In September 2019, Brazilian Minister for Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington D.C. and the pair announced a new U.S.-Brazil bilateral agreement to open up the Amazon Rainforest to private sector development. Araújo called the agreement “…the Holy Grail of Brazil’s foreign policy, at least for the private sector”.
Behind this announcement is the story of how U.S. state and corporate power successfully captured political processes in the South American giant in order to deliver a submissiveness necessary for such a neocolonial project.
Part Three: Gold against the Soul
On September 24 2013, President Dilma Rousseff would address the UN General Assembly in New York. Rocked by a sudden wave of protests over recent months at home, Rousseff was indignant at revelations of U.S. (and FVEY alliance) espionage against her, members of her government, ministries, Brazilian companies and the population at large. State-controlled Oil Company Petrobras, its Finance Ministry, and the Ministry of Mines and Energy were amongst the key targets.
“In Brazil, the situation was even more serious, as it emerged that we were targeted by this intrusion. Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the center of espionage activity. Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Office of the President of the Republic itself, had their communications intercepted.
Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of International Law and is an affront to the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.”
Rousseff went on to evoke the era of Operation Condor, of U.S.-supported dictatorships in South America under which she herself had been imprisoned and tortured.
“Like many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country. In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among Nations.
We face, Mr. President, a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.
We expressed to the Government of the United States our disapproval, and demanded explanations, apologies and guarantees that such procedures will never be repeated.”
Her speech foreshadowed a Coup that was coming, as did Salvador Allende’s UN address 41 years earlier. Rousseff joined a small club of contemporary Latin American leaders who had dared confront U.S. imperialism at the UNGA.
Three months later Rousseff would shun Council of the Americas member Boeing after a twenty year long negotiation, and would instead award the contract to re-equip the Brazilian Airforce with new fighter aircraft to Sweden’s SAAB. Whilst depicted as a straight up bidding war, along with bribes and sweeteners, the emphasis of the ultimate deal was on technology transfer. This would, it was envisaged, transform Brazil, through its own Aerospace company Embraer, into the only independent manufacturer and exporter of 4G jets in the Southern Hemisphere.
The choice of SAAB was interpreted as retribution for the NSA spying scandal, for which Barack Obama promised an explanation that never came.
Just six years later, with Embraer improbably sold off and transformed into “Boeing Brazil”, far-right extremist President Jair Bolsonaro would himself address the UN, with the explicit support of the U.S. Government and the monopolies it serves.
Since inception in the early 1960s COA’s board of directors, , has been a who’s who of U.S. corporate power, current, and former U.S. Government figures. It comes together with the specific shared objective of distorting Latin America’s political processes to serve their interests, in collaboration with local elites and friendly politicians.
It includes Brian Malnak of Shell, Clay Neff of Chevron, Erik Oswald of ExxonMobil, former Clinton and Bush era Government officials Thomas McLarty III and John D. Negroponte of McLarty Associates, John M. Moncure of the Financial Times, Martin Marron of J.P. Morgan, Armando Senra of BlackRock, Alexandre Bettamio of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Terrence J. Checki formerly of the Federal Reserve, and Richard Herold of Newmont Goldcorp.
The board of directors also includes Donna Hrinak, who is a former Ambassador to Brazil, and now Boeing’s President for Latin America and Caribbean. Boeing has just completed its takeover of Brazil’s aerospace giant Embraer, and wasted no time in changing its name to Boeing Brazil.
After working at the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo during the 1980s, in the 1990s Hrinak became Ambassador to Bolivia, and was central to the U.S. “War on Drugs” in the country. In 2001 she became Ambassador to Venezuela. In an account of the 2002 coup attempt by witness Eva Golinger, she writes: “President Chavez publicly declared the bombing of Afghanistan and the killing of innocent women and children as an act of terror. « This is fighting terror with more terror » he declared on national television in October 2001. The declaration produced Washington’s first official response. US Ambassador to Caracas at the time, Donna Hrinak, paid a visit to Chavez in the presidential palace shortly after. During her encounter with the Venezuelan President, she proceeded to read a letter from Washington, demanding Chavez publicly retract his statement about Afghanistan. The Venezuelan head of state declined the request and informed the US Ambassador that Venezuela was now a sovereign state, no longer subordinate to US power.”
