentality” in expressing outrage for the Amazon. The Brazilian ambassador to France, Luis Fernando Serra, expressed suspicion that there are 300 NGOs in the Amazon but no NGOs in the northeast of Brazil:

“You can suspect you have a hidden agenda when you see 300 NGOs in the Amazon and zero in the Northeast. Why don’t 55 million North-easterners deserve an NGO and 25 million in the Amazon deserved 300?”

While Jair Bolsonaro has expressed against European interests in Brazil, he has his own interest in the region. He has talked about increasing legal mining in the Amazon, including on indigenous lands. Bolsonaro and his administration are currently putting together a bill that wants to widen the legal industry for gold mining. The argument of the bill is that illegal mining, every year, obtains 30 tons of gold, a number six times higher than the amount of gold procured legally. According to one investigation done by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) and the Federal Police (PF), illegal mining is “responsible for financial, social and environmental damage of devastating proportions.”

The gold mining company, Ourominas, which is located in Itaituba, was discovered to be involved in “fraudulent documentation” according to the Gazeta do Povo. Ourominas is one of the largest gold mining companies in the Tapajós River basin, one of the regions most affected by illegal mining; it is also where 30 tons of gold are illegally traded each year with 4.5 billion Brazilian reals in resources being undeclared and taken for profit. Between 2015 and 2018, Ourominas defrauded the purchase of 610 pounds of gold, taking an undeclared $ 70 million that went into the pockets of the corporatists. According to a survey done by the NGO Amazonia Saqueada, and other organizations, there are 245 areas of gold mining or extraction such as diamonds and coltan in the Amazon; 132 of those areas are in Brazil. All of this gold in one giant rainforest, there is no doubt that industrialist interests are all over the Amazon.

The Brazilian ambassador indeed made a good observation: all of these hundreds of NGOs are in the Amazon, but are not seen in the northeast part of Brazil? There is definitely international interests, with Norwegian oil and mining companies dominating the Amazon. But we cannot ignore that there are national interests in the Amazon, with Bolsonaro’s administration being fixated on gold mining which would benefit fraudulent gold mining operations. Mining permits are given out freely in Brazil. For example, businessman Francisco do Nascimento Moura was the holder of 66 miners’ permits. Paulo Moreira De Tarso de Oliveira, one of the prosecutors in the Amazon task force, said that “Gold has no origin classification and mining has no estimate of shipped gold, that is, I can make tons of gold without the government knowing.”

But Bolsonaro, while he talks about international forces being against Brazil’s government, doesn’t exactly have “national” interests, but also wants international finance in the Amazon. He has many times said that he desires international business in the Amazon. During his campaign for the presidency, Bolsonaro said that he would lessen penalties on companies for damaging the Amazon.

Bolsonaro also affirmed that he could withdraw Brazil from the Paris Climate Agreement which he sees as an encroachment on Brazil’s sovereignty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increase in deforestation, but this also provoked international outcry and a spark in grass roots movements who wanted to see more regulation on rainforest fires. In the 2000s regulations really took effect as there was an expansion of protected zones and environmental regulations were being imposed. From 2004 to 2014, deforestation saw a decrease each year.

Many of the local farmers in the Amazon are against the regulations because they see it as a impediment to their means to make more profit; they need to expand land with sunlight and no trees in order to grow produce and graze cattle. Moreover, local farmers hate the idea of international organizations telling them what to do and see it as an attempt to suffocate the small farmers and ranchers with regulations which only hinders them from competing with international corporations which are not hurt by regulations as much as local businesses. In the words of Jeffrey Hoelle, an associate professor of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara:

“A return to enforcement of the laws is clearly necessary, but stronger enforcement during the 2000s did not change economic incentives on the ground. In the eyes of many Amazonian farmers and ranchers, they shouldn’t be asked to bear all the costs for preserving the forest. Until that changes, many feel that foreign concern for the Amazon is just a smokescreen for powerful northern countries to maintain their position by holding down a potential agricultural powerhouse through unreasonable environmental standards.”

“The Amazon is ours,” Bolsonaro told journalists in mid-July. “We preserve more [rainforest] than anyone. No country in the world has the moral right to talk about the Amazon. You destroyed your own ecosystems.”

Bolsonaro’s rhetoric against the NGO’s attempt at controlling the farmers and ranchers’ fires has encouraged more fires. Fabiano Lopez da Silva, head of Fundação Vitoria Amazonica, an environmental non-governmental organization based in Manaús, observed that “[Farmers and illegal loggers] can go forward with illegal fires. There won’t be any sort of [fiscal enforcement] or monitoring or fines for this kind of activity”. In fact, farmers planned for “a day of fire” for August 10th in which they would set forests ablaze to make more land for their work.

