Why did Dilma Rousseff choose “Miss Deforestation” as Brazil's new agriculture minister?
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Why did Dilma Rousseff choose “Miss Deforestation” as Brazil's new agriculture minister?

As part of her cabinet for her second term, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has appointed Senator Kátia Abreu, a pro-agribusiness politician and enemy of environmentalists and human rights activists. Abreu has lobbied for a bill to weaken Brazil’s forest code, something that was thankfully partially vetoed by Rousseff after being passed by both houses of Brazil’s legislature.

So why did the president hire one of the potentially destructive bill’s chief proponents, who is pro-monoculture, pro-GMO seeds, in favor of more roads through the Amazon and giving Brazil’s congress the power to draw the borders of indigenous territories? Far from Rousseff’s populist center-left (albeit pro-business) branding, Abreu is an outspoken admirer of Margaret Thatcher and has presidential ambitions of her own. It may be a simple case of applying Sun Tzu’s famous advice to “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

Environmental activist group Greenpeace sees the appointment of Abreu, who they refer to as “Miss desmatamento” (“Miss Deforestation”), as a handing off of environmental responsibilities to an enemy of the environment, a major step back for the rainforest as well as the rights of both rural workers and indigenous peoples.

From a Greenpeace Brazil statement [my translation]:

Dilma’s choice shows an identification of her government with guidelines that Kátia Abreu defends, and functions as a recognition of services rendered by the senator in recent years. Apparently who will be in charge of socio-environmental guidelines, deciding the destiny of indigenous peoples and the protecting the Amazon is no longer President Dilma.

A piece in Correio do Brasil is similarly critical of the appointment, comparing it to appointing a real estate magnate as Minister of Urban Development.

Perhaps rather than following the advice of Sun Tzu, Rousseff is taking a cue from Bill Clinton: It’s the economy, stupid.

Abreu wants Brazil to surpass the United States as the world’s largest food producer. However, Brazil’s economy is slowing down, and some agricultural windfalls would help to finance more of the social programs and development Rousseff pursued in her first term, following the lead of her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Agribusiness currently makes up nearly a quarter of the country’s economy. Becoming a world leader in such a major sector would more than secure Brazil’s position on the global stage.

Does Rousseff’s appointment of Abreu fit into some kind of superpower ambitions for Brazil? Or is it an attempt to appease the president’s enemies in the business world, who came out in support of her opponent in the election, Aécio Neves of the Social Democratic Party?

Whatever the reason for the appointment of Kátia Abreu, we can be sure that it spells bad news for the environment, workers’ rights, and the future of indigenous peoples. And we should be worried.