Hrinak would immediately step down.
From Venezuela, Hrinak took the Ambassador’s post in neighbouring Brazil. During her tenure it emerged that CIA operatives and private intelligence agency Kroll had been working to spy on the cabinet of new President Lula da Silva in a prelude to what would become the Mensalão scandal, which almost saw him impeached before his 2006 re-election.
The scandal was centred around Frank Holder, then head of Kroll Latin America and Caribbean. Former CIA Agent Holder began his career with the U.S. Air Force as a political-military analyst for the U.S. embassy in Argentina and as a special agent for the Office of Special Investigations at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
Holder was allegedly behind a fabricated report which claimed to show that President Lula da Silva, his chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, and other Workers Party leaders had offshore bank accounts. The fake dossier was given to conservative news magazine Veja, with the aim of damaging Lula’s re-election chances.
Kroll would be investigated by the Federal Police, whilst Holder would eventually move on to FTI Consulting, a “PR Management” firm riding the wave of FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) compliance, an industry which enjoys a symbiotic relationship with Operation Lava Jato. He is also linked to lawfare campaigns against Cristina Kirchner in Argentina.
At the World Economic Forum in 2005 Jules Kroll, founder of the corporate espionage giant, met with Antonio Palocci Filho, then finance minister and later key plea-bargain witness in the Lava Jato case against Lula da Silva. Palocci would be named as a key target of NSA surveillance of the Brazilian Government. As Folha do São Paulo reported in May 2006, six months before the election:
“It was not just Frank Holder who was in charge of gathering information about the Brazilian authorities. Jules Kroll, founder of the research firm that bears his name, also tried to get closer to members of the federal government. In Kroll’s report, dated February 7 last year, and written by Jules himself, Jules says he met former Minister Antonio Palocci Filho in Davos (Switzerland) in January 2005 during a meeting hosted by the World Economic Forum. Palocci participated in a debate on the “Ibero-American Scene: Which Way Now?” On January 28th, a plenary session with investors on the 29th, and several parallel meetings. According to Jules, there were two meetings he had with the then Finance Minister to specifically discuss Kroll’s problem in Brazil: that it was investigated by the Federal Police, and Brasil Telecom. According to the research company owner, Palocci was introduced to him by Bill Rhodes, one of Citibank’s top executives.”
William R. “Bill” Rhodes is former Chairman, and remains Chairman Emiritus of Council of the Americas.
Donna Hrinak would later seek Lula’s personal forgiveness for the Kroll/CIA spying incident.
What Lula’s Government had faced in his first term a decade prior was effectively the first wave of a U.S. “War on Corruption” in Latin America, initiated under the George W. Bush administration, at the advice of then Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Otto Reich.
Reich, a former Washington Director of the Council of the Americas, was infamous for his use of white propaganda in the 1980s to manipulate public perception of U.S.-sponsored violence in Central America.
On January 14 2007, speaking on C-Span’s Washington Journal, Cuban-born Reich would take a call on what was being done to combat corruption in Latin America: “I’m very happy that the caller asked that question, because one of the things that I’m proud of, when I was assistant Secretary of State, in the first term of this President (George W. Bush) was the efforts that we made to attack corruption. Corruption is the single biggest obstacle to economic development in Latin America in my opinion: it distorts the market, which is the only system that works – Socialism we know does not work – this is clearly proven ….Cuba is the best example of that Socialism just simply doesn’t work. But the Market system in Latin America also has not been providing the needs of the people because it has been distorted by corruption, by cronyism, and free market policies have not been implemented. We in the United States Government, we implemented a policy in the year 2002, the year has been mentioned here before, where we decided to aggressively go after corrupt people both in government, and private enterprise – we don’t differentiate – and to revoke or deny visas to the United States for these people who are involved in corruption, and believe me it is – as the military would say – a target rich environment. There are many many people in Latin America who are involved in corruption, in every single country, some worse than others.”
