Talking Environmental Politics

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In the third and final part of my interview, I venture into the shifting sands of Brazilian politics – along with football and religion, talking politics is always risky behavior.

Q – What's your evaluation of Marina Silva's leaving the Environment Ministry?

Glenn Switkes – There have been other cases in Brazil, such as that of José Lutzenberger (former Environment Secretary), who resigned in indignation of the way things were going within the government. Marina took a long time to quit. She won important victories, and battled to improve the government's environmental performance, but unfortunately in the Lula government, the Environment Ministry remained in the basement. So, a case could be made that she should have left a lot sooner, in order to try and really push for the Lula government to take more action for the environment. In the final analysis, she was a very faithful soldier of the president's who, even having taken very positive actions, did not manage to improve the quality of the majority of the government's actions in favor of the environment.

Q – How do you think that (new Environment Minister) Carlos Minc will act in terms of licensing hydroelectric dams and other issues concerning the Brazilian electric sector?

Glenn Switkes – I don't think that the Environment Ministry has space within the government to influence the country´s energy policy. That´s the role of the Mines and Energy Ministry, Eletrobrás, and the Energy Research Company. I think that Marina Silva tried, in a rather timid way to change the situation, such as when she invited international alternative energy specialists to make Brazilian technical experts aware that alternatives existed, but that initiative went nowhere. So, I think that, at the maximum, Minc could demand rigorous analysis of the projects. However, he already enters somewhat weak politically. Marina was appointed as a person whose actiosn would symbolize the Lula government's stance regarding the environment. Minc enters as a kind of wild card, without clear positions, and without any power among the ministries. Still, he can assert the importance of environmentalism and take certain stands, but if he does, I don't think he will last very long.

Q – So, how do you see the Lula government´s environmental record?

Glenn Switkes – In my opinion, it's very weak. The Lula government sold out to the interests of large corporations, and agrobusiness. In reality, the Lula government is a mixture of Lula, Paulo Maluf, Jader Barbalho, Blairo Maggi – it's multi-headed. Most of those who were influential in the formation of the Workers' Party have already left the government, and if were among those who were left, I would be totally demoralized. The Brazilian was co-opted by the government for several years, but that illusion is gone. It would be difficult to find any honest environmentalist who defends the government's positions.