On this episode of Patriot Act, Hasan breaks down of the growing threats to Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. After a long and welcome decline, Brazil’s deforestation rates have begun to rise again, just as climate science shows how desperately we need the forest to survive.
Now, backed by the country’s powerful beef industry, the country’s inflammatory new president Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to exploit Brazil’s natural resources. Standing in his way: the determined indigenous peoples whose domain over the land are the last, best shot for the rainforest — and possibly the world’s climate.
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Tonight, I want to talk about the Amazon. The one that’s losing half its assets, but not to divorce.
When I was growing up, I heard a lot about how the Amazon rainforest needed saving.
Sting [Rainforest Foundation, 1989]: This is the rainforest in 1900, and this is the rainforest today.
[Mirage Sudios, 1990] Who caused all this damage to the rainforest?
Unfortunately, people did.
[Wold Wildlife Fund, 1988]
♪ The rain forest. The tropical rainforest. ♪
♪ Unfortunately, some don’t understand ♪
♪ Like people coming in And clearing the land ♪
♪ Tragically this devastation Doesn’t have to happen ♪
♪ That’s why I’m on the mic here rappin’ ♪
For the record, I am absolutely fine destroying the rainforest as long as that guy lives there. Look, I always thought that was the weirdest PSA I had ever seen, until I saw the one with Kevin Spacey.
Kevin Spacey: I am the rainforest. I watched them grow up here. They’ve left, but they always come back. Yes, they always come back.
That PSA aged so poorly, Kevin Spacey doesn’t even think it’s hot anymore. I know. Hey, you didn’t think you’d see him on Netflix again, did you? They didn’t even reshoot with Christopher Plummer. You had no idea. Now, the reason you probably stopped seeing PSAs about the Amazon and saving the rainforest is because we actually started saving the rainforest. Between 2004 and 2012, deforestation plunged 84%. Yes. It’s shocking. Humans actually stepped up and did the right thing. But let’s not give ourselves too much credit. We didn’t save the rainforest as much as we didn’t fully kill it, but just like Nazis and high-waisted jeans, deforestation is making a comeback.
In the last year alone, Amazon deforestation has jumped 13.7%, a loss of nearly 1.2 billion trees.
Now, deforestation rates are on the rise, and this couldn’t be happening at a worse time for the planet because when it comes to climate change, we are, and I cannot stress this enough… fucked.
Dire new warnings about the effects of climate change.
Intense heat, waves, storms.
Deadly wildfires, droughts.
Ocean dead zones.
People are dying. They are dying.
You know Fox is gonna use that against her. They’ll be like, “Oh, really? You’re talking about death, even though you’re still alive. Such a hypocrite. Really, AOC?”
Now, look, we have to stop messing with the rainforest. The Amazon is home to 10% of all species on Earth. It absorbs 25% of the carbon emissions captured by the world’s forests. The Amazon also produces massive amounts of oxygen and water vapor, which serves as the Earth’s cooling system, which is why the Amazon is often called…
The lungs of the Earth.
The lungs of the Earth.
The lungs of the Earth.
I don’t know if you know this, but every part of Earth is actually a body part. The Amazon is the lungs. Canada is the forehead. Iceland is the third nipple. Malta’s the skin tag. England is the birthmark. Italy is not the foot. Australia is the foot. Italy’s the bladder. Germany’s the benign tumor. North Korea’s the malignant tumor. Argentina is the sinus, and Fiji is the prostate. Going there is simply the greatest pleasure you will ever experience.
The Amazon touches nine different countries, but to really understand why deforestation is on the rise, we have to look at the country responsible for most of it. Brazil. Now, there are a lot of great things about Brazil. Carnival, Neymar, some percentage of Hailey Baldwin and the Brazilian wax, which is another kind of deforestation. But it’s also very painful. Over the last five decades, almost 20% of the Amazon has been destroyed. Even though Brazil has laws to protect the environment, those laws aren’t always enforced because of insane amounts of political and corporate greed, and I know as an American, we should probably shut the fuck up when it comes to the moral high ground. Americans lecturing Brazil about corruption is like Steve Bannon launching a skin care line. It’s just like take care of… your own shit before you… dive into the whole face… thing.
But corruption in Brazil is truly on a whole ‘nother level. Brazil’s last three presidents were steeped in scandals. Dilma Rousseff, impeached for financial misconduct. Michel Temer, charged with corruption. And Lula da Silva, currently in jail for stealing DVDs from a Redbox. I’m just kidding, corruption. And we haven’t even gotten to Brazil’s massive bribery and money laundering scandal called Operation Car Wash. Now I’ll let Fareed Zakaria, aka the original brown John Oliver, explain.
