By A. Goldstein
Just hours after assuming office on January 1st 2019, Brazil’s new President, Jair Bolsonaro, signed an executive order stripping the indigenous affairs agency, Funai, of its powers to manage indigenous lands. The order transferred these responsibilities along with those of managing public forests and the powers of the Brazilian Forestry Service to the Agricultural Ministry with the intention of giving the ministry free reign to clear cut the precious Amazon rainforest to expand already massive, unsustainable cattle ranches, palm oil plantations, and logging and mining operations. Bolsonaro’s order also gives Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, Government Secretary, temporary power to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory” to suppress NGOs and human and ecological rights organizations that work on behalf of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and the Amazon. If the Brazilian Congress does not ratify the order, it will expire in 120 days. This order, however, is already having major effects. For example, reports have surfaced this January of outsiders invading Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Land in Rondônia and of loggers encroaching on Arara Indigenous Land in Pará.1
During his campaign, Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous rhetoric was brazen. He stated, “To the people of Roraima state, in 2019, we are going to rip up Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Reserve. We are going to give all the ranchers guns.” 2 “Not one centimeter of land will be demarcated for Indigenous reserves orquilombolas [descendants of those people who freed themselves from slavery].”3 “Let’s make a Brazil for the majorities. Minorities have to bow to the majorities! The Law must exist to defend the majorities. Minorities must fit in or simply disappear!”4 As Vijay Prashad wrote “This is the language of genocide. He gives Brazil’s indigenous people — about a million people out of 210 million — an impossible choice: either abandon your independence and culture (protected by Article 231 of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution) or die.” Bolsonaro’s rapacious approach to the environment is one shared by many hyper capitalist politicians rising to power, such as Trump who has gutted the EPA and environmental regulations. Bolsonaro sees the priceless Amazon purely as a resource to be exploited for capital, and much of this exploitation has already been carried out. Aljazeera just reported that “across Brazil’s Amazon states, deforestation increased by nearly 50 percent during the August to October election period.” This is because Bolsonaro’s rhetoric emboldens loggers and ranchers intent on clear-cutting protected lands because they feel there will be no consequences.
Bolsonaro’s advisers, such as Oswaldo Ferreira have told the press he plans to complete and expand nuclear and hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon, which have already devastated the ecosystem and displaced thousands of indigenous peoples. Specifically, they pledged his administration would complete the Angra 3 nuclear power station and the giant Belo Monte hydro dam on the Xingú river, which has displaced the Kayapo people.5 By transferring the responsibilities of the indigenous affairs agency, Funai, to the Agricultural Ministry, Bolsonaro hopes to avoid any internal state opposition to these projects.
Bolsonaro is pushing so hard for environmental exploitation likely because he stands to gain financially from it. He hired Paulo Guedes as his economic adviser who is co-founder of the investment bank BTG Pactual, which manages more than two million acres of land, much of it in Brazil, and has significant investments in tree farms and natural forests.6 Surely, opening up protected forests to logging for BTG Pactual would line Bolsonaro’s own pockets.
Bolsonaro’s plan to make minorities “”fit in or disappear” will likely be carried out by Brazil’s police and military if he is not stopped. In 1996, nineteen protesting rural workers of the Landless Worker’s Movement were massacred by Brazilian police in the municipality of Eldorado do Carajas and only two police colonels were arrested for the crime. When Bolsonaro visited the site in July he said “Who needed to have been arrested were the MST, (Landless Worker’s Movement) who are scoundrels and shameless.” At an event in Deerfield Beach, Florida on October 8, 2017, Bolsonaro stated “I’ll give carte blanche for the police to kill.” 7 Brazil is already rife with police brutality. 56,337 people were killed in Brazil in 2012 alone,8 many by police who kill children and residents of favellas (ghettos) with impunity. That year 90% of Brazil’s homicide victims were male, 77% were black, and 54% were between the ages of 15 and 29. According to a report from Amnesty International, from 2005 to 2014 police killed 8,466 people in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone.9 Nine of every ten of these murders committed in the municipality of Acari in Rio were extrajudicial, intentional executions of people who had already surrendered or been apprehended. Further, “publicly available information shows that, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, of 1,275 registered cases of killings by on-duty police between 2010 and 2013, 99.5% [of the]victims were men, 79% were black and 75% were aged between 15 and 29.” In 2011 Brazilian civil police investigated just 220 police murders in the city of Rio de Janeiro and as of April 2015 only one resulted in prosecution by the Public Prosecution service. Police essentially already have carte blanche to kill in Brazil but Bolsonaro’s unapologetic support of such human rights violations could only embolden these already out-of-control racist, classist agents of the state.
