WASHINGTON – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today delivered the following opening statement at this morning’s full Committee hearing on the future of U.S.-Brazil relations. Testifying before the Committee were Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Richard Duke.
“The similarities between the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol and its Brazilian sequel on January 8th of this year remind us that we must stand vigilant against anyone anywhere who corrodes democratic norms. Even when those attacks come from the highest levels of government,” Chairman Menendez said. “Despite the painful bond of these horrific attacks, the United States and Brazil have a unique opportunity for renewed cooperation. From addressing democratic challenges, to protecting the environment, to the regional migration crisis, we must succeed together or fail apart…. The time is now for a U.S.-Brazilian partnership that leads the way on environmental, economic, and democratic issues.”
Find a copy of the Chairman’s remarks as delivered below.
“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
Consider the following: after a fractious election cycle, a defeated yet dangerous demagogue spews lies about election fraud.
He urges his supporters to reject reality, inciting them to commit a violent attack on government buildings just a few days into the start of the new year.
The shocking images of the insurrection are then broadcast all over the world—a stark example of how even the strongest democracies can falter when they are pushed to their limit.
If you’re listening to this and wondering, ‘which insurrection is he referring to?’ then I’ve made my point.
The similarities between the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol and its Brazilian sequel on January 8th of this year remind us that we must stand vigilant against anyone anywhere who corrodes democratic norms.
Even when those attacks come from the highest levels of government.
For just as we know who was responsible for instigating the attacks on the very institution in which we hold this hearing, we know that former president Jair Bolsonaro—through his lies and disinformation—fomented the attacks on Brazil’s democracy.
Democracies are resilient only as long as we reinforce their resiliency.
We must look inward—commit to our own democratic values—and continue to stand with democratic movements and institutions throughout the world.
Which brings us to today’s hearing.
Despite the painful bond of these horrific attacks, the United States and Brazil have a unique opportunity for renewed cooperation.
From addressing democratic challenges, to protecting the environment, to the regional migration crisis, we must succeed together or fail apart.
In the span of about two years while Bolsonaro was in charge, human development ravaged more than 34,000 square miles of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest—an area roughly the size of South Carolina.
The astronomical damage inflicted lasting harm on the ecosystem, on biodiversity, and on our efforts to combat global climate change.
Without drastic measures to reverse Bolsonaro’s actions, the ‘lungs of the earth’ could become a net emitter, preventing us from addressing catastrophic climate change.
Make no mistake, Brazilians are fighting for the Amazon, but under Bolsonaro, that itself proved hazardous, particularly for indigenous populations.
In 2021 alone, invasions of—and attacks on—indigenous communities increased nearly threefold to more than 300 documented cases.
That same year, 176 indigenous people were murdered for their activism to protect their homeland—the highest numbers ever recorded.
Brazil under Bolsonaro was one of the deadliest places for environmental defenders in the world.
Which is why I’m heartened that President Lula has made restarting Amazon conservation and protecting environmental defenders a top priority.
The United States stands ready to support these steps.
Last Congress, I introduced the bipartisan AMAZON21 Act—crucial legislation that rewards both conservation goals and economic competitiveness.
Addressing climate change while promoting positive economic growth are not mutually exclusive, and I look forward to once again engaging in that effort this Congress.
After all, it is only by working with our partners, particularly those in our own hemisphere, that we can combat climate change, mitigate damage to the ecosystem, protect environmental defenders, and spur economic growth.
Protecting environmental defenders is about much more than just the Amazon.
Organized civil society and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable are bedrocks of a functioning democracy.
Given Brazil’s important economic and geostrategic role, we must be partners as we address democratic backsliding across the Americas.
We must defend democracy when it is under attack around the world.
In Havana, Miguel Diaz-Canel continues to lock up hundreds of protesters.
In Caracas, the Maduro regime is under investigation for crimes against humanity.
And in Managua, UN experts have said that Daniel Ortega’s reign of terror has perpetrated ‘Nazi-style crimes.’
These human rights abuses, and the migratory outflows that stem from citizens fleeing these countries, demand our full attention and cooperation.
It also means that our countries must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin’s unjustified war.
The time is now for a U.S.-Brazilian partnership that leads the way on environmental, economic, and democratic issues.
Next month, I look forward to leading a CODEL to Brazil where we will solidify these ties as we meet with President Lula and senior members of his government.
We look forward to that. Now, let me turn to the Ranking Member, Senator Risch, for his remarks.”
Remarks have been edited lightly for clarity.