As I enter the simple youth hostel in Rio de Janeiro where Mr. R. Belo has agreed to be interviewed, I am struck by how very ordinary this man looks. I am reminded of something Winston Churchill once said about Prime Minister Attlee: “Mr. Attlee is a very modest man. But then he has much to be modest about.” Mr. R. Belo is indeed a modest man, never seen without his trademark red tie and dark suit. After a difficult, impoverished upbringing, Mr. R. Belo has risen through the ranks of political workers and now dominates the forward-looking Brazilian Communist Party which is considered one of the most progressive organizations in the world.

Recently Mr. R. Belo has presided over the relaxation of his country’s forestry codes, so that small-scale farmers and hobos can slash back the jungle and grow more food. Some foolish people seem to think that this reform will simply pave the way for industrial interests, that will very quickly move in and buy up all available land to start exploiting the rich mineral wealth of Amazonas.

I am meeting with Mr. R. Belo today so that I can sound him out on his new forestry code and, of course, find out more about his social programs.

Q:

Good morning, Mr. R. Belo. I wonder if I could begin by asking about your policy objectives for the 21st century? You are a leading figure in the government of one of the world’s fastest-developing nations, i.e. Brazil. Some argue that your reform of the forestry code for Amazonas may have ramifications for the environmental stability of your whole continent, possibly even the whole world. Could you begin by explaining how you see the future? Would you say that non-Brazilians are entitled to their own opinions on your country’s new policies?

A:

No, because the West has a colonial perspective. We have always said, and we will always say that our stated objective – in accordance with Paragraph 18, Sub-Section 23 of the 1934 Communist Congress – is to continue the crucial work of alleviating poverty in this country. Capitalism is finished in the West, anyone can see that. But in Brazil we are different, our country is huge and we are building a new, revolutionary Capitalism. It’s very easy, all you need are large digging machines and a hell of a lot of concrete. We have a lot of metals to dig up, a lot of oil to drill for and of course we have this very large redundant area known as Amazonas, which we intend to scale back quite considerably and turn into a productive resource.

Q:

When you say “productive”, what are you driving at? Some would say that Amazonas is extremely productive, as it produces immense amounts of water and oxygen, which are crucial to life on earth.

A:

The bourgeoisie in the West are criticizing us for developing our great country. They say we need to preserve our forest for the sake of the world. Let me simply say this: the global community is not our concern. We must look to our own interests, and these interests are quite clear. We will not stand by while poor farmers starve.

Q:

Surely there is no need for them to starve? Brazil has a buoyant economy. Could you not help them in other ways?

A:

Absolutely, and Brazil will continue to grow because we will develop our country and go for prosperity.

Q:

Yes, but would it not be reasonable to develop in a way that can be sustained in the longer term?

A:

That is a bogus concept. The future is another country, you know… (Mops his brow, momentarily confused) But Brazil is not another country, Brazil is Brazil. And always will be. We must deal with today and then when tomorrow comes we will deal with tomorrow.  Make no mistake about this, we will deal with tomorrow as soon as it comes along. I make this promise today, hand on heart.

Q:

Yes I can see that. So… how do you see the future of your… great country?

A:

Capitalism has failed, comrade. The factories of the world have simply crumbled into dust, and the pollution and unemployment and moral and physical sickness of your societies is plain for all to see. Just look at those riots in England! How sad to see young people so alienated, in a post-industrial society.

Q:

Right. But if that’s how you feel, why not do something more progressive with your own society?

A:

Oh, we will. After we have finished burning the Amazon jungle, we shall turn it into the most spectacular productive region of the world. Dams, factories, oil wells and mines will cover this enormous area, and the tribal people of the whole region will no longer have to hunt the monkeys of the trees or go fishing. They will have more dignified roles in our society. They will have houses, and cars and credit cards.

Q:

But this Capitalism you advocate… is it really a viable long-term vision? Industrialism has created a lot of problems in the West? Do you see heavy industry as the future?

A:

Yes, because we have a clear goal. We will take one of the world’s most valuable ecological resources and then, in a very purposeful way, convert it into an efficient vehicle for the production of pork and beans, so that our workers can live with dignity. We are not simple or brutish people, we are a humble confederation of comrades, our goal is a better world for everyone. I will not rest until our workers have pork and beans every day. (Adds, with a gleam in his eye) As a child I had to starve, I had to watch my mother feeding our family on tomatoes an pasta. And this is scandalous.

Q:

What about those who say that the Amazon jungle is the lungs of our planet and contains a massive share of our biodiversity? What about the immense wealth the forest offers in terms of new pharmaceutical products? Could not Brazil try to invest in new technology and social engineering projects? Your country is becoming an important member of the world community. One might have hoped that it would be more of a pioneer, a beacon for how the rest of the world should develop?

A:

This is frankly an insult quite typical of the Western perspective. We have every right to develop in whatever way we like, and frankly we see little value in listening to anyone on this point. Our critics seem to think we are stupid. I say to you, they should stop worrying and mind their own business.  We will keep a few reserves of forest here and there where pharmaceutical workers can mess about with herbs and experiment with their medical technology. In England and France the Capitalists kept the workers on bread and water for years. We will not do this. We will let farmers clear the forest so they can produce the food they need, and have themselves some decent rice and pork and beans.

