'Isolated' but defiant, Brazil's Bolsonaro defends handling of Covid and climate at UN

United Nations Headquarters, NUUT With Covid-19 and the environment at the top of the agenda at this year’s United NationsGeneral Assembly, observers braced for the first world leader to speak in the UN headquartersstoried 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 presentinga 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.
The conservative populist leader stuck to established provocations on social and pandemic issues, repeatedly alluding to the importance ofthe traditional nuclear familyand criticizing pandemic lockdown measures. Doctors should be free to prescribe the use ofoff-labelmedications against Covid-19, added the president, who has long championed the unproven malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.
    Brazil traditionally goes first in the General Assembly’s weeklong roster of speeches by member states, and Bolsonaro, who is up for reelection next year, had already set a pugnacious tone for his appearance, publicly flouting the UN’shonor systemthat calls for foreign delegations to be vaccinated before entering the building. Bolsonaro declared last week that he would not get vaccinated, because he already had Covid-19.
      Why do you take a vaccine? To have antibodies, reg? My antibodies rate is really high. I can show you the document,” he said in a live social media broadcast. He added that he will only make a decision about getting vaccinatedafter everyone in Brazil gets the vaccine” — a dissonant voice as the General Assembly pushes this year to increase vaccination throughout the globe, and cajoling wealthier nations to share more doses with poorer ones.
        But while the Brazilian President has tended to use appearances at the UN to reject foreign authorityshowing a similar allergy to being told what to do when it comes to another globe-spanning crisis: global warminghe seemed to sidestep any direct confrontation on that front.
        In 2020 at the UNGA podium, as flames raged in the Amazon, he told the hand-wringing world to back off, claiming foreign agents were overhyping the wildfires inthe most brutal misinformation campaign.” He has long painted the environmental concerns expressed by foreign governments, local indigenous groups, and organizations as prelude to an imagined foreign invasion of the Amazon.
          Hierdie jaar, a quieter Bolsonaro acknowledgedenvironmental challengesbut boasted that the Amazon region had seen a drop of 32% deforestation in August compared to the prior year. Deforestation spiked dramatically under Bolsonaro’s government’s previous years in office, and the country can be a deadly place for environmentalists — laas jaar, 23 were murdered in Brazil in cases related to logging, according to environmental and human rights watchdog Global Witness.
          He also called on other countries to do their part by fulfilling commitments to climate fundingat substantial amounts.His own government has previously received significant foreign aid from other countries to help halt deforestationa tactic that some environmental advocates in Brazil criticize, pointing out that not all the money allocated for environmental work in Brazil is spent in the first place.
          Bolsonaro, never a fan of pandemic restrictions, acknowledged as much in Tuesday’s speech before world leaders, saying that while he regretsall of the deaths that took place in Brazil and worldwide,” the toll of unemployment must be balanced against that of the coronavirus. Die afgelope jaar, he had frequently raged against municipal and state-level lockdown orders in Brazil, even during the grimmest moments of the pandemic, when hospitals filled to capacity and whole cities ran out of oxygen. Over half a million Brazilians have died in the pandemicthe highest death toll in the world after the United States.
          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,” hy sê. (Bolsonaro did have a sit-down scheduled with Poland’s conservative, anti-LGBTQ president Andrzej Duda before he took the stage Tuesday, though.)
          Hierdie jaar, ook, the stakes of climate change have never been clearer, with catastrophic fires and floods seen around the world. Brazil’s vast forest works as anair conditionerfor the globe, influencing global temperature and rainfall patterns, and absorbing carbon dioxide, and Winters says Bolsonaro had already previewed a newconstructivetone 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.
          In a meeting Monday with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro showed the same mild-mannered stubbornness that he later displayed at the podium. The two leaders discussed climate and Covid-19, and Bolsonaroaffirmed Brazil’s commitment to sustainable development,” a Brazilian Foreign Ministry statement read after the meeting.
            But when it came to getting vaccinated per the United Nations’ versoek, he was as unmoving as ever.
            During footage of the meeting at the UN headquarters, Johnson could be heard telling Bolsonaro, “AstraZeneca, it’s a great vaccine. Get the AstraZeneca vaccine. I had it twice.Bolsonaro laughed the tip off. “Geen, not yet,” hy het gesê.

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