(CNN)When then-presidential candidate Joe Biden offered Brazil $20 billion last year to protect the Amazon, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro rejected it with scorn. Now, Brazilian activists worry that the two leaders could actually end up striking a deal.
Should Biden and Bolsonaro partner to protect the Amazon? Some Brazilian activists say no
The US hopes to see "a very clear commitment" from Brazil to fighting illegal deforestation in the Amazon ahead of an April 22 summit of world leaders convened by Biden to discuss the environment, a State Department spokesperson told CNN this week. "We believe it is realistic for Brazil to achieve a real decrease in deforestation by the end of the 2021 fire season," they said.
But a coalition of 198 Brazilian civil society organizations, including environmental and indigenous advocates, are warning the US not to trust their president on environmental matters. In an open letter released Tuesday, the groups described Bolsonaro as the Amazon's "worst enemy" and said he should fulfill his existing obligations to stem deforestation first.
"It is not sensible to expect any solutions for the Amazon to stem from closed-door meetings with its worst enemy," reads the letter, which is addressed to the US government. "Any project to help Brazil must be built from dialogue with civil society, subnational governments, academia and, above all, with the local communities that know how to protect the forest and the goods and services it harbors."
"No talks should move forward until Brazil has slashed deforestation rates to the level required by the national climate change law and until the string of bill proposals sent to Congress containing environmental setbacks is withdrawn," the letter also said.
Brazil's Foreign Ministry told CNN in a statement that the US and Brazil are "studying the possibility of deepening bilateral cooperation" on the environment and deforestation and that discussions are "strictly intergovernmental." The Brazilian Environment Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The Bolsonaro administration's efforts to protect the Amazon until now might be generously termed ineffective; critics go so far as to cite its record as evidence of a deliberate intent to weaken environmental protections. In December, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon -- often the result of illegal land-clearing operations -- surged to the