A week after charges against former president Lula were annulled, invigorating the Brazilian left to unite and challenge neofascist Jair Bolsonaro, US magazine Americas Quarterly responded with the kind of cynical propaganda we should always expect from it.
Having enthusiastically supported the lawfare campaign against him, the AQ piece was an attack on Lula and the Latin American left’s record on the environment, built around Oliver Stuenkel’s facile comparison between Lula and a new generation of young centre-left politicians in the northern hemisphere.
It is the same story repeated across the continent: Latin America must not have sovereign development.
Americas Quarterly and AS/COA
Before we go any further we need to establish one basic premise: Americas Quarterly is a joke.
Its writers are not journalists, nor should they be considered as such. They are for the most part corporate propagandists, academics for hire, dubious or unwitting leftists, sycophant prospective employees, and “future political leaders”, groomed by the likes of YPA, LEAD, or in Brazil’s specific case, RenovaBR. Even the Guardian’s notorious Latin America correspondent Tom Phillips is listed as a speaker of its parent organisation. Americas Quarterly is not a normal magazine.
Most importantly, that parent organisation is AS/COA, Americas Society / Council of the Americas, a right wing think tank and lobby which was created specifically to interfere in Latin American politics, beginning with Brazil’s congressional elections in 1962.
Then called simply Business Group for Latin America, it was convened by Chase Bank’s David Rockefeller at the behest of John F. Kennedy. It funded candidates and organisations opposed to president Jango Goulart, and penetrated civil society to help precipitate the 1964 coup. Council of the Americas then went on to play an active role in the 1973 coup in Chile, as documented by Seymour Hersh in ‘Price of Power’.
Hersh wrote about COA’s role in Chile and its seamless integration with the CIA’s activities:
“The principal contact in Chile for the CIA as well as for the American corporations was the organization of Agustín Edwards…who was the owner of the conservative El Mercurio newspaper chain in Chile and a focal point for the opposition to Allende and the left. The CIA and the Business Group, which by 1970 had been reorganized into the Council of the Americas, relied heavily on Edwards to use his organization and his contacts to channel their moneys into the 1964 political campaign. Many of the ties between the Business Group and the CIA in 1964 remained in place long after the election. For example, Enno Hobbing, a CIA official who had initially been assigned as liaison to the Business Group, eventually left the CIA and became the principal operations officer for the Council.”
AS/COA was ITT. AS/COA was Anaconda Copper. The US companies at the heart of the plot to remove Allende by any means necessary, and install the bloody rule of Augusto Pinochet.
The Pinochet regime that followed left over 40,000 killed, tortured or imprisoned, with a further 200,000 driven into exile. And its supposed economic “miracle”, which is regularly used to justify such horrors, has been comprehensively debunked.
Many people have died in Latin America as a direct result of decisions made at 680 Park Avenue, New York, the AS/COA headquarters. For a Latin America focussed organisation, AS/COA employees are today conspicuous in their lack of social media commemoration or remorse for the September 11 1973 coup. Unsurprising given their role in it.
Editor in chief of Americas Quarterly is Brian Winter, who is also vice president of policy at AS/COA itself, as well as a former Reuters Brazil correspondent and ghostwriter of books for a range of right wing and neoliberal Latin American politicians. Winter once called Augusto Pinochet “a revolutionary”, and told Davos attendees to “prepare to be dazzled” by Bolsonaro’s Pinochet-inspired Economy minister, Paulo Guedes.
Bolsonaro long threatened to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, something that did not appear to concern AS/COA when they were holding behind closed doors meetings with him in 2017. As recently as February 2020, Americas Quarterly ran an article titled, “Bolsonaro’s Amazon Plan Has Actual Reasons for Hope” by Natalie Unterstell, who stood in 2018 as candidate for misleadingly named centre-right ‘Podemos’ party. Podemos was the party most loyal to Bolsonaro in congress, voting with his government on 90% of occasions in the first year of his military dominated administration.
AQ editorial board members include Brazil’s former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, ex-IMF economist Monica de Bolle, and Thomas Shannon, who served as Ambassador to Brazil from 2009-2013. Following two stints at the office of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Shannon was under-secretary of state for political affairs in the U.S. Department of State from 2016 to 2018.
Shannon admitted after his retirement that the Lula and Dilma governments were an obstacle to US plans for South America.
Council of the Americas holds its annual event at the State Department, from where many of its key personnel past and present have come, such as notorious cold warrior Otto Reich, and AS/COA’s current chairman emiritus, John Negroponte, a former US Deputy Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence, and Ambassador to Iraq, Mexico, Phillipines, and Honduras.