Fareed Zakaria: The biggest corruption scandal ever anywhere in the world, $788 million in bribes to various officials, five former Brazilian presidents, nearly one out of three cabinet ministers and almost one out of three senators have been indicted or investigated.
This is the country the world is relying on to protect the Amazon. Thank God, America doesn’t have that responsibility. Can you imagine if we were in charge of the Amazon? We would probably tear it down and build a headquarters for Amazon. You just see a bunch of howler monkeys driving UPS trucks with Kindles in their hands.
Now, unfortunately, things are going to get a lot worse because of Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro. He’s a former army captain who answers the question, “What if Carl Sagan wasn’t properly embalmed?” And he’s made it very clear where he stands on the environment.
BBC News: Mr. Bolsonaro campaigned to make Brazil great again, to kick-start it’s struggling economy. And he sees the Amazon as Brazil’s cash cow.
BBC News: He may open up vast sections of the Amazon rainforest to mining. He said he’s gonna pardon people who have been fined for deforestation.
Jair Bolsonaro: After all Brazil does not owe the world anything when it comes to environmental protection.
“We don’t owe the world anything” sounds like the chorus to an Eminem song. But Bolsonaro’s stance on the environment doesn’t even scratch the surface of his insanity.
Jair Bolsonaro : I’m in favor of torture. You know this, and the people are in favor of it, too.
Jair Bolsonaro : If it’s up to me… every citizen will have a firearm in their home.
Jair Bolsonaro : If your son starts to become like that, a little gay, you take a whip and you change his behaviour.
Jair Bolsonaro [2003, to a reporter]: So now I’m a rapist? I’m a rapist now? I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it.
Jesus. Bolsonaro sounds like every last comment before someone is blocked on Twitter. This is why he’s often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics.” So think of Trump, but with even more tiki torches. Bolsonaro also loves Twitter, and his tweets are insane.
The president, who tweeted a video apparently filmed at a carnival event, showing one man urinating on another man in a sexual act.
On the plus side, at least Brazil’s seen their president’s pee tape. Now, eventually, “Golden Shower President” started trending online. Bolsonaro then tweeted out, “What is a golden shower?” I love how there isn’t a Portuguese word for “golden shower.” Like, you ever been to another country and then you watch TV and they’re like… [speaks gibberish] “Macaulay Culkin.” You’re like, “Something’s happening with Macaulay Culkin.”
Now, as dangerous as Bolsonaro’s policies are for the Amazon, that danger is fundamentally being driven by agribusiness, which is the industry that produces the food that we eat. Agribusiness accounts for almost a quarter of Brazil’s economy and is one of the biggest drivers of illegal deforestation. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of sugar, coffee, soybeans, orange juice and most importantly, beef.
The Amazon is home to millions of species, and the biggest threat to the rainforest itself is this one.
Cattle ranching is responsible for up to 80% of deforestation. And to turn the rainforest into grassland, they don’t just cut it down. They burn it down.
It’s all about creating new pastures. The Amazon rainforest is being burned down and destroyed. Elizeu takes pictures of the tragedy in order to tell the authorities what’s going on here. Anything that can still move tries to escape the inferno.
No no no, don’t worry. That rat goes on to become a chef in Paris. It’s beautiful. Brazil’s beef industry is a huge driver of Amazon deforestation. And it’s dominated by a single company called JBS. They’re the largest meat processing company in the world. Last year, JBS made $46 billion. That’s a double what McDonald’s made. Even more surprising, Brazil only accounts for 24% of their revenue. Their U.S. division generates 76%. That’s $35.2 billion. That’s right, America. Once again, we are fucking shit up. Look, if it’s terrible, we’re probably in the mix. We’re like the raisins of international relations. Like, the rest of the world is like, “We fucking hate raisins.” And we’re like, “Raisins are essential to democracy. Raisins have to be in everything, raisins need to be in Afghanistan for three plus decades.”
JBS also happens to be one of the most corrupt companies in the world, which isn’t shocking because for a long time, it was run by Joesley and Wesley Batista. The Batista brothers. Now, come on. Their names are Joesley and Wesley. They look like dudes on a yacht Liam Neeson has to rescue girls from. The Batista brothers are possibly two of the most corrupt people on Earth, and they have history with the Bolsonaro administration. Bolsonaro’s current chief of staff has admitted to taking money from JBS, and in the past, the woman who is now Bolsonaro’s Minister of Agriculture gave JBS tax breaks while also doing personal business with them. The fact that senior members of the Bolsonaro administration are closely linked to JBS is a huge liability because the last president that got entangled with the Batista Brothers was Michel Temer, and it ended horribly.
