Will Brazil’s Rainforest Fall to Dictator?

October 30, 2018

Global war by monied Oligarchs on rule of law and democracy continues in Brazil.


It is not hyperbole to wonder if the outcome of Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil is a planetary game over when it comes to climate change.

Proto-fascist Jair Bolsonaro handily won the presidency on Sunday on a platform of xenophobia, homophobia, and a promise to silence political dissidents. It’s a dark day for the world’s ninth-biggest economy and the 47 million Brazilians who didn’t vote for Bolsonaro or subscribe to his views. But his plans for the Amazon are what will reverberate far beyond the country’s borders and well into the future.

“[Bolsonaro] wants to massacre our diversity sexual, gender, cultural, racial, and biological,” Felipe Milanez, a humanities and political ecology expert at Brazil’s Universidade Federal da Bahia,told Earther. “It means turning the Amazon into a huge soya field and killing all the diversity.”

The Washington Post reports that Bolsonaro has a plan to privatize vast swaths of the forest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he would like to expand hydropower and nuclear power in the region, and has indicated he will not let outside environmental groups have much sway over conservation. He also said he would like to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement, meaning two of the world’s six largest carbon emitters will have potentially turned their back on international climate action.

His policies of environmental and cultural violence could work in tandem in the Amazon to devastating effect. The forest is already in a weakened stateafter decades of logging, extraction, and agribusiness interests taking their toll. And while previous governments have paid lip service to protecting the region, degradation has continued.

How Bolsonaro proceeds has the potential to ripple across the Amazon and its people. Brazil is home to the largest chunk of Earth’s largest rainforest, but that forest stretches across eight other countries.

“The boundaries of ecosystems don’t follow political boundaries just like the atmosphere doesn’t,” Adrian Forsyth, the founder of the Andes Amazon Fund who has spent decades studying the region, told Earther. “If you dam the Amazon or disrupt the forest, you will destroy the food base for people in other countries.”

And within Brazil, the deregulation and budget reductions Bolsonaro has promised to implement increases the odds of human rights abuses that are already rampant. Last year, conservatives cut funding to the Brazil’s agency tasked with protecting indigenous rights and land, leading to an increase violence and land grabs according to a report by the Guardian.

“Land to us is our identity, our life, our existence,” Sonia Guajajara,executive coordinator of APIB Articulação dos Povos Indigenas do Brasil, which represents 300 indigenous groups, told Earther. “Without our territory, we have no means to exist and be what we are.”

The threat to indigenous people is likely to increase under Bolsonaro, who has expressed admiration for Brazil’s former military dictatorship that was part of a wave of neoliberal suffering that afflicted Latin America in the 1970s. In fact, Bolsonaro has argued Brazil’s prior autocratic leadership didn’t go far enough in its violence toward citizens. That regime killed at least 500 Brazilians and tortured thousands more.

Milanez noted that Bolsonaro has the backing of the military, which could put more people in danger. He also has a Chicago School economist advisor, which is notable given the role the school’s privatization proponents played in Latin America in the 1970s, and the violence that accompanied those policies. The threat of violence may be felt most keenly by those outside the majority or who control land Bolsonaro would like to turn over to big business.

“We [indigenous groups] have never been a priority of any previous administration,” Guajajara said. “What is about to come from Bolsnaro has never been done before. It is the first time that when a candidate has said he is going to do all his campaign promises that the response has been terror. This is a destructive agenda that wants to promote genocide.”

Bolsonaro’s rise to power has been marked by violence, threats, and even murder. But the violence could soon ripple around the world in a planetary sense. The Amazon is commonly called the lungs of the planet, because it absorbs an astounding quarter of all carbon dioxide that land around the globe takes up each year. However, its natural carbon sink seems to be diminishing. Research published in 2015 showed the Amazon takes up a billion tons less carbon than it did in the 1990s.

Scientific American:

In invective-laced Twitter posts and speeches leading up to his victory, Bolsonaro, a former member of the Brazilian army, has proposed expelling international environmental groups, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, and opening the iconic rainforest to traffic and trade.

That could threaten the country’s indigenous people, whom Bolsonaro has said should “either adapt or simply vanish.”

“The Bolsonaro victory is an utter catastrophe for the Brazilian Amazon rainforests and its indigenous and traditional peoples,” said Christian Poirier, program director for Amazon Watch.

Bolsonaro is expected to end the titling of territories for indigenous tribes, who have lived in the Amazon time immemorial and have a stake in seeing the land used sustainably and fighting illegal forestry and land seizure.

“This has drastic implications for the rights of indigenous and traditional peoples in the Amazon, for their ability to continue living their way of life and continuing to steward these forests for our collective benefit,” said Poirier.

Bolsonaro is against some of the policies that have helped Brazil make recent headway in combating deforestation. For example, he’s floated subsuming Brazil’s ministry of environment and the agencies that oversee conservation and law enforcement in the Amazon under the country’s agriculture ministry, which has ties to multinational agribusinesses.

He’s also taken a hostile view on preserving roadless areas. He proposed an 870-kilometer (541-mile) paved highway through protected forest, a move that critics say would invite more road construction and economic activity in the area.

Poirier worries the move could make indigenous people vulnerable to violence, especially if they resist the development of their lands.

Steve Schwartzman, who leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s work on tropical forests and economic incentives, called indigenous safety an “absolute first-level concern” given Bolsonaro’s stance on limiting their rights and his opposition to arms control.

“The land-grabbers and illegal loggers and criminal gangs that are operating in the Amazon are going to be even more of a threat to the indigenous communities,” Schwartzman predicted.

Bolsonaro last week backed off previous claims that he would follow President Trump’s lead and quit the Paris Agreement. But he’s left open the possibility that he could change his mind if the climate deal is seen to infringe on Brazilian sovereignty over indigenous lands. The deal does recognize the importance of indigenous rights in the context of the global response on climate change but doesn’t mandate any controls on domestic law.


4 Responses to “Will Brazil’s Rainforest Fall to Dictator?”

  1. a-rogers Says:

    If it does, that will be curtains for the earth….ann

  2. sailingtranquilitybay.com Says:

    Gotta keep feeding the hamburger machine.

  3. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    As it is of global importance, the world should go to war against Brazil if they damage the Amazon.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      OOH-Rah and Semper Fi! Kill ’em all and let God sort’ em out!

      And let’s use lots of Agent Orange, carpet bombing, and napalm to force them to stop destroying the trees. Worked in Vietnam, didn’t it?

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