COA’s board of directors also includes Brian Malnak of Shell, Clay Neff of Chevron, Erik Oswald of ExxonMobil, former Clinton and Bush era Government official Thomas McLarty III 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, and Donna Hrinak, former Ambassador to Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela.
Also on the board is Daniel Calhman de Miranda, from Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. E Quiroga Advogados, a Brazilian legal firm specialised in mergers and acquisitions, which boasted that the now disgraced operation Lava Jato had brought it a deluge of new business.
Cargill, Bunge, ADM and Goldman Sachs are just four corporate members of Council of the Americas that are active in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, and linked to the fires raging across the region, which were started intentionally to enable expansion of available land, principally for Soy cultivation and Cattle.
Other current or recent members of the Council actively or historically invested in the Transmazonian region include, from agribusiness: Continental Grain Company. From finance: BlackRock, BNP Paribas, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Scotiabank, Citigroup, Inc, Santander. From Seeds and Pesticides: Bayer-Monsanto, Dow Chemical. From Oil and Gas: Chevron, ConocoPhillips. From the mining sector: Barrick Gold Corporation, Rio Tinto, Hothschild Mining, and so on.
Facing more scrutiny than ever, AS/COA’s increasingly desperate-looking employees are often found in denial of their own organisation’s documented history, and even its direct open links to the US government.
Council of the Americas’ predecessors were of whom Pablo Neruda wrote in his 1940 poem ‘Standard Oil Co’:
“Their obese emperors from New York are suave smiling assassins who buy silk, nylon, cigars, petty tyrants and dictators. They buy countries, people, seas, police, county councils, distant regions where the poor hoard their corn like misers their gold: Standard Oil awakens them, clothes them in uniforms, designates which brother is the enemy. The Paraguayan fights its war, and the Bolivian wastes away in the jungle with its machine gun.”
AS/COA is Chevron. AS/COA is ExxonMobil. AS/COA is BlackRock. AS/COA IS “extractivism”.
It is fascinating then to see this organisation try to mobilise its media arm in criticism of its own institutional and financial basis, let alone for it to then depict extractivism as a characteristic of the left. But these gymnastics are Americas Quarterly’s function.
A week before Lula’s release, Brazil’s far right minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araújo was interviewed by AS/COA CEO and President Susan Segal. In the interview, Bolsonaro’s ruinous Amazon policy was called a “win win”. In 2019 Araújo called the an US-Brazil bilateral agreement to open up the Amazon “…the Holy Grail of Brazil’s foreign policy, at least for the private sector”.
Published less than two weeks after the Araújo’s interview, Stuenkel’s Americas Quarterly piece was headlined “Much of Latin America’s Left Has a Blind Spot: The Environment. As center-left leaders in Europe and the U.S. prioritize the fight against climate change, the same cannot be said of their Latin American peers.”
Stuenkel attacked the region’s left leaders whilst lauding the environment record of Colombia’s AS/COA backed right wing President Iván Duque.
In Lula’s first public speech since charges against him were anulled, Stuenkel complained that: “…while Lula seemed to criticize every single one of Bolsonaro’s policies, one topic was conspicuously absent: During his nearly 90-minute speech, the left-wing leader did not once mention climate change, deforestation or fires in the Amazon forest and the Pantanal wetlands, all of which have made regular global headlines over the past several years.”
Besides the fact that Lula has spoken about all of these things since his release from jail in November 2019, this was especially disingenuous given his record in government. Besides beginning the transition of Brazil’s electrical grid, already based largely upon hydroelectric, towards wind and solar power, Amazon deforestation fell dramatically under Lula between 2003 and 2010.
In June 2013 it was announced that Lula’s government reduced greenhouse emissions by 39% between 2005 and 2010, reducing them to below 1990 levels, primarily due to reduction of deforestation in the Amazon.
And even before 2015’s Paris accord, in 2009 Lula had already promised that Brazil would reduce its greenhouse emissions by 36 percent or more by 2020.
These targets were reached early, just as a corporate free for all was enabled by the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and election of Bolsonaro – both of which with came with the de-facto support of AS/COA and to the delight of its members.