Globo, Jornal Hoje, Sep. 13, 2017: Joesley Batista, owner of JBS, had recorded the president, Michel Temer, in an embarassing conversation.
France 24, Aug 2, 2017: In exchange for no jail time, Joesley Batista strikes a deal, providing information about bribing 1,829 Brazilian politicians.
The Batista brothers admitted to bribing almost 2,000 politicians, spent roughly $150 million just in bribes and agreed to pay a fine of $3.2 billion, which is almost how much Facebook has to pay for destroying democracy. Shouldn’t it be, like, more? It should definitely be more.
JBS’ business practices continue to do environmental damage. They have been accused of buying cattle from illegally deforested land in the Amazon, even though they deny it and investigators recently arrested Joesley Batista again for allegedly bribing officials at Brazil’s agriculture Ministry. If that doesn’t make you sick, their beef just might. JBS bribed Brazilian food inspectors to give passing grades to spoiled meat. And on the U.S. side, their meat isn’t any better.
ABC, Dec 4, 2018: A massive ground beef recall is now expanding. The USDA says the Brazilian company, JBS is now recalling more than 12 million pounds of ground beef shipped to stores across the U.S.
This past year, JBS beef and chicken from the U.S. were found to have been contaminated with hard plastic, rubber and e-coli. All of which generally cost extra at Chipotle. But even before that, the US had banned all Brazilian beef imports, including JBS, indefinitely. Do you know how bad your meat has to be for Americans to notice? We thought Super Size Me was just a normal movie. No lessons. It actually just made us hungrier.
The Amazon has never been more vulnerable. Between political corruption, Bolsonaro’s pro-business agenda and the incentives of agribusiness, the Amazon is going to keep burning. But there is some hope. The strongest blockade against deforestation isn’t more regulation or enforcement or fines, it’s people.
Al Jazeera, Sep 27, 2017: The Javari Valley Indigenous Reserve… eight million hectares of Brazilian Amazon, the size of Austria. It’s home to the largest number of non-contacted tribes in the world, photographed only rarely from the air.
There are nearly a million indigenous people in Brazil, and almost half of them live in the rainforest. Research shows that when indigenous people have legal and physical protection, so does the rainforest. Now, I know this looks like a map of the only school of vaccinated kids in Orange County, but… it’s actually a time-lapse of deforestation. The red is loggers and ranchers, and that part right there is protected indigenous land, and the only reason they stop is because these tribes are not fucking around.
PBS News Hour, Sep. 13, 2018: The Guajajara Indians armed and in full camouflage, crouch down for an ambush. These vigilante patrols began six years ago as a way to battle the region’s powerful logging mafia. They call themselves “The Guardians of the Forest.” The Guajajara are one of 305 tribes that have official demarcated land that is legally protected by Brazil’s Constitution, but it is still a war for them. And look, I know, deforestation has been on the rise well before Bolsonaro, but no modern Brazilian president has ever been this hostile toward the indigenous.
Jair Bolsonaro : There is not going to be a centimeter of land demarcated for indigenous reservations.
[Globo News, Central Das Eleicoes, Aug. 3, 2018]
Interviewer: You said recently that if it depended on you the Indians wouldn’t have even one…
Jair Bolsonaro: …centimeter…
Interviewer: …centimeter of land…
Jair Bolsonaro: …centimeter, I said it wrong, not even one millimeter.
I don’t know, racism sounds weird to me when you use the metric system. I mean, if they’re like, “Build the wall, one kilometer at a time.” I’d be like, I don’t… I don’t get it.
Bolsonaro is not just dog whistling to his base. He is barking through a megaphone. On the night of Bolsonaro’s election in October, a hospital and a school on an indigenous reserve were fire-bombed and land invasion, when loggers and ranchers take indigenous land, that has increased 150%.
DW, mar. 25, 2019: Protected areas borders are a thorn in the side of many farmers. They want their cattle to be able to penetrate the reserve.
Raimundo Nogueira Alencar, Cattle Farmer: First of all, I believe in God and then in the words of our President Bolsonaro. He promised we would soon be able to enter the reserve.
The department in charge of overseeing indigenous lands is an agency called Funai. On Bolsonaro’s first day in office, he took that function away from Funai and gave it to the Ministry of Agriculture. Remember? The same government agency that JBS paid off for years.
