On Tuesday, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff announced that Katiá Abreu would be the country’s next minister of agriculture. Both a senator and a rancher, Abreu’s ambitious plans for Brazil’s agricultural industry has given her significant support from the country’s private sector and drawn significant criticism from its environmental sector.
Abreu wants more roads in the Amazon rainforest, indigenous reserves put under congressional purview and an expansion of monoculture farming. This has not made Abreu many friends in the environmental lobby, but the senator has called for these measures as a means of building up the country. Currently, agriculture comprises 23 percent of Brazil’s economy, and Abreu sees the country’s potential as even greater than that of the United States’.
Abreu’s “uncompromising rhetoric and style,” the Guardian writes, is comparable to the late Margaret Thatcher, a comparison which Abreu relishes. Like Thatcher, Abreu can invoke the same fiery rhetoric and nationalistic verve that makes her unassailable by her enemies and a lightning rod for her chosen party. Abreu also leads the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock, a political lobby that includes over 250 members of the Brazilian congress. That lobby has grown strong as the country’s agribusiness has boomed.
It is little wonder, then, that Abreu has ignored conservationists’ pleas to pull back on Brazilian clear-cutting for farmland.
“Criticism from radical environmentalists is the best form of endorsement,” she said. “It gives me satisfaction. It shows I am on the right track and playing the right role.”
Greenpeace has denounced the President’s choice. “By choosing Katiá Abreu,” the organization wrote, “the president has confirmed that the path the government will take in the coming years will put agribusiness above the environment.” Rural workers and indigenous people will be the ones to suffer greatest, the organization added.
Abreu has had a tense relationship with the country’s indigenous population, which has long sought to protect its ancestral lands from incursion by illegal loggers. Last year, the senator implied that the needs of Brazil as a whole were greater than those of its indigenous tribes. She criticized FUNAI, the government agency that carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples, as undemocratic.
“The decisions on demarcations [of land] are taken by a lone anthropologist after hearing the indigenous groups,” she told a Sao Paulo newspaper in 2013. “The National Congress, which is elected by the people, is not consulted. She added that indigenous tribes are entitled to 12 percent of the country’s territory but compose only one percent of its population.