The first world leader to speak on the podium at UN headquarters in New York, Bolsonaro spent much of his speech describing economic and political achievements, saying poverty, inflation and unemployment are falling in the country.
These indices have indeed all posted slight declines over the past two to three months, although the overall economic situation is somewhat grimmer, with one in 10 Brazilians currently unemployed and inflation at 8.73% in August, compared to the same month last year.
The president, who has long positioned himself as pro-business, also argued that privatization and deregulation under his government had fostered a better economic environment in the country, and called for the continuation of this model of governance – a not-so-subtle call for re-election.
“The person responsible for this was convicted unanimously in three cases,” he continued, an unmistakable reference to da Silva, whose conviction was overturned by Brazil’s Supreme Court in March 2021 – opening the way for the former leader to issue a political challenge to Bolsonaro this year.
Socially conservative themes from Bolsonaro’s election campaign also surfaced during his speech at the UN. “Other fundamental values of Brazilian society, reflected in the human rights agenda, are the defense of the family, the right to life from conception, self-defense and the repudiation of the ideology of kind,” he said.
As in previous years, the Brazilian president also pushed back against environmental concerns over Brazil’s management of the vast Amazon rainforest, telling the General Assembly that two-thirds of all of Brazil’s territory is still covered in native vegetation, “which is exactly as it was when Brazil was discovered in 1500,” he said.
“In the Brazilian Amazon, an area equivalent to Western Europe, more than 80% of the forest remains intact, contrary to what is announced by major national and international media,” Bolsonaro added.
Nevertheless, under Bolsonaro’s presidency, deforestation in the Amazon has reached extreme levels, and the president himself has explicitly called for more development and economic activity using the country’s natural resources and vast protected forest.
As CNN previously reported, between 2019 – when Bolsonaro took office – and 2021, Brazil lost more than 33,800 square kilometers (13,000 square miles) of rainforest in the Amazon according to the Brazilian Institute for Space Research. (INPE), a government agency. This is a larger area than Belgium, with an average of 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 square miles) lost per year.
His rival da Silva – or Lula, as he is widely known – is seen as more likely to protect the environment, recently telling CNN Brasil that in his government “there will be no deforestation in the Amazon”. During his presidency, which ran from 2002 to 2010, deforestation fell by 65% in Brazil, according to INPE
Brazilian domestic politics is not new to many in New York, with pro-Bolsonaro supporters and critics seen voicing their opinions in the streets around the UN headquarters.