And even now, Brazil’s Agriculture Minister wants to open indigenous land to commercial farming, but indigenous tribes are fighting back to defend their land, and no one has brought more attention to the movement in recent years than Sônia Guajajara. She’s a prominent activist for indigenous rights and was the first indigenous woman in Brazil’s history to run for vice president. So I sat down with Sônia and her translator to talk about her fight to protect the Amazon.
Hasan Minhaj: Here in America, we’ve already destroyed all of our forests, and we raise millions of cows. So do we sound like assholes when we say, “Hey, Brazil. Don’t cut down your trees and don’t raise cows”?
Sônia Guajajara: Now maybe you have to compensate for what was done here. Because when you cut your forests, it doesn’t harm only you. If you cut it in one place, it harms the entire world.
Hasan Minhaj: But you’re saying we’re assholes?
Sônia Guajajara: You are saying it and I’m affirming it.
It’s true. Look, we’re assholes, all right? I admit it. America, we’re assholes. We still haven’t given Captain America a promotion. I mean… What does a guy have to do to become Major America? Now, for Sônia and her tribe, protecting their homeland gets more urgent every day.
Sônia Guajajara: Deforestation, apart from it ending nature and the environment, it provokes a gigantic conflict between indigenous people and non-indigenous people. We already had several cases of indigenous people, guardians of the land, that were assassinated simply because they were defending their land.
Last month, tribes from around Brazil gathered in the capital for an annual march to protect indigenous rights and take on Bolsonaro’s policies. Bolsonaro has escalated the fight against the indigenous, but in many ways, he’s just adding to a dark chapter of Brazil’s history.
519 years after the Portuguese set foot in Brazil, it’s the same fight. On one side, are the people who live on the land and want to protect it. And on the other side are the people who see the Amazon as a resource to exploit. In Sônia’s lifetime alone, over 1,400 people have been murdered in Brazil because of land disputes, but she isn’t backing down. Sônia doesn’t just take on Bolsonaro in real life, she trolls him online, too.
Hasan Minhaj: How did you get into the meme game? Let me guess, it was your son.
Sônia Guajajara: Of course. my son has a big influence.
Hasan Minhaj: I’ve seen a lot of your memes. You have the classic Pinocchio Bolsonaro meme, you have the golden showers dog peeing in Bolsonaro’s mouth meme,
Sônia Guajajara: Sí.
Hasan Minhaj: And then, of course, you’ve got this one. I honestly don’t know what’s happening here. So I wanted to help you with your memes. Is that okay?
Sônia Guajajara: Claro.
Hasan Minhaj: Okay. So, let me know what you think of these. This says, “When you’re Bolsonaro and you haven’t displaced an indigenous person in eight minutes.” This is Bolsonaro right here, and he’s getting one of those huge veins in his head. Where he’s like… It’s like if he doesn’t say anything about indigenous people, he looks constipated.
Sônia Guajajara: I suppose he really would be like that because he talks about indigenous people every day.
Hasan Minhaj: How about this one? “You can’t be jailed for corruption if climate change wipes out all the people.”
Sônia Guajajara: This one’s not funny.
Hasan Minhaj: It’s all good. This doesn’t work. The meme game is a volume business. Everything’s not gonna hit. You’ve seen the girlfriend meme, right? This is the Amazon rainforest. This guy over here, that’s the agribusiness lobby being like, “Oh, damn!” Okay? And this is oxygen, and oxygen’s like, “Hello. We’re together.”
Sônia Guajajara: So what?
Hasan Minhaj: What do you think of the meme?
Sônia Guajajara: I don’t like this one.
Hasan Minhaj: All right. How about this? This is Bolsonaro, he’s like, really staring at the Amazon. Super creepy. And the girlfriends like, “God, you’re such a dick.” Sônia, you posted a photo of a dog peeing in Bolsonaro’s mouth…
Sônia Guajajara: I think these are good, but they’re not working for me.
Alright, Sônia may not like my memes but… I don’t know. I wanted to take a page out of her playbook. I wanted to find a way to troll Bolsonaro and help at the same time. So we thought, “Why not buy a website?” Obviously, goldenshower.com was long gone. Goldenshowerpresident.com was also taken, probably by Michael Cohen. But we were able to get… goldenshowerpresidente.com. Like, how did Bolsonaro’s digital team not beat us to this? It’s just been there the whole time. If you go to goldenshowerpresidente.com, you can donate to organizations that help protect the Amazon and its people. Remember, it’s goldenshowerpresidente, The “e” is very important, because we’re trying to help the rainforest, not get you fired.