Since early September, Brazil’s beaches have been plagued by a mysterious oil spill that has managed to stretch across 2,200km of the country’s coastline. There is currently no source of origin for the oil, but Brazil’s far-right administration is already pointing the finger at Venezuela.

While this theory hasn’t been proven yet, President Jair Bolsonaro seems to be sure that the spill was criminal in nature especially since the oil is neither produced nor traded in the country. Bolsanaro has gone on record to say that the spill could have been used as a means to foil an upcoming major oil tender which could generate up to $50 billion in licensing fees for the country.

Either way, local volunteers have decided to take the crisis into their own hands. Videos have flooded social media showing groups of people battling to remove oil from Brazil’s beaches. Some volunteers have even organised a group named ‘Coast Guardians’ to help with the clean-up whilst also raising thousands for protective gloves, boots and masks.

However, the size of the environmental disaster requires swift government action which so far has been lacking. On Monday, the Vice President of Brazil announced that they would be sending 5,000 more troops to help with the clean-up but many believe that this has come too little, too late.

While oil spills are not uncommon, the sheer amount of oil that has washed up on Brazil’s coastline has polluted beaches and affected marine life. According to Brazilian authorities, the spill has contaminated the coastline of eight states while other reports have concluded that 600 tonnes of oil had been collected from Brazil’s north-eastern beaches since September 12.

“The magnitude of this is extremely rare,” said David Valentine, a marine science researcher at the University of California.

So, why are the government failing to handle the crisis?

Failure of a Government

Since Bolsanaro stepped into office in January, it has been abundantly clear that environmental protections were not a priority for the new president. A few months after winning office, Bolsanaro closed two committees that were designed as part of Brazil’s national contingency plan, in the event of an oil spill.

The far-right administration also sparked widespread international outrage earlier this year after failing to stop raging fires in the country’s Amazon rainforest which contributed to the deforestation of one of the most vital ecosystems in the world.

With such strained environmental challenges, Brazil should be tightening its protections not loosening them in favour of making profit. However, Bolsanaro’s track record has proven that capitalistic ventures, such as agribusiness, are far more important than preserving Brazil’s rich natural environment. 

Photo from Washington Post

Edward Cowley