At this time a regional Judge in Brazil was slowly gaining notoriety. From the city of Curitiba in the State of Paraná, his name was Sérgio Moro. In 2006, conservative broadcaster and former Paraná State Deputy Luiz Carlos Alborghetti called Moro “one of the greatest Federal Judges in this country” and predicted that he would become a “future minister of justice” and “the biggest prosecutor of the corrupt in the history of the Brazilian nation”. He pleaded with Geraldo Alckmin – who would lose to Lula in the coming election – to appoint Moro as his justice minister, and insisted that if he did, Sérgio Moro would throw this “entire criminal gang” of the Workers Party in jail.
In 2004, Sérgio Moro had published a paper entitled, “Considerations of Operation Mani Pulite”, in which he praises coerced plea bargains, media leaks and destruction of public image – three tactics that would underpin the Lava Jato investigation ten years later. It was inspired by Italy’s anti-corruption purge of the 1990s.
José Crispiniano writes that in 2012 Moro worked “as a prosecution assistant to Supreme Court Minister Judge Rosa Weber on the Mensalão case…I was in this case that Rosa Weber made her famous statement that, ‘there is no evidence, but the literature permits me’, while condemning José Dirceu with, as she herself said, no evidence. There is a big chance that this statement was written by her assistant Moro, since Weber does not have a background in criminal law.”
As everyone knew, the Mensalão scheme was not new. Under the previous PSDB administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso it was used to amend the constitution and allow his re-election in 1998, which in turn enabled a wave of cut price privatisations.
The takeover of once State-controlled Embraer by Boeing under Hrinak would represent a critical loss of technological and economic sovereignty for Brazil, with its unique aircraft products and systems, developed with decades of public investment, falling into the hands of the Americans. The European Union has launched an inquiry into the takeover.
Bolsonaro meanwhile attempted to use his first UN address to assert Brazil’s sovereignty in the Amazon, and own right to develop it, regardless of human cost and environmental consequences, in partnership with the United States.
Once Bolsonaro had delivered practically everything the U.S. wanted, Donald Trump promptly blocked Brazil’s application to OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) after previously promising to approve it.
Bolsonaro’s incoherence and paranoia have fed a narrative that historic foreign, specifically U.S., designs on the Amazon and its wealth are themselves some kind of “conspiracy theory”. This dovetails perfectly with omission or outright denial of U.S. involvement in Brazil’s multi-phase coup of 2013-18. Even involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice in Operation Lava Jato, which was a central pillar of that coup, has been as yet barely acknowledged in establishment media, despite open admission and multiple U.S. congressional inquiries into its role. Lula and the Workers Party have directly accused the U.S. of orchestrating the operation, including in a complaint to the European Union.
In 2017, with Rousseff gone, the U.S. wasted no time in staging joint Military exercises in the Amazon, and this coincided with the revival of moves to hand them the Alcântara rocket-launching base in the state of Maranhão. This would represent the first U.S. Military presence on Brazilian soil for half a century, and threatens the peoples of the region.
Anthropologist and author of an award-winning book on Alcântara, Sean T. Mitchell of Rutgers University-Newark, wrote: “On August 20, Brazil’s House Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense approved the “Technology Safeguards Accord” that would allow the United States to use the Alcântara Launch Center in Maranhão. The ostensible reason for the Accord is that it will protect US technology, as the US begins operations in Alcântara. But more significantly, it also places major limits on Brazil’s space program that will hinder Brazil’s development of a serious independent space program. The Accord’s creation of “restricted areas” in Alcântara, off limits to Brazilians, might be justified in terms of the protection of US technology. However, under its terms, the Accord will also place strict limits on technology transfer to Brazil from other countries and their companies, not just technology transfers from the United States.”
President Michel Temer also immediately tried, by Presidential decree, to abolish and open up the 46.450 km2 RENCA (National Reservation of Copper and Associates), home to the Wajãpi people, and where private investment had been prohibited since 1984. This was of particular interest to Canadian mining companies such as Great Panther, headed by U.S. Military Academy graduate Jim Bannantine. Great Panther Silver became Great Panther Mining following the March 2019 acquisition of Beadell Resources, and its Tucano Gold mine in the state of Amapá. The Tucano site boasts “mineral resources of approximately 3.2 million ounces and reserves of approximately 1.3 million ounces” and “over 2,500 square kilometres of prospective contiguous gold exploration tenements.”