The purpose of the collective fires was to show the Bolsonaro administration that they are willing to work. In the following 48 hours fires spread quickly in the Amazon. The empowerment of the farmers and ranchers to burn land follows the recent government reduction of funds to the major department for environmental regulations for the Brazilian government, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). Bolsonaro’s predecessor, Michel Temer, reduced the discretionary budget of IBAMA by nearly 44% in 2017. Bolsonaro, knowing that this was a popular move to take, cut down IBAMA’s budget by 24% in April of 2019. IBAMA would patrol farms and ranches, with the backing of soldiers, to make sure that regulations were being abided by. But with these budget cuts, it made patrolling very difficult, to the happiness of those who worked the land and grazed cattle. As Time Magazine reports:

“A spokesperson for IBAMA says that its budget has been reinstated to what it was prior to the April cuts. Nonetheless, thus far in 2019, IBAMA has issued only one third of the fines it did over the same period last year, according to Folha de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest newspapers. The drop is likely a result of both a lack of funding and political will. Earlier this year, Bolsonaro had IBAMA fire an agent, who happened to have fined Bolsonaro years ago for illegal fishing.”

In July of 2019, Sawmill workers and some residents of Placas, in western Pará, showed their protest against IBAMA’s environmental regulations by setting fire to several bridges. While farmers have to bare the brunt of regulations, the Norwegian mining company, Hydro, has not paid fines stipulated by Ibama at $17 million after one of its subsidiaries flooded rivers with toxic mud in 2009.

So what is the real reason for Western pressure on Brazil? It appears that the ultimate reason for Europe’s attacks on Brazil is not the preservation of the rainforest, but to make sure that regulations remain in force to keep the smaller businesses small and the big multi-billion euro corporations of Europe dominant.

On August 23 of 2019, Bolsonaro made a speech in which he said that environmental abuses would not be tolerated and pledged to deploy troops to deal with the forest fires. However, in the same speech Bolsonaro made sure to say that economic opportunities needed to reach the people living in the Amazon, which means that his administration wants to increase the presence of mining and industrial farming. With Bolsonaro removing regulations, what has happened is the further empowerment of grileiros, or “land-grabbers,” people who illegally clear out trees and sell the empty land to agribusiness. Apurinã chief Francisco Umanari said in an interview with the Intercept:

“With Bolsonaro, the invasions are worse and will continue to get worse … His project for the Amazon is agribusiness. Unless he is stopped, he’ll run over our rights and allow a giant invasion of the forest. The land grabs are not new, but it’s become a question of life and death.”

Here is what appears to be the bottom line as to what is happening in this whole quagmire. You have Bolsonaro who wants to bring mass amounts of industry into the Amazon, so he cuts down regulations which then angers the northern Europeans (mainly Norway) who have mining and oil industry in the Amazon and want the regulations to keep their corporations above smaller businesses. While Brazil has had tensions with France and Norway, Bolsonaro is getting warm with the Americans. Donald Trump recently had a conversation with Bolsonaro and took to Twitter about how commercial agreements will be deepened between the US and Brazil:

“Our future Trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before. I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!”

So while the Norwegians are upset about the loss of regulations which help their companies dominate over local businesses, the Americans are furthering their business interests in Brazil. One of the major American corporations that has made their presence in Brazil is Blackstone, through their two partner companies, Pátria Investimentos and Hidrovias. The companies built a highway linked with their terminal in Miritituba by which they facilitate the exporting of soybeans and grain. The terminal is ran by Hidrovias 50% of which is owned by Patria Investimentos. In spring of 2019, Jair Bolsonaro announced that Hidrovias would be involved in the privatization and forming of hundreds of miles for the B.R.-163 highway, which of course would lead to deforestation and the making of more farmland. The co-founder of Blackstone is Stephen Swarzman, a major financial backer for the GOP. Swarzman backed Trump with a dinner in 2017 in which people would pay $100,000 to have dinner with Trump. In 2006 he gave $2.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell’s Super PAC. It is no wonder that he put Jim Breyer, McConnell’s billionaire brother-in-law, on the board of Blackstone. In 2018 Swarzman donated $8 million to McConnell’s Super PAC as we read from the Intercept.

So while Norway is not liking the reduction of regulations in Brazil, the United States is happy to put in its own industry in the rainforest. It appears that what is occurring is competition between European and American companies, with the former using the hype around the Amazon to punish Brazil for removing funds for the NGOs that were making sure that regulations were imposed, regulations that did not hurt European companies, but smaller businesses.