Human rights were to be one of Dilma’s fan affairs, she herself was imprisoned and tortured during the military dictatorship. Still, Brazil’s environmental and human rights movement has called President Dilma’s reign the worst since the days of the military dictatorship. A report on human rights from Amnesty, released in February 2015, claims there is a human rights crisis in Brazil. The report addresses, among other things, police violence, the use of torture, impunity, indigenous rights, LGBT rights and reproductive rights.
Demonstrations in recent years have been met with a massive police response that does not remain to use tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. The army has also been deployed, and so-called “preventive” arrests of known activists ahead of protests are not uncommon, which is a clear violation of the law. A highly debated anti-terror law that could be used to criminalize social protests has been adopted, albeit in a somewhat revised form. The extremely popular WhatsApp app has also twice been blocked in a day by judges demanding encrypted information provided, a contentious feature of the online privacy debate.
Admittedly, it has progressed in some areas. In a historic ruling on May 5, 2011, Brazil’s Supreme Court unanimously decided to legalize gay partnership. The partnership gives everyone the same rights as heterosexual marriages. There is also important symbolism in a female president. Dilma is nevertheless not a feminist, and in practice it is a formidable task to change the church and other women’s views of women. In the election campaign, she was forced to modify NPT’s program-based support for free abortion, and in Congress the proportion of women decreased after the election. Only 53 of the 513 elected officials are women, which ranks Brazil in 115th place in the world in terms of women’s representation in politics. Despite the name, the Brazilian Women’s Party (PMB) is far from any feminist organization. They are against abortion,
Environment and climate
Reducing deforestation in the Amazon has been an important political issue internationally for Brazil and one of the tabloids for Norwegian cooperation with the country. Brazil’s target is an 80 percent reduction in deforestation in its part of the Amazon by 2020, compared to the average annual deforestation in the period 1996-2005. The strategy for combating deforestation is threefold: Many new conservation areas, cuts in economic incentives to the actors that cut and burn illegally, and more resolute enforcement of environmental legislation. The same measures have had an effect on other ecosystems, and deforestation has also fallen into Brazil’s savanna: the cerado. The latest signals are still worrying. Greenhouse gas emissions from all sources other than deforestation have increased dramatically in Brazil over the past decade, and in 2013 deforestation in the Amazon also began to increase. This is linked to a unilateral emphasis on economic growth. In such a model, both environment and human rights are seen as barriers to development.
The Accelerated Economic Growth Program (PAC) has, since 2007, invested billions in infrastructure and energy development. Large parts of the PAC funds go to the development of hydropower and roads in the Amazon. The environmental authorities take deforestation seriously, but they are fighting against powerful interests. Landlords, big farmers and harvesting companies have always been opponents of protection. The powerful agricultural lobby in Congress is pushing to water forest legislation, primarily to better conditions for industrial agriculture. In 2012, Congress approved amnesty on illegal deforestation through 2008.
At the end of 2014, Kátia Abreu was appointed new Minister of Agriculture. She is a former senator and leading spokeswoman for the landowner lobby in Congress. For many, she is therefore also the very symbol of disrespect for the environment and indigenous peoples. The “chainsaw queen”, as she is often called, supports deforestation and the use of banned pesticides with documented damage effects. She wants to expand the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and is accused of using child laborers on her own properties. In her very first interview as a minister, she also said that there are no longer any major goods, so-called latifúndios, in Brazil, and that conflicts with indigenous peoples arise because “the Indians come out of the forest and down into cultivated land.” Not surprisingly, there have been strong reactions from the environmental and indigenous movement towards the appointment of Abreu.
Indigenous rights are being attacked
Brazil’s indigenous peoples now feel that their constitutional rights are being violated by several teams. The best example is the disputed hydropower project Belo Monte. The plans to build the world’s third largest hydroelectric plant in Xinguelva in the Amazon have been very important in the PAC program. The project will create massive environmental problems and the livelihoods of several indigenous groups living along a distance of 100 kilometers where the river is practically lost are in danger of being destroyed. The indigenous peoples themselves say they have not been properly consulted on the matter, something both Brazilian law and international conventions say they are entitled to.
Another threat to indigenous peoples is the mining law. The law will, if the new version is adopted, allow for harmful mineral recovery in indigenous territories, and that without any of those living in the territories can refuse development. Congressional representatives turn out to be bought and paid for by the mining sector. Leonardo Quintão, congressional representative of the party PMDB and responsible for drafting the bill, has admitted having received money from the mining sector to finance his own political campaign, contravening Brazilian law.
Similarly, Brazil is building roads and hydropower plants in a number of other Amazon countries to safeguard its strategic interests, while exporting political risks, environmental damage and rights violations to neighboring countries. An example is the road that was to be built through the TIPNIS conservation area in Bolivia to reach the ports of the Pacific Ocean. It created major protests among indigenous people in the affected areas of Bolivia. In 2011, President Morales apparently canceled the construction plans because of the protests, but the controversial construction project has since reappeared periodically
Norway and Brazil
In the midst of these contradictions between environmental conservation and economic development is Norway’s relationship with Brazil. On the one hand, we have pledged NOK 6 billion to the Brazilian Amazon Fund to reduce major greenhouse gas emissions from rainforest destruction. At the same time, we invest much higher sums in Brazil’s most polluting industries. The Oil Fund has invested 3.6 billion of our pension money in the eucalyptus industry, an industry that leads to drought, deforestation and forced displacement of people. The Norwegian oil industry has much of the technology needed in Brazil, and over 80 Norwegian companies have been established in Brazil to participate in the oil adventure. Statoil started production on its first field Peregrino in 2011. In 2010, Hydro was Norway’s largest overseas acquisition ever, when they bought Brazilian Vales bauxite mines and smelters in the Amazon. Together with the Norwegian oil industry’s investments, this led to Brazil now being the third largest investment area