It had been discovered over the previous decade that the area of Pedra Branca within RENCA has possibly the biggest unexplored gold reserves in the world. Temer’s bid to abolish RENCA was blocked, but in the closing days of his Coup-tainted mandate, he abolished the regulatory agency, the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM), replacing it with the new National Mining Agency (ANM). This was not cosmetic. Mining.com reported that “Changes to Brazil’s 50-year-old mining regulations also came in effect Wednesday and include measures to allow for mining titles to be used as guarantees for financing. The modifications are expected to spur investment in sector, while allowing miners to continue exploring for minerals even if production license applications are pending.”
At the same time Temer gutted Brazil’s anti slavery law, “to the applause of elite ruralists”.
Longstanding protections for Indigenous and Quilombola land, which often sits upon mineral deposits, were already under attack, and worse was to come. “Where there is indigenous land, there are riches beneath it,” announced future far-right Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro in 2017, already in full campaign mode. He would go on to express envy of U.S. cavalries for being more effective in their extermination of North America’s indigenous peoples.
This is the kind of genocidal rhetoric for which he now faces charges at The Hague, and the consequences of it are very real; the murder of indigenous peoples has reached crisis levels, in tandem with the expansion of activities by foreign corporate actors in the Amazon.
Entire tribes have been reported missing. A Liberation Theology priest in Rondonia with 40 years experience working with indigenous peoples expressed his deep concern: “There are hundreds of different tribes around here but in this reservation there were two very remote tribes that had almost no contact with outsiders and they seem to have just disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to them. I think they might have just killed them all.”
Bolsonaro’s disturbing public statements about Brazil’s Indigenous and Quilombola peoples evidently did not discomfort Council of the Americas, who later that year invited him to behind closed doors meetings at its New York headquarters, the agenda of which they refuse to disclose. It is thus unclear which of its corporate members from agribusiness, banking or the extractive industries had representatives present, but their membership privileges specifically allow for it. “No room for feelings…” they said, ahead of the Neofascist’s election in 2018.
Disregarding any human rights concerns, Council of the Americas Elite Member, Barings Bank, could not contain their enthusiasm for the election of Bolsonaro, calling it “a new frontier”. “Jair Bolsonaro’s election as Brazil’s president in October 2018 was momentous: this was the first time since the establishment of the country’s 1988 constitution that a clear right-leaning mandate had won a national vote. Many market commentators have recognized that his appointment has the potential for positive economic transformation,” it proclaimed.
The propaganda-laden statement paid gushing tributes to Paulo Guedes and Sérgio Moro, even lauding his politically-motivated imprisonment of former President Lula da Silva, which enabled Bolsonaro’s victory.
Upon taking office, Bolsonaro appointed Ricardo Salles, of the Ultra-Neoliberal Partido Novo as Environment minister. Salles had campaigned during the 2018 election on a platform of liberalising gun ownership, and the right of farmers to shoot members of the landless workers movement, MST, and “the left” in general. His party Novo was founded in 2013, is bankrolled by Banco Itaú, and headed by oligarch, João Amoedo, a would-be Brazilian version of Chile’s Sebastian Piñera. Partido Novo members have been paraded in New York by AS/COA in conjunction with RenovaBR – an initiative set up to support and groom telegenic young Brazilian politicians, friendly to U.S. business interests, such as the controversial young congresswoman Tabata Amaral, an economic liberal whom Americas Quarterly misleadingly promoted as if Brazil’s equivalent of U.S. leftist Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
Council of the Americas also hosted then São Paulo Mayor, now State Governor, João Doria, who ran for that office on an explicitly Bolsonaro-allied platform. Doria was keynote speaker at an AS/COA conference in the Southern Hemisphere’s largest city, entitled “Brazil in the eyes of Wall Street”. Doria’s Mayorship at that time boasted of the “biggest municipal privatisation programme in history”. Doria also hopes to run for President in 2022.
Council of the Americas Elite Member, BlackRock, is the world’s biggest investment fund, valued at $6.52tn. The scale of BlackRock’s Brazilian investments is almost too large to comprehend. Luiz Eloy Terena, legal counsel for the National Indigenous Organisation of Brazil said, “When BlackRock funnels investments to these bad actors in Brazil, it is complicit in the destruction of tropical forests and violation of human rights.”