When the forests are gone, the minerals remain. The riches of Brazil’s Amazon have long been coveted.In 1998, Brazilian mining giant Vale was sold off for a fraction of its value, by Americas Quarterly board member, then president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, yet extractivism became a buzzword in Brazil only following its discovery of massive offshore oil deposits in 2007, with a myriad of research papers on the subject since, many of them used to attack the ‘pink tide’. It seems that extractivism in the private sector is not an issue. Somehow, only when the companies involved are state controlled does this come under serious scrutiny by anglo media and academia, whose often well intentioned work is laundered through think tanks like AS/COA as a means to attack dreaded resource nationalist governments in Latin America “from the left”.
AS/COA-backed candidate at the 2010 and 2014 elections, Marina Silva, rallied against the “extractivism” of Dilma Rousseff’s Workers Party government, and was heralded internationally for it.
Off the back of her credentials as an environmental campaigner, former PT minister Silva was promoted as the real “progressive” candidate at the 2014 election, despite sharing much of her policy platform with the neoliberal PSDB (who she went on to endorse in the second round), and being socially conservative herself. She was against “state intervention” which she equated to developmentalism, meaning she was open to the privatisation of Petrobras. This made Silva the best of both worlds for AS/COA.
As her campaign moved on she backtracked on her “anti-extractivist” rhetoric re-committing to the pré-sal oil exploitation, production of climate polluting biofuels, and reversed her opposition to hydroelectric dam projects, which had been used to attack the Rousseff government.
Silva’s story is similar to that of presidential candidate Yaku Pérez in Ecuador, also rallying against “extractivism” of the Correa government, yet being promoted by AS/COA as “the new face of Ecuador’s left” for doing so.
This is despite its patron Chevron being behind the country’s worst “extractivist” abuses. Chevron’s activity in Ecuador is notorious, from recruiting young journalists to work as spies, to the case of lawyer Steven Donziger, who has been persecuted in a lawfare campaign waged by Chevron for years. His nightmare began when he won a multibillion-dollar judgement on behalf of Indigenous people and farmers over massive contamination in the Lago Agrio region, and is still under house arrest. Meanwhile Pérez recently endorsed a call for a military coup in Ecuador, after having supported both the coup against Dilma Rousseff and Lava Jato’s jailing of Lula da Silva, which effectively elected Bolsonaro. Stuenkel’s article accused Correa of authoritarian crackdowns on environmentalists.
There is crossover to be observed elsewhere between critics of “extractivism” and backers of operation Lava Jato, such as in Bolivia, where the 2019 coup against Evo Morales was greenwashed with “anti-extractivist” language, and recently arrested post-coup president, Jeanine Añez was jubilant at Lula’s 2018 jailing. Dubious pro-coup “anthropologists” living in Bolivia were predictably interviewed by Americas Quarterly, while Stuenkel’s new piece also attacked Morales for “extractivist” policy.
Back in Brazil, remaining calls to keep it in the ground went strangely silent following the coup of 2016, which Marina Silva also supported. The cut price sell off of Brazil’s oil riches was enabled by the breaking of the pré-sal law, which was promised 6 years earlier to Chevron by future post-coup foreign minister José Serra. Serra had lost to Dilma at the 2010 election, having earlier warned the US Ambassador of her “extremism”. The pré-sal law had guaranteed state controlled oil company Petrobras involvement in and proceeds from any exploitation of the new discoveries. This wealth was deemed Brazil’s ‘passport to the future’, and worth trillions of reais, money which was earmarked by Rousseff for investment in public education and health. This measure was to be enshrined in the constitution, as she announced on Workers Day, 2013. This coincided with the beginning of her downfall.
Within months of Rousseff’s ouster three years later, Council of Americas extractive corporations were amongst the first to benefit from the immediate policy shift; Chevron themselves, ExxonMobil and Shell.
Americas Quarterly and AS/COA’s media arm ran a de-facto PR campaign for discredited Operation Lava Jato, which helped impeach Dilma Rousseff, jail Lula, and bring a neofascist (who it called an “arch-conservative”) Jair Bolsonaro to power. Post-coup president Michel Temer and Bolsonaro quickly trampled on Brazil’s existing environmental protections and Brazil’s commitments to carbon emissions, many of which were established under Workers Party administrations.
Temer immediately tried by decree to abolish and open up the 46.450 km2 RENCA reserve (National Reservation of Copper and Associates), home to the Wajãpi people, and where private investment had been prohibited since 1984. 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… are expected to spur investment in sector, while allowing miners to continue exploring for minerals even if production license applications are pending.”
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. Following Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration, Barrick Gold, until then a Council of the Americas Elite Member, announced a massive cross-border expansion in its Amazonian Mining operations.
There were no such complaints about “extractivism” in Americas Quarterly then…
We have written extensively on AS/COA and its members’ environmental record in Brazil: