Environmental Justice

Jair Bolsonaro and the Destruction of the Amazon Forest

By Michael Drohan

Brazil elected a new President of the country in October 2018 named Jair Bolsonaro. He took office on January 1, 2019. Bolsonaro is reckoned to be a Trump on steroids and his election is ominous for the future of democracy not only in Brazil but on the planet.

His coming to power is nothing short of a travesty of democracy. The most popular candidate in the run up to the elections was Luis Ignacio da Silva, otherwise known as Lula, a former President, but he was banned and jailed on what are mostly trumped up charges. The party of Lula, the Workers Party or Partido Trabalhadora (PT) had ruled Brazil for over a decade before its leader and President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and deposed by manipulation and false accusations.

The Workers Party in Brazil had lifted some 40 million Brazilians from poverty and instituted major checks on the invasion and destruction of the Amazon biosphere. The changes instituted by PT brought the wrath of the elite and affluent classes of Brazil and Bolsonaro is their mascot. It has to be said, however, that in its latter years in power the PT had gained a reputation for incompetence and corruption, leading to a loss of popular support.

To get an idea of how radical and right wing Bolsonaro is, one need but mention his comment that the brutal military generals who ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1984 were not brutal enough. He claimed that instead of imprisoning and torturing dissidents they should have killed them. On the economic level, Bolsonaro represents an extreme form of what is called neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism policy promotes the abolition of any and all regulations on corporations and businesses. Protections of the environment, of worker safety and of rainforests of Brazil are to be abolished. Free reign for capital and minimum government.

During the PT years of governance, the rate of destruction of Amazonian forests had reduced considerably because of the recognition of indigenous rights and of the fact that the Amazon constitutes the lungs of the world on which planetary survival depends in great part. In its function as the Earth’s lungs, the Amazon takes in more than 2 billion tons of greenhouse gas (CO2) per year and breathes out fresh oxygen. Consequently PT had introduced a forest code forbidding Amazon landholders from clearing more than 20 percent of their land. Reserves were set aside for indigenous people, constituting approximately 13 percent of national territory. In addition, Brazil had signed the Paris Accords, committing itself to cutting greenhouse emissions by 43 percent by 2030 in its submission to the Paris climate agreement. This agreement has been signed and ratified by the Brazilian Congress, making it the law of the land. This agreement and the regulations it demands are an extreme irritant to Bolsonaro and his cohorts. One can have no doubt that he will try to do a Trump on these accords; namely he will try to withdraw from these agreements. One of the obstacles, however, that he faces is that he does not have a majority support in Congress. Will he be able to override Congress or bypass it is one of the major questions that Brazil faces. Of his intention, however, there can be little doubt.

Most of one’s suspicions of what Bolsonaro would do have been borne out. Within hours of assuming the Presidency on January 1, 2019, he launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry, which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness sector. The intention here is clear, namely to remove the role of the indigenous people, the main protectors of the Amazon habitat, from restraining the ravages of agribusiness. The demarcation of indigenous areas in Brazil has been under an agency called FUNAI, which was part of the Justice Ministry. But now with the executive decree, this role has been given to a new ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, which is governed by an evangelical pastor. The intention and direction is clear. In case it was not, Bolsonaro made it clear in a tweet on January 2, 2019 in which he stated: ] “More than 15% of national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and quilombos. Less than a million people live in these places, isolated from the true Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. Together we will integrate these citizens.” Neo-colonial and imperialist sentiments peppered with resentment at indigenous rights could hardly be clearer.

The danger to democracy, the environment and even to the planet that Bolsonaro represents can scarcely be exaggerated. It is compounded by Brazil being a rather young democracy where democratic institutions are fragile. Whereas Trump in the US is restrained by many democratic forces, the fear in Brazil is that Bolsonaro will trash any democratic opposition. We have only to look at how he came to power to get an idea of how full-throated fascism is a real danger in Brazil.

Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and a former Board Member of TMC

(TMC newspaper VOL. 49 No. 2 March 2019. All rights reserved.)

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