Q:

Is it not a problem that the land cleared for agriculture is not very suitable for agriculture and tends to revert to dry, unproductive land?

A:

This is nonsense. The large areas that have turned to desert are very useful land for factories and other wealth multipliers such as garbage dumps, mines, roads, airports and other useful things… schools, for instance…

Q:

I was going to ask you about that. What about the education of the masses? Are you investing in education?

A:

Absolutely. And once we have sold off Amazonas to Capitalist interests who will set about turning it into a large, arid flat area pockmarked with disused mines and contaminated soil, we intend to set up Centers Of Marxist Agrarianism (COMA) to train our people in environmental technology. Brazil will become a leading player in this industry, we are already a world leader in bio-fuel. Our Air Quality Initiative is far more advanced than anything the West has come up with.

Q:

What about the climate talks? How will Brazil meet its carbon emission goals if it burns the Amazon?

A:

Look! (Mr. R. Belo’s face goes a very deep red) We don’t need all these trees! We have plenty of oxygen and as far as carbon emissions go, I’d say let’s not lose our heads about it. (Leans back, adjusts his tie) It is much more important that we develop traditional Marxist industries such as oil, mining and steel-making. Those were the industries of the past… and we intend to keep them as the industries of the future too.

Q:

I see. But what about the new industries, high technology, alternative energy and green solutions? Would it not be beneficial for the Brazilian Government to listen to its critics, both inside and outside the country, and do something socially innovative?

A:

We will train our workers and tribal brothers in how to make metal, drill for oil, drive trucks and so on. We need everyone to take part in our development of Amazonas. If our tribal comrades refuse to do this, we will simply put them in reserves, more or less as the United States did with its own native tribes – which, incidentally, was scandalous and a blot on the history of that country. (Stops, scratches his chin, looking puzzled) You know I have this friend in the Congress, her name is Wilma, she’s been a bit skeptical about all this, she worries too much about breaking her promises to the electorate. She actually told them she would protect Amazonia. But I’ve made it clear to her that the electorate must do as it’s told. (He laughs pleasantly, then adds:) Of course I am joking…

Q:

I saw recently that ten of your country’s previous environmental ministers have written a public letter criticizing the reform of your country’s forestry code. And now your current Minister for the Environment has also resigned. Doesn’t all this indicate that there’s something seriously wrong with your policy on Amazonas?

A:

I disrespect these people from the very bottom of my stomach. You know, suddenly I understand how Syria, China and Iran feel when the international press agencies gang up on them. Or when people demonstrate against them. Of course Brazil is quite different from these countries, Brazil is a democracy and that means no one in the world is entitled to criticize us. We are doing what we were elected to do, in fact we are also doing what we were not elected to do, but that is our decision. Also our duty.

Q:

Do you really think that all the poor, unskilled and uneducated people voting for your party, give you the mandate to ignore the views of scientists, environmentalists and world opinion?

A:

A democrat must do what he or she is elected to do. My voters are looking for pork and beans, and I will let them have what they want.

Q:

But surely what’s required here is a more sophisticated approach to managing a globally important resource like Amazonas? Should you not be providing leadership and innovative solutions that safeguard the future?

A:

I can see that you are a corrupt Western elitist. Nothing could ever be more innovative than Communism and populism. And I can say that because I am a democrat. I don’t mean to sound repetitious, but I will say this, just for the sake of clarity: we believe the impoverished landless people must go into the Amazonas and burn it to the ground, so that they can start the vital work of producing rice, beans and pork.

Q:

Is there any validity in the claim that Amazonas, like the Antarctic, should be a protected World Heritage Zone partly paid for and protected according to international law? Should we implement the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth?

A:

This would be colonization!! We are the people of Brazil. We are a free, liberal and enlightened people. (Mr. R. Belo breaks into a sweat, mops his brow with a red handkerchief, and raises his voice with fevered intensity) We do not need any foreigners having opinions about our precious Amazonia, which is a part of our national identity, an indelible part of our soul. Amazonia belongs to us and no one else.

Q:

Does it worry you that once Brazil’s farmers and logging companies have finished clearing Amazonas, there will be a tendency for the area to turn to desert, with a lack of water and good soil for cultivating crops? Does it worry you that by the time corrupt Western regimes have developed new, clean energy systems – let’s say in twenty years time – Brazil and its neighboring countries will have major environmental problems as a result of deforestation and excessive industrialization?

A:

No, not at all, because once the trees of Amazonas have been cleared there will be so much pork and beans for the workers that this party will be voted in for years and years to come. This is our goal and I believe it is an honorable and entirely reasonable goal for a political party to try and stay in power for as long as possible, by appealing to popular sentiment. Brazil is a great land, a land of truth and democracy and workers’ rights, and, as a consequence, no Western country is entitled to comment on anything we do.

Mr. R. Belo stands up and shakes my hand, then stalks off with fluid steps, like a jaguar. I am grateful for this opportunity to commune with a great mind, a great intellect that surveys the future with the keen eyes of an eagle. My mind buzzing with inspired thoughts, I return to the newspaper, where I type up this interview with trembling hands.