RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro released a defense of his administration to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, dismissing criticism of his handling of the pandemic and touting recent data indicating less Amazon deforestation.

His presence at the General Assembly itself was a sort of provocation, as he flouted the obligation for all participants to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Infected with the virus last year, he has said several times over the past week that he is still unvaccinated and that getting the vaccine is a personal medical decision.

“By November, anyone who chooses to be vaccinated in Brazil will be covered,” Bolsonaro said in his speech. “We support vaccination. However, our government has opposed vaccination passports or any requirement to get vaccinated.”

He also dubbed “early treatment” drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, not to name the drug. The antimalarial offered an initial promise, but scientists categorically dismissed it as ineffective against COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine was at the heart of the chaos of the pandemic response in Brazil, chaired by four different health ministers, two of whom opposed Bolsonaro’s insistence on recommending it.

“We don’t understand why many countries, as well as much of the media, have taken a stand against early treatment. History and science will hold them all responsible, ”added Bolsonaro. He also praised the government’s generous COVID-19 social protection program that provided monthly payments to the poor in Brazil. Its withdrawal, however, has fueled poverty.

The right-wing leader grapples with Brazil as his approval ratings continue to fall, largely because the country has recorded the second-highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world, with more than 590,000 dead . This is the equivalent of the eighth largest in the world per capita. And Bolsonaro is more isolated than ever at the international level following the electoral defeat of his ally, former US President Donald Trump.

While he seeks to rehabilitate his image abroad, his detractors had warned that he was taking a fallacious turn. It started at the White House-led climate summit in April, when it pushed the carbon neutral calendar forward a decade and pledged to stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 in the blink of an eye. eye to US President Joe Biden, who called Brazil’s environmental trail. record on the election campaign last year.

Instead, Bolsonaro adopted a defiant tone on Tuesday, hitting talking points similar to those directed at his base, observed Thomas Traumann, political analyst.

“He could have made this speech anywhere in Brazil and not spend the money to go to New York,” Traumann said.

In his first General Assembly appearance in 2019, he spoke out against socialism and what he called media sensationalism regarding the destruction of Amazon. Last year, in a pre-recorded video, he said Brazil was the victim of environmental defamation and highlighted the economic damage caused by recommendations to stay at home in the event of a pandemic.

On Tuesday, he claimed Brazil was on the brink of socialism ahead of his election, said governors and mayors were to blame for the isolation measures that have cost workers’ incomes, and called on the assembled diplomats to look at the – beyond media reports on Brazil. He announced progress in the development of railways and sanitation, as well as recent indications of reduced Amazon deforestation.

The Brazilian president refrained from saying that indigenous peoples control too much land given their sparse population, as he has done several times in the past, but said they increasingly want to use their land. vast territories for agriculture and other activities. He pledged to promote the development of the Amazon during the election campaign and, after his election, the environmental regulator failed and deforestation increased.

Biden’s special climate envoy John Kerry has made it clear that the administration wants to see concrete results in reversing such devastation. Recent preliminary data points in the right direction, showing that Amazon deforestation in June was roughly stable year over year, and fell in July and August compared to the same two months of 2020.

Bolsonaro said the results stemmed from his administration’s redoubled efforts. Environmentalists say it is too early to know if this represents a trend and point out that deforestation levels remain high.

Before Bolsonaro took office, the Brazilian Amazon had not recorded a single year with more than 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) of deforestation in more than a decade. It has exceeded that level in each of Bolsonaro’s first two years, and final data for the baseline period between August 2020 and July 2021 could confirm a third year.

While Bolsonaro’s new environmental commitments and preliminary progress mean Brazil can avoid consumer boycotts, sanctions and general ostracism, there remains skepticism about his commitment, said Brian Winter, vice president of policy. at the Americas Society / Council of the Americas.

“Everyone is aware of the possibility that this is just a cynical attempt to buy time on the part of the Bolsonaro administration, making promises for 2030 and beyond knowing that they will not be not here to live with the consequences, ”Winter said.

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Biller is AP’s Brazilian news director. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DLBiller

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