This is the American billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, who also allocated millions of dollars to the majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.
Two Brazilian companies that are partially owned by a major donor to the US president, Donald Trump, and the leader to the Senate Republican majority, Mitch McConnell, has a large share of responsibility for the continued destruction of the Amazon rainforest, “a butcher shop that has become furious fires capturing worldwide attention,” reads a recent article by The Intercept.
According to the publication, these two companies are Hidrovias do Brasil and Pátria Investimentos (which owns more than 50% of Hidrovias), both owned by the important American investment company Blackstone, whose co-founder and CEO is Stephen Schwarzman, a close ally of Trump who has donated millions of dollars to his cause in recent years.
These companies “have taken control” of several plots of land in the Amazon rainforest, deforested them and helped build a controversial road to their new shipping terminal in Miritituba, in the Brazilian state of Pará, in order to facilitate the cultivation and export of grains and soy, the article suggests.
The terminal is managed by Hidrovias do Brasil and allows producers to load soybeans on barges, which transport it to a larger port and send it to all parts of the world.
A controversial road
Hidrovias do Brasil announced in early 2016 that it would soon begin exporting soybeans in trucks from the state of Mato Grosso on the BR-163 highway, which at that time was largely unpaved. However, the company said it planned to improve and develop it.
In the spring of 2019, Jair Bolsonaro’s government announced that Hidrovias do Brasil would be associated in the privatization and development of hundreds of kilometers of the BR-163 route. “The development of the road itself causes deforestation, but the most important thing is that it helps make a wider transformation of the Amazon possible by converting rainforest into farmland,” says the article.
The BR-163 highway has had a marked effect on deforestation, several media have noted. “Every year between 2004 and 2013, except 2005, deforestation in the Amazon as a whole decreased, but increased in the region around BR-163,” Financial Times reported in September 2017. This [activity] was rejected by the indigenous defenders of the Amazon.
In March, Hidrovias admitted that its business had slowed down due to the increase in the blockades organized by the defenders of the jungle on the BR-163 road. However, recently the company announced that thanks to strong investment, it planned to double its grain delivery capacity to 13 million tons.
Agribusiness and forest fires
“The effort to transform the Amazon from a rainforest into a source of income for agribusiness is fundamental to the conflict, and is related to the fires that are now out of control,” the report insists.
At the forefront of the jungle invasion are the so-called ‘land hoarders’ or ‘grileiros’, who illegally cut down trees with chainsaws. Then the newly cleared lands are sold to the agribusiness companies, which take their harvest to the Miritituba terminal on the BR-163 highway for export.
According to the media, many outbreaks of fierce fires that have been destroying the Amazon for more than two weeks, causing unprecedented devastation, were caused “by farmers and other people seeking to clear the land for cultivation or grazing.”
The media indicates that the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a strong supporter of the development of agribusiness in the jungle territory and “initially ruled out that the fires deserved much attention.” In addition, weeks ago Bolsonaro dismissed the director of the National Space Research Institute, Ricardo Galvão, for a report on the rapid escalation of deforestation under his Administration, alleging that the numbers in the report were invented.
For its part, Schwarzman’s company, Blackstone, insists that its activities in the territory of the Amazon rainforest are carried out under the motto of “responsible environmental management” and ensures that thanks to the measures taken by the company has registered “a significant reduction in general carbon emissions through reduced congestion”, which “has allowed a more efficient flow of agricultural products by Brazilian farmers.”
Who is Schwarzman?
Stephen Schwarzman is the co-founder of Blackstone and currently owns approximately one fifth of this company, which makes him one of the richest men in the world, says the article. “In 2018, he was paid at least 568 million dollars, which was, in fact, a decrease compared to the 786 million he earned the previous year,” says the report, which emphasizes that this billionaire “has been generous with McConnell and Trump.”
In particular, in 2016 Schwarzman donated $ 2.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund and the McConnell Political Action Committee and put Jim Breyer, McConnell’s billionaire brother-in-law, on the Blackstone board. Two years later, Schwarzman allocated another $ 8 million to the Political Action Committee.
In addition, Blackstone employees have donated more than $ 10 million to McConnell and his Political Action Committee over the years, “which makes them the largest source of direct funding for McConnell’s career,” the article emphasizes, and mentions that the McConnell Senate campaign has declined to comment.
In addition, Schwarzman is a close friend and advisor to the current US president, Donald Trump, and served as president of its Strategic and Policy Forum until 2017. In December of the same year, Schwarzman organized a fundraiser for Trump at a $ 100,000 charity dinner.
Featured image: Forest fire near Porto Velho, Brazil, on August 27, 2019. Ricardo Moraes / Reuters
Translated by JRE/EF