New report shows president Bolsonaro used phytosanitary barriers to benefit political allies

In De Olho no Agronegócio, Em destaque, Governo Bolsonaro, Principal, Quilombolas, Últimas

During his administration, Jair Bolsonaro favored banana producers from Ribeira Valley, the region where he grew up and where his family lives; “The Banana President” shows he banned imports from Ecuador and broadened limits to aerial spraying of pesticides

By Alceu Luís Castilho and Bruno Stankevicius Bassi

In December 2018, a delegation of banana growers from Ribeira Valley, in the state of São Paulo, was received in Brasilia by candidate Jair Bolsonaro and Congresswoman Tereza Cristina, who would become minister of Agriculture. It was only a few weeks before his inauguration as president.

Report shows Bolsonaro intervened to benefit banana-producing allies.

In June 2022, he went to the city of Pariquera-Açu, in the same region, to participate in Feibanana, the country’s largest largest banana-industry exhibition. This time, alongside Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas, his candidate for the São Paulo state government, and his brother Renato Bolsonaro, famous for intermediating the liberation of federal funds for the Ribeira Valley.

What has happened in the meantime? How important is the banana industry for Bolsonaro, who grew up in the region, and his family? What is Jair and his brother Renato’s relationship with the Association of Banana Growers of the Ribeira Valley (Abavar), Feibanana’s organizer?

This is the subject of “The Banana President“, the first in a series of reports by De Olho nos Ruralistas that will show the implosion of agrarian policies under the Bolsonaro administration: from clientelist practices related to agribusiness groups to the explosion of violence and environmental crimes in the countryside.

The research shows how Jair Bolsonaro’s political articulations benefited his allies in Ribeira Valley, ranging from banning banana imports from Ecuador to extending the permission for aerial spraying of pesticides in banana plantations to up to 250 meters away from neighborhoods, cities, towns, and villages.

The Bolsonaro Dossier series brings, on its covers, illustrations by the cartoonist Renato Aroeira, who was persecuted by the president himself in 2020. The study was also coordinated by the academic researcher Luciana Buainain Jacob.

Download the full report here.

FOUR YEARS LATER, DE OLHO NOS RURALISTAS RETURNS TO THE RIBEIRA VALLEY

The publication of the report consolidates a coverage that began in the 2018 electoral race, when De Olho nos Ruralistas sent a team of journalists and video professionals to verify allegations of environmental crimes involving family members and political allies of Jair Bolsonaro, the leading presidential candidate at the time.

Aerial spraying approved by Bolsonaro impacts rural communities in the Ribeira Valley. (NIH)

Despite the media attention, little was said about the captain’s youth years in the countryside of São Paulo, despite his frequent speeches about his past in the Ribeira Valley during the campaign. In one of such acts, in 2017, he uttered a racist slur against the region’s black rural communities, known in Brazil as quilombolas, measuring their weight as if they were cattle.

The observatory’s team toured several quilombola communities in the municipality of Eldorado, where the politician said he had been, and discovered that (as would become the routine of administration) Bolsonaro was lying. He had never visited any quilombola community in the region. The same could not be said of his brother-in-law: still in 2018, De Olho nos Ruralistas told, with exclusivity, how businessman Theodoro da Silva Konesuk — married to Vânia, Jair Bolsonaro’s younger sister — was sentenced to return an invaded area belonging to the quilombo Bairro Galvão, in the municipality of Iporanga.

Four years later, our team returned to the region and found that the situation of the quilombolas in Ribeira Valley has only deteriorated. Residents report that since the publication of Normative Instruction No. 13, on April 8th, 2020, which relaxed restrictions over aerial spraying of pesticides on banana plantations, their homes, crops, and even themselves have been hit by poisonous ‘rains’. Still in force in Brazil – although banned in several countries – the aerial spraying of pesticides is responsible for soil and air contamination, besides reaching neighboring areas due to drift, making the certification process of organic products more difficult.

BOLSONARO INTERVENED TO BENEFIT BANANA PRODUCERS

The Banana President” report also shows that Bolsonaro has faithfully kept his campaign promises to the banana growers of Ribeira Valley. In November 2018, after visiting the newly elected president in Rio de Janeiro, banana grower João Evangelista, a childhood friend of Bolsonaro, said that he had committed to ban imports from Ecuador. “He said he will try to regularize this business with Ecuador that is putting bananas here in Brazil, which it seems did not come of good quality,” he told the press.

Outdoor paid by banana growers shows support to Bolsonaro’s campaign in 2018. (Facebook)

The following year, in a live broadcast held on March 7, 2019, the president stated that he was about to end the “ghost of banana imports” from Ecuador. In fact, the following week Normative Instruction No. 4, dated March 18th 2019, was published, suspending shipments from the South American country.

The measure was celebrated by the banana industry. In April 2020, the president of Abavar, Ézio Borges, published a video thanking “the support of President Jair Messias Bolsonaro”. “Abavar, recognizing the agricultural political project for the country, and especially for banana farming, during the last presidential campaign has always remained faithful in its unconditional political support to the current president, Jair Messias Bolsonaro,” said the banana producer.

Similarly, the relaxation of aerial spraying on banana plantations was a long-standing demand of the sector, whose direct intervention by Bolsonaro was made explicit on at least two occasions. In the first, at a ministerial meeting on April 22th, 2020, days after the enactment of IN 13/2020, the president praised the former Minister of Agriculture, Tereza Cristina, for her efforts in revoking previous measures, reducing reducing the limit range for aerial spraying from 500 meters to 250 meters.

A few months later, in a video broadcast live from Eldorado on September 3rd, 2020, the president admitted to have interfered with the minister to make the aerial spraying of pesticides in banana plantations more flexible:

— Well, between an airplane and a person with a little machine on his back, messing with the pump there, what is the possibility of someone becoming more contaminated? The pilot or the guy with the little machine on his back pumping directly into the bananas? Obviously the second one. Tereza Cristina changed this.

FOME, AMBIENTE E CONFLITOS AGRÁRIOS ESTARÃO ENTRE TEMAS DA SÉRIE

How Brazil will emerge after October’s presidential elections? What does the country will look like? What is the role of agribusiness in the current government and in the Congress? What it has to do with the dismantling of socio-environmental regulation in Brazil?

For this we will publish reports and dossiers in Portuguese and English, targeting international audiences, based on the integration of our editorial team with a group of four researchers, under the coordination of Luciana Jacob, PhD in Applied Ecology from the University of São Paulo.

The next subject of The Bolsonaro Dossier series will be the current implosion of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra). Another theme: wildfires.

Main photo (Facebook): banana production in Ribeira Valley is one of Bolsonaro’s main interests since 2014

| Alceu Luís Castilho is editor-in-chief. |

|| Bruno Stankevicius Bassi is project coordinator. ||

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