A 2018 report estimated that impact on the Amazonian rainforest caused by mining operations was ten times previously thought, and there has been a continuity between the post-coup Government of Michel Temer and that of Jair Bolsonaro in their willingness to open up protected and environmentally sensitive areas to exploitation from foreign mining interests.
In Eduardo Galeano’s ‘The Open Veins of Latin America’, he cites a US-Brazil agreement in 1964 which permitted US Air Force planes to fly over and photograph the Amazon rainforest: “They had used cintilometers to detect radioactive mineral deposits by the emission of light wavelengths of variable intensity, electromagnetometers to radiograph the topsoil rich in non-ferrous minerals, and magnetometers to discover and measure the iron. The reports and photographs acquired in the reconnaissance of the extension and depth of the secret riches of Amazonia were put in the hands of private firms interested in the matter, thanks to the good services of the United States Geological Survey. In the immense region was proven the existence of gold, silver, diamonds, gipsite, hematite, magnetite, tantalium, titanium, thorium, uranium, quartz, copper, manganese, lead, sulfates, potassium, bauxite, zinc, zirconium, chrome and mercury.”
In October 2019, Bolsonaro, addressing a group of garimpeiros (prospectors) at the Planalto Palace, remarked: “The interest in the Amazon is not Indians, or fucking trees…it is the minerals.”
That Bolsonaro was brought to power via the Evangelical vote and his that agenda explicitly favours the interests of foreign mining corporations is less coincidental than it may seem. Gerald Colby & Charlotte Dennett’s ‘Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil’ (1995) detailed how the expansion of the Neopentacostal churches in Brazil, introduced as a U.S.-backed counterpoint to leftwing Liberation Theology, went hand in hand with the survey exploration of indigenous lands, with teams of bible translators often doubling as mineral reconnaissance.
Back in 2007, Barrick Gold Corporation’s founder Peter Munk wrote to fellow Council of the Americas member the Financial Times to attack late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “aren’t we ignoring the lessons of history and forgetting that the dictators Hitler, Mugabe, Pol Pot and so on became heads of state by a democratic process?”
Neither Munk nor Barrick expressed any such concern about an actual Neofascist occupying the Brazilian Presidency. On the contrary, following Bolsonaro’s inauguration, Barrick, until then a Council of the Americas Elite Member, announced a massive cross-border expansion in its Amazonian Mining operations and investments in partnership with fellow Canadian mining company Reunion Gold.
Canadian national public broadcaster CBC responded to Bolsonaro’s election with an article headlined ‘What a far-right Presidency in Brazil means for Canadian Business’: “Brazil’s new president elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is a right-winger who leans towards more open markets. This could mean fresh opportunities for Canadian companies looking to invest in the resource-rich country,” it announced on social media.
In 2013, Canadian Intelligence agencies were found to have spied on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry.
The new goldrush in the Brazilian Amazon, and its political context, were entirely foreseeable. In December 2012, Wall Street Journal ran a piece headlined “Mining Giants Head to Amazon Rain Forest. In Next Five Years, About $24 Billion Will Be Invested to Boost Production in Remote, Environmentally Sensitive Region.”
By the end of those five years, Brazil was a very different place. There had been a multi-stage coup d’état against the centre-left, resource nationalist government, backed by the very companies invested in the exploitation of the Amazon and elsewhere.
Council of the Americas was effectively the central conduit for that backing, and a window to the promiscuity between U.S. State and Corporate power in Latin America.
It is sufficient to view what has been done to Brazil purely in terms of corporate relations: the proximity of interests; the commercial motives; the quid pro quo; the modus operandi; the capture of political decision making processes – this is all there, in plain sight.
Council of the Americas represents the chemical producers who are mass poisoning Brazilians, with the average consumption of toxic pesticides way above global average, causing birth abnormalities, cancers, and other disease. It lobbies for the Mining Corporations tearing up protected land in a trail of blood, and it is the Latin American base for the banks and hedge funds which seek to profit from all of the above with neither compunction nor conscience, insulated from the human suffering they cause.
The collateral damage in this war by other means is on their watch…
Parts Four and Five to follow.
If you value the work Brasil Wire does, please help keep us running with a donation. Our editorial independence relies on our readers support.