The email described a purported geography textbook being used in "important American schools," which labeled the Amazon as an "international control zone." Next to a map, a misspelled text said that the forest was "surrounded by irresponsable, cruel, and authoritary countries" and that the United States and the United Nations, with the backing of the "G23," transformed it into "an international park with very severe rules of exploration."
"The value of this area is unable to calcule," it continued, "but the planet can be cert that The United States won't let these Latin American countries explorate and destroy this real ownership of all humanity."
Despite the multiple signs that the textbook was fake -- the writing was riddled with mistakes, the map looked doctored, and the obvious fact that the Amazon had not been turned into an international reserve -- the rumor touched a chord with Brazilians, circulating so widely that both the Brazilian embassy in Washington and the American embassy in Brasília tried to debunk it. "The idea is so hilarious that I feel silly to have to talk about it," Anthony Harrington, the American ambassador in Brazil, said at the time, according to news website G1.
But the viral image also illustrates a pervasive fear that grips Brazil and that has profound consequences for the forest.
President Bolsonaro has repeatedly invoked the idea that the Amazon is under threat from a foreign takeover
as he pushes back against foreign leaders, indigenous groups, and environmental organizations when they show concern for the forest, demand more reservation areas, or denounce environmental destruction.
In May 2018, during his campaign for president, President Bolsonaro hinted at the conspiracy theory: "The Amazon is not ours," he claimed. "I say that with a lot of sadness, but it is a reality." Later that year, after being elected but before taking office, he threatened to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, claiming that it weakened Brazilian control over the Amazon.
And in April 2019, already in power, he spoke openly about a murky plot to steal the forest from Brazil that involved the creation of indigenous reserves. "If we don't change our policies, we will lose the Amazon," he said in a radio interview with Jovem Pan. "The United Nations has been discussing, for a while now, that through the auto-determination of indigenous peoples, you could have new countries here inside," he added. "That could happen."
A fear with roots in the military
Fears of foreign meddling in the Amazon are not entirely unfounded. Two years ago, Stephen Walt, a respected professor of international relations at Harvard University, wrote an article for Foreign Policy, a respected publication on international politics, titled "Who Will Invade Brazil to Save the Amazon?" The title, which the scholar said on Twitter had not been written by him, was later softened to "Who Will Save the Amazon (and How)?"
Walt's article started with a hypothetical description of an American president ordering an invasion of Brazil due to environmental breaches. "The