Most of Bolsonaro’s hate is directed towards indigenous peoples who he has compared to “animals trapped in a zoo” and he has even lamented “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.” But he hasn’t just targeted indigenous peoples in his disgusting rhetoric. He has also called Haitian, African, and Middle Eastern refugees in Brazil “the scum of humanity” who ought to be dealt with “by the army”. 10 He has called black activists “animals” who “should go back to the zoo.” He has called for the criminalization of Islam and African religions, as he believes they are in conflict with the “national faith” and serve as an “open door to terrorists”. (His new human rights minister, Damares Alves, has echoed such sentiments with statements like “It is time for the church to govern”) He is a strong supporter of the Israeli apartheid state, claims Palestine is not a country, and he has called Palestinians “terrorists.”11 Of course, to no one’s surprise, Bolsonaro is also a strong supporter of Trump and his bloody foreign policy.
Bolsonaro is also virulently homophobic. In an interview with Playboy in 2011, Bolsonaro said that he would rather have his son “die in an accident” than have a gay son.12 In an interview with the journal, Folha de S.Paulo, Bolsonaro stated “If I see two men kissing in the street, I will beat them.”13 On the “Popular Participation” TV program, Bolsonaro also stated that parents need to beat their children if they are gay to “change their behavior.”14 And in a 2016 interview, Bolsonaro explained he believes homosexuality is a result of more women entering the workforce. Some bigots in Brazil have also chanted Bolsonaro’s name while attacking gay people.15
Of course, the working class is another central target of Bolsonaro’s administration. On January 3rd, Bolsonaro made economic proposals to privatize twelve airports, (and eventually 44) four seaports, and Electrobas, a major utilities provider, of which 52% is currently owned by the government. Electrobas provides 69% of Brazil’s electricity and privatization would likely cause many lower-income individuals to lose power. On the third of January, Bolsonaro also announced plans to cut pensions, slash the minimum wage to $260 per month, and cut taxes for the rich. 16
Bolsonaro has repeatedly supported Latin American dictatorships and called Brazil’s 1964 military coup d’état “a revolution”.17 In reality, the coup leaders installed right-wing fascists as heads of state like Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco who terminated all civil rights and liberties in the country and gave himself emergency powers. All parties were outlawed and replaced with the military government’s party. The Brazilian dictatorship then instituted polices of torture, incarceration, and murders of all who opposed the military rule, including artists, writers, painters, singers, filmmakers, and students. To Bolsonaro this was a “glorious period” in Brazil’s history18 representing “20 years of order and progress”19 that had “led to a more sustainable and prosperous Brazil”20. The dictatorship’s only error, according Bolsonaro was that it “tortured, but did not kill”21 (In Portuguese: “o erro foi torturar e não matar.”) But make no mistake, Bolsonaro supports torture as well. In fact, he even praised one of the most ruthless torturers of the military regime, Carlos Brilhante Ustra, as one of the country’s greatest “heroes.”22 During a Truth Commission hearing on people who “disappeared” during the dictatorship, Bolsonaro declared that only “dogs look for bones”. It is important to note, Bolsonaro isn’t just talk. He was a part of Brazil’s military dictatorship and served for fifteen years, eventually reaching the rank of captain before entering politics.
Brazil’s former dictatorship is not the only regime Bolsonaro defends. He has also praised the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and went as far as saying “Pinochet should have killed more people”23 In a 1999 interview with the Câmera Aberta television program, Bolsonaro said that if he becomes President, he would shut down the National Congress and lead a military coup himself: “I have no doubts – I would begin the coup on the very first day! And I am sure that at least 90% of the people would commemorate or give me an ovation. The Congress today is good for nothing, they only vote in favor of the president’s projects. If he is the person who makes the decisions, who calls the shots, who laughs at the Congress, then start the coup at once, and let’s make this a dictatorship.”24 Despite this he was still somehow elected in 2018. He claims to have since “changed his mind” but put in context with his other statements, this seems to be an egregious lie.
