RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s presidential front-runner said on Thursday he would not leave the Paris climate accord if elected, going back on a prior pledge to follow the pullout by U.S. President Donald Trump, a role model for his anti-establishment run.
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Right-wing Congressman Jair Bolsonaro’s decision marks a surprising about-face for a candidate who enjoys strong support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby and has called conservation efforts a threat to Brazilian sovereignty.
Speaking at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Bolsonaro also said he did not want a war with Venezuela or any other country, adding that he wanted to work with the United Nations to deal with an influx of Venezuelan refugees overwhelming a northern border state.
Bolsonaro, who has taken a tough line on Venezuela and raised alarm among environmentalists, is taking on a more moderate tone as he nears an increasingly likely victory in Sunday’s run-off election against leftist rival Fernando Haddad.
They may also ease the tense electoral atmosphere of recent weeks, as Brazil’s most polarized election in a generation has stirred political violence and threats against journalists.
Many had expected Bolsonaro to quickly pull Brazil out of the Paris climate accord after Trump did in June 2017. The former Brazilian Army captain has said he admires the U.S. president, whose 2016 campaign was an example for his own candidacy.
This month, a group of non-governmental organizations including Greenpeace and WWF-Brasil signed an open letter saying Bolsonaro’s proposals present a serious threat to the Brazil’s environment that could lead deforestation “to explode.”
NO DETAIL ON THREAT
Earlier on Thursday, one of Bolsonaro’s senior advisors said in a video, without presenting evidence, that the candidate would not attend debates with his rival due to a threat against him from an unnamed “criminal organization.”
The video was posted on the Twitter feed of Bolsonaro’s vice presidential pick, retired General Hamilton Mourão. In it, retired General Augusto Heleno, a senior adviser to Bolsonaro and earmarked as his defense minister, denied the candidate was avoiding debates for fear of facing his leftist rival.
Instead, Heleno said there were credible threats against Bolsonaro from a criminal group.
“He’s really threatened,” Heleno said. “Not just a sniper, it’s a terrorist attack where there’s a criminal organization – I’m not going to name it for obvious reasons – involved, proven by messages, wiretapping, so it’s absolutely true.”
Reuters was not immediately able to reach Mourão or Heleno for comment.
Bolsonaro and his team have given various reasons for why he refuses to take part in the debates. In the past, his poll numbers have suffered after debating, as he faltered under tough questioning.
A seven-term congressman, Bolsonaro, 63, has successfully pitched himself as the anti-establishment candidate, appealing to voters fed up with political graft and violent crime.
But he remains a divisive figure and the election has been typified by reports of violence, stoked by a febrile atmosphere on social media, where fake news has spread rapidly.
Various press advocacy groups said on Thursday they were concerned by a rise in threats against journalists, urging presidential candidates to denounce the attacks.
“Scores of reporters have been harassed, threatened, and in some cases physically attacked,” said a statement signed by groups including Article 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders.
TROOPS ON PATROL
Bolsonaro said last weekend that he would seek congressional approval so that troops could patrol the streets of Brazil, which suffered a record 64,000 murders last year.
In an interview on Thursday, Defense Minister Joaquim Silva e Luna said he was against such a move.
“It needs to be a case by case basis,” he told Reuters. “Beyond that, I’m not in favor of using the armed forces all the time.”
Nonetheless, Silva e Luna said he supported Bolsonaro’s proposals to give soldiers and police greater legal protection during dangerous missions, as long as it did not cause more deaths.
“I don’t want to give carte blanche for the armed forces or public security forces to kill,” he said.
Writing by Anthony Boadle and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Michael Perry and Richard Chang