Senate Democrats urge Biden to condition aid to Brazil

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President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021. More than a dozen Senate Democrats sent a letter on Friday, April 16, 2021, to Biden highlighting the woeful environmental track record of his Brazilian counterpart and urging him to condition any support for Amazon preservation on significant progress reducing deforestation. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

RIO DE JANEIRO – More than a dozen Senate Democrats sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday complaining of a woeful environmental track record by his Brazilian counterpart, Jair Bolsonaro, and urging him to condition any support for Amazon preservation on significant progress reducing deforestation.

The letter was signed by senators including Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and Bob Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It comes just days before Biden is expected to meet with Bolsonaro and other foreign leaders at a U.S.-organized climate summit that was a major plank of his campaign pledge to more aggressively fight climate change.

The letter seems aimed at curtailing a fledgling bid by Bolsonaro, a far-right climate skeptic who was a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, to refashion himself as a willing partner of Biden on the environment in the hopes of securing billions of dollars in foreign aid to promote sustainable development in the Amazon.

The senators warn that failure to slow deforestation will also affect their willingness to support Brazil’s bid to join the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — a long-sought goal of Bolsonaro.

The 15 senators, who also include former presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, said they support cooperation on the Amazon between the U.S. and Brazilian governments, but questioned Bolsonaro’s credibility.

“President Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and policies have effectively given a green light to the dangerous criminals operating in the Amazon, allowing them to dramatically expand their activities, ” the senators wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press, citing recent reporting on abuses by Human Rights Watch.

A U.S.-Brazil partnership “can only be possible if the Bolsonaro administration begins to take Brazil’s climate commitments seriously — and only if it protects, supports, and engages meaningfully with the many Brazilians who can help the country fulfill them,” the lawmakers add.

Bolsonaro has sided with powerful agribusiness interests, cast aspersions on environmental activists and snarled at European leaders who decried deforestation in the Amazon as destruction of the world's largest rainforest has surged toward its worst level since 2008.