The world is on fire and creatures like Bolsonaro ask for more gasoline. Coastal cities are flooding, pollution is killing millions, our food and water are being poisoned by various industries, refugees are being bombed or forgotten, and Bolsonaro wants more of the same. What is wrong with humanity that we elect such putrid parasites? Why do demagogues like Trump, Marie Le Pen25, Theresa May, Viktor Orban, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Geert Wilders, Nigel Farange, Netanyahu, and Bolsonaro seem to fool more and more people? Especially in a country like Brazil wherein the previous four presidents were members of the “workers party,” including former Marxist guerilla, Dilma Rousseff, it makes little sense. (However, even under Rousseff, “anti-terrorism” were passed that curtailed freedom of speech, assembly, and protest, and her reforms were mostly neoliberal in nature.) Why can’t humanity see the people in power are the problem, not common, struggling people? Why can’t we govern ourselves and stop seeing the world as a collection of resources to be exploited? It seems as if what appeals to people most about far-right figures such as those mentioned is that they claim to be against the ruling class as Trump did but somehow people fail to see how they are the ruling class, just a brash and blunt portion of it less concerned with appealing to liberals.
Perhaps a sense of defeatism has permeated the voting public. We know that whether politicians claim to be leftists or conservatives, their policies are essentially the same. They serve the rich and exploit the working class, minorities, and the natural world for financial gain. Perhaps the appeal of these right-wing demagogues is that they don’t pretend to care like more “liberal” politicians. They are slightly more honest about the fact that these policies are fueled by their own prejudices, hate, and greed and they are unapologetic about it. But voting for these people just because they are relatively more authentic is insanity. We don’t have to vote for anyone. We can govern ourselves. We outnumber these parasitical politicians and it only takes a critical mass of people willing to resist and fight back to bring it all crashing down.
Bolsonaro has been called the Trump of the Tropics but he is worse because Brazil already has more ubiquitous police brutality and it has much more to lose in terms of its priceless biodiversity and indigenous populations. Amazon is home to 50% of the animal and plant species on the planet and it sequesters 2.2 billion tons of carbon in the atmosphere.26 It is often called the “lungs of the planet” for this reason. It is barely holding Earth together, and this parasite wants to destroy it along with the indigenous peoples safeguarding it for his own short-term gain. A brave attempt was made on Bolsonaro’s life by Adélio Bispo de Oliveira but unfortunately he didn’t succeed. Such actions may be the the only way to stop this lunatic.
I hope for the sake of the natural world that working class Brazilians, minorities, and indigenous peoples of Brazil can see past their differences and band together to repel Bolsonaro’s attacks on the Amazon and vulnerable, marginalized Brazilians. Of course, Bolsonaro is only a symptom of the much larger problems of global capitalism and the state. Ending Bolsonaro would only cure a symptom. Capitalism in all its forms and state must be attacked and that can be done by attacking extractive industries in Brazil. Logging, mining, and hydroelectric infrastructure and equipment there ought to be sabotaged, along with palm oil plantations and unsustainable, massive cattle ranches that only exist because large swaths of forests have been clear cut. And hopefully the rest of humankind can learn from indigenous peoples and adopt their far more sustainable ways of living in harmony with nature before it’s too late.
A. Goldstein is an ecoanarchist author, conservationist, and organic permaculturist passionate about indigenous rights. You can read more of his work at his website ToolsofControl.com
1 Folha SP: URU-EU-WAU-WAU: Terra indígena é invadida por grileiros em Rondônia. 01/13/19. http://rondoniaovivo.com/geral/noticia/2019/01/13/uru-eu-wau-wau-terra-indigena-e-invadida-por-grileiros-em-rondonia.html
2CULTURAL SURVIVAL STANDS IN SOLIDARITY WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF BRAZIL. 10/30/18. https://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/cultural-survival-stands-solidarity-indigenous-peoples-brazil
3Vijay Prashad: Bolsonaro of Brazil: Slayer of the Amazon. 11/3/18. Salon. https://www.salon.com/2018/11/03/Bolsonaro-of-brazil-slayer-of-the-amazon_partner/
4Vijay Prashad: Bolsonaro of Brazil: Slayer of the Amazon. 11/3/18. Salon. https://www.salon.com/2018/11/03/Bolsonaro-of-brazil-slayer-of-the-amazon_partner/
5Ricardo Brito: Brazil’s Bolsonaro plans more power plants in the Amazon: adviser. 10/21/18. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-election/brazils-Bolsonaro-plans-more-power-plants-in-the-amazon-adviser-idUSKCN1ML288
7Andrew Fishman: JAIR Bolsonaro IS ELECTED PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL. READ HIS EXTREMIST, FAR-RIGHT POSITIONS IN HIS OWN WORDS. 10/28/18. The Intercept.
8Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, et. al: OS JOVENS DO BRASIL. Mapa da Violência 2014. Secretaria-Geral da Presidência da República Secretaria Nacional de Juventude Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial. page 35. Tabela 3.1.1. <<www.mapadaviolencia.org.br/pdf2014/Mapa2014_JovensBrasil.pdf>>
9Anistia Internacional Brasil: You Killed My Son: Homicides by military police in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Praça São Salvador, 2015. Page 8. <<https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AMR1920682015ENGLISH.PDF>>
10PEDRO HENRIQUE LEAL Bolsonaro and the Brazilian far right. April 24 2017. https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/pedro-henrique-leal/Bolsonaro-and-brazilian-far-right.
11Raphael Ahren: Israel hails election of Brazil’s controversial Bolsonaro, who plans visit soon. 10/29/18. Times of Israel. https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-hails-election-of-brazils-controversial-Bolsonaro-who-plans-visit/
12Bolsonaro: “prefiro filho morto em acidente a um homossexual”. June 8 2011. Terra. noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/Bolsonaro-quotprefiro-filho-morto-em-acidente-a-um-homossexualquot,cf89cc00a90ea310VgnCLD200000bbcceb0aRCRD.html
13LEILA SUWWAN: Apoio de FHC à união gay causa protestos. May 19 2002. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cotidian/ff1905200210.htm
14Palmada muda filho “gayzinho”, declara deputado federal. Folha de S. Paulo. 11/26/10. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/cotidian/ff2611201025.htm
15 Michael Stone: Brazil’s Christian Fascist Bolsonaro Takes Office, Sets Stage For Genocide Of Non-Christians. 01/04/19. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2019/01/brazils-christian-fascist-bolsonaro-takes-office-sets-stage-for-genocide-of-non-christians/?fbclid=IwAR0Rh7Waa6DzwmyhqsHQAzrEqeJd9Jseg82gdI-HOEsH7opuxKsMqyHRIvE
16Julia Conley: Bolsonaro Unveils Mass Privatization Plan for Brazil While Slashing Taxes for Rich and Wages for Poor. 01/04/19. Common Dreams. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/01/04/Bolsonaro-unveils-mass-privatization-plan-brazil-while-slashing-taxes-rich-and-wages
17PEDRO HENRIQUE LEAL Bolsonaro and the Brazilian far right. April 24 2017. https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/pedro-henrique-leal/Bolsonaro-and-brazilian-far-right.
18BBC: Jair Bolsonaro: Brazil’s firebrand leader dubbed the Trump of the Tropics. BBC. October 29 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-45746013
19Daniel Wilkinson: No Justice for Horrors of Brazil’s Military Dictatorship 50 Years On. HRW. 12/13/18. https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/12/13/no-justice-horrors-brazils-military-dictatorship-50-years
20James Brooke: Conversations/Jair Bolsonaro; A Soldier Turned Politician Wants To Give Brazil Back to Army Rule. July 25, 1993. NYT. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/25/weekinreview/conversations-jair-Bolsonaro-soldier-turned-politician-wants-give-brazil-back.html
21Jovem Pan: Defensor da Ditadura, Jair Bolsonaro reforça frase polêmica: “o erro foi torturar e não matar” 8/7/16.
22Bolsonaro’s facebook post: https://m.facebook.com/jairmessias.Bolsonaro/photos/a.213527478796246.1073741826.211857482296579/546694672146190?locale2=pt_BR
23Ana Pompeu: The polemics of Jair Bolsonaro. 08/05/17. https://congressoemfoco.uol.com.br/especial/noticias/as-frases-polemicas-de-jair-Bolsonaro/
24RANIER BRAGON: Congressman Bolsonaro Defended New Military Coup in the 1990s. 5/04/18. Folha De S. Paulo. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/internacional/en/brazil/2018/06/1970871-congressman-Bolsonaro-defended-new-military-coup-in-the-1990s.shtml
25 Even Marie Le Pen told the press she thinks most of Bolsonaro’s comments are “horrendous and offensive”.
26 Becky Oskin: Amazon Rainforest Breathes In More Than It Breathes Out. 3/20/15. Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/44235-amazon-rainforest-carbon-cycle-measured.html