SÃO PAULO — A Brazilian diplomat said last week that the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t fear the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon taking place this month at the Vatican, but that the Catholic bishops “involuntarily reinforce the campaign of the European lobbies, who are very afraid of the competition of Brazilian agriculture.”

Brazil’s secretary of Bilateral Negotiations in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, Ambassador Kenneth Haczynski da Nóbrega, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa Oct. 4 that the “Brazilian government looks favorably on the realization of the Synod for the Amazon,” which is “part of the pastoral mission of the Church” and is “in accordance with the agreement established between Brazil and the Holy See that guides the activities of the Church in Brazil.”

“We recognize in the Church a relevant role in the formation of the Brazilian society and the Church’s active option for the poor is the object of our great appreciation,” said Nóbrega, who worked with the Vatican during the preparation for the synod.

“The question is the repercussion in the press [of the] environmental activism. I’m not saying they [the Catholic bishops] are doing it on purpose, but actually the risk is that they involuntarily reinforce the campaign of the European lobbies, who are very afraid of the competition of Brazilian agriculture,” the ambassador continued.

“We fear that this lobby, which doesn’t distinguish what is sustainable and what is not, which wants us to stop exporting to them [Europe], could be strengthened by the well-meaning activism of the Church, which could serve this cause [and] be instrumentalized,” Nóbrega told Lusa.

On Tuesday, the French Minister of the Environment Elisabeth Borne announced her country is not signing off on a June free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur – a South American trading bloc including Brazil. The  agreement would eliminate most tariffs for Brazilian products in Europe, but it needed approval by all the involved national parliaments.

But the growing deforestation rate in the Amazon and a record wildfire crisis in August caused a spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and Bolsonaro.

Macron accused the Brazilian leader of having lied about Brazilian environmental protection policies and then declared it was necessary to create an “international statute” to protect the Amazon.

Some members of the Bolsonaro administration viewed the preparatory work of the synod and the Catholic Church’s environmental activism as connected to these international trade disputes.

Since February, high-profile members of the government declared their concerns about the Church’s possible “interference” in Brazilian national affairs and sovereignty. General Augusto Heleno, Bolsonaro’s minister of the Institutional Security Office, even confirmed that his intelligence agency was “monitoring” the organization of the synod in Brazil.

For Nóbrega the negative international reactions to Brazil were due to “fake news” about the Amazon.

“An atmosphere of mistrust was created [in the government] concerning the international debate over the Amazon (…) When the president of a country such as France says it’s necessary to internationalize the debate, alarm bells start to ring,” the ambassador told Lusa.

But Nóbrega said the Bolsonaro administration is “calm” about the synod itself.

“The conclusion [of the synod] will have a pastoral and social nature. They will not incite any kind of international politics,” he claimed.

Earlier this month, the squabble between the Church and the government over Brazilian sovereignty in the Amazon hit an event at the nation’s Congress.

On Oct. 1, Bishop Evaristo Spengler of the Diocese of Marajó, in the Amazonian State of Pará, attended the event to talk about the preservation of the rainforest. During his speech, he said that while the synod is not a threat to Brazilian national sovereignty, the Bolsonaro administration is.

“Who is giving away the Alcântara [space] base? Who is inviting North American and foreign mining companies to exploit the Amazon? It’s not the Church. So it’s not the Church the one who is putting sovereignty in danger. Maybe it’s this government the one who is putting Brazil’s sovereignty in danger,” said Spengler, according to a story published by the website Terra.

The bishop was referring to a deal signed earlier this year between Bolsonaro and the Trump administration to allow Americans the use of the Alcântara launching facility, located in the State of Maranhão.

Spengler concluded his speech by saying that the Church “defends the peoples that live in the Amazon, defends the indigenous peoples and wants a harmonious relationship between the human beings and the environment.”

“The Church maintains and reaffirms its opinion that the sovereignty [over the Amazon] is Brazilian, but we want to defend the environment, because it was created by God and we’re co-responsible for everything God created,” the bishop said.

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