‘Isolated’ but Defiant, Brazil’s Bolsonaro Defends Handling of COVID and Climate at UN

By Caitlin Hu

A more moderate tone had been expected from Bolsonaro this year, said AS/COA's Brian Winter to CNN.

With Covid-19 and the environment at the top of the agenda at this year's United Nations' General Assembly, observers braced for the first world leader to speak in the UN headquarters' storied hall: Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, notorious for both his off-the-cuff comments and controversial handling of the pandemic and the environment.

The Brazilian President's speech was calmly given, even monotone at times, opening with a numbing sales pitch of his country to investors that touted developments in sanitation and transportation services. He was presenting "a new Brazil whose credibility has been recovered in the world" -- one very different from the country devastated by the coronavirus on his watch and lashed by fires in the Amazon, where Bolsonaro has pushed for development…

A more moderate tone had been expected from Bolsonaro this year, said Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and vice president for policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas. For one thing, the assembly's mood was simply different, with fewer fellow right-wing populist leaders to join Bolsonaro in giving international busybodies the middle finger.

"Bolsonaro is more isolated than ever," Winter told CNN. "Trump left, Netanyahu is gone. The main country that really aligns with his brand of right-wing conservatism is Victor Orban's Hungary," he says. (Bolsonaro did have a sit-down scheduled with Poland's conservative, anti-LGBTQ president Andrzej Duda before he took the stage Tuesday, though.)

This year, too, the stakes of climate change have never been clearer, with catastrophic fires and floods seen around the world. Brazil's vast forest works as an "air conditioner" for the globe, influencing global temperature and rainfall patterns, and absorbing carbon dioxide, and Winters says Bolsonaro had already previewed a new "constructive" tone on coordinating climate protection during a summit convened by US President Joe Biden this spring, when Bolsonaro presented a plan to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030 and neutralize greenhouse gas emissions by 2050…

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