Eye on the Amazon

Brazil's Political Crisis Demands Renewed Global Solidarity

Photo Credit: Leonardo Milano

We are living in perilous times, as each news cycle reminds us. From climate chaos to the erosion of democracy globally, the challenges mount at a seemingly relentless pace, at times overwhelming hope for the future. Brazil is no exception to these alarming trends: its upcoming presidential election could usher a radically conservative movement into power, with dire implications for human dignity and the environment in the country and across the world.

Favored to win this Sunday's runoff election and take the reins of the planet's 4th largest democracy and 8th largest economy, Jair Bolsonaro threatens to deepen Brazil's political, environmental, and human rights crisis with his repugnant blend of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and animosity toward ecological stewardship. It is not a stretch to pair his retrograde politics with the fascism of Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985), a regime he routinely eulogizes while espousing its notorious brutality.

The nightmarish rise of an unqualified ultra-conservative demagogue to Brazil's highest office was once unthinkable but today appears to fit a somber pattern not unlike what we're living in the United States. Yet despite the despair they inspire, such grim circumstances demand a resounding and unified response from local to global levels. The stakes are far too high to simply bear witness.

Bolsonaro's proposals on environmental and human rights policy have provoked fear and outrage in Brazil and among international observers. Analysts have correctly noted that the Amazon and forest communities would suffer disproportionately if he is permitted to advance his backward agenda, which is closely tailored to the narrow interests of conservative factions within Brazil's powerful agribusiness sector.

Known as the ruralistas, these actors backed Bolsonaro's presidential bid based upon his proposals to slash social and environmental safeguards for the Amazon's protected areas. In this scenario, vast tracts of forests, vital to far-reaching ecological integrity and climate stability, would be opened to unfettered industrial exploitation, such as cattle ranching, soy farming, and mining. His plans take particular aim at Indigenous peoples and traditional communities, whose territories would be at particular risk.

In response to these mounting assault on the rainforest and its stewards, Amazon Watch recently released a hard-hitting report naming key ruralista leaders and exposing the global corporate and financial entities enabling their regressive political agenda. The report's focus and findings have proven particularly timely, given the disaster portended by Brazil's lurch to the extreme right.

A subsequent dismantling of environmental policy to favor Brazilian agribusiness creates a powerful impetus to leverage the international markets powering this industry. Speaking on the reputational risks faced by Bolsonaro's accomplices, Tica Minami, coordinator of Greenpeace's Brazil Amazon Campaign said, "citizens around the globe can make it clear that they no longer accept consuming products tainted with forest destruction and rights abuses."

A Bolsonaro presidency would likely see Brazil's exit from the Paris Accord and the dissolution of the Ministry of Environment. He has pledged to wrap this critical institution into the Ministry of Farming, a clear handout to the ruralistas because it would eliminate key checks on the expansion of agribusiness into protected areas. It would also neutralize the mandate of the enforcement agencies IBAMA and ICM-Bio, which would no longer be permitted to issue fines for environmental crimes such as illegal deforestation.

Meanwhile, Bolsonaro seeks to ease Brazil's controls on firearms, particularly for landowners, which would have drastic consequences in rural areas like the Amazon. Collectively, these moves will send clear signals that not only will environmental crime be tolerated, so will rampant violence against environmental and human rights defenders, who will have no recourse from armed militias working in the service of land grabbers and logging mafias.

This bleak outlook only captures a portion of Bolsonaro's attacks on Brazil's hard-fought socio-environmental benchmarks. He has asserted that he "will put an end to all activism in Brazil," and signaled his propensity for mob rule and political violence, saying, "Let's make Brazil for the majorities. Minorities have to bow to the majorities. Minorities will fit in or just disappear!"

However, if Bolsonaro thinks he can shred Brazil's Constitution and sweep aside resistance to his hateful agenda, he is almost certainly mistaken. Brazil is a country replete with vigorous, dynamic, and diverse social movements born from multifaceted struggles for justice against the cruel legacies of colonialism and authoritarianism. Its National Indigenous Movement is among the country's best-organized and most effective forces for social change precisely because it leverages support from a wide array of partners, including international allies like Amazon Watch.

In its statement In defense of our rights and our democracy, the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations from the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) affirmed the entity's adherence "to the movement fighting fascism and the elimination of rights, because we believe that this is the only means of defeating the hate preached by the extreme-right candidate, and because we understand that only a thinking that assembles all Brazilian citizens, regardless of race, color, creed, or sexual orientation, can overcome fascism."

Now more than ever, Amazon Watch will redouble its work in solidarity with our embattled partners, from remote communities in the Brazilian Amazon to national organizations. Together, we shall power a resistance movement against the abomination of Jair Bolsonaro, forging solutions in defense of the rainforest's irreplaceable ecosystems and cultures.

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