Bolsonaro’s Brazil Announces Chinese-Built $100 Million Base in Antarctica

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY VITORIA VELEZ View from a hill of the Brazilian Comandante Ferraz

The government of Brazil unveiled its new $100 million Antarctic base built by the Chinese state-run National Electronics Import & Export Corporation (CEICEC) on Thursday, eight years after a fire destroyed its former base.

The new facility, known as the Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station, located on King George Island at the same site as the old structure, held its inauguration ceremony on Thursday five years after the project began.

“Brazil is back in the Antarctic with great force,” Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes, Brazil’s only astronaut, wrote on Twitter following the ceremony.

The new base, which is double the size of the old one, cost close to $100 million and will accommodate up to 64 scientists from the Brazilian Antarctic Program (PROANTAR).

“It is great in scientific terms to see the capacity that we will have because this center brings together the work of hundreds of researchers in Brazil and around the world so that we can work together to advance science and our knowledge of our planet as one,” he told a press conference.

According to Science magazine, there remain concerns among the scientific community as to if the base will receive enough funding to make the project worthwhile.

“The Brazilian Antarctic Program (Proantar), created in 1982 to support Brazil’s scientific and geopolitical interests in Antarctica, has been hampered by funding uncertainties in recent years,” notes the magazine.

In 2018, researchers managed to secure 18 million real ($4.5 million) in funding from Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communication, the largest single sum ever invested in the program at one time. Last year, a further 2 million reais ($500,000) were allocated to equip the new station labs.

Jefferson Simões, a glaciologist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and vice president of the International Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, told the magazine that the base will need an additional $1.5 million every year to properly serve its purpose.

The government of conservative President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to make any funding pledges beyond 2022. Although he celebrated the facility’s opening on social media, his personal commitment and interest in the project are unclear. The agreement to employ a Chinese company for its construction was signed in 2015 under the socialist administration of President Dilma Rousseff.

A spokesperson for the Brazilian government insisted that resources would continue to be made available. “Proantar is undoubtedly a program of strategic interest to the Brazilian government and there can be no discontinuity in its flow of resources,” the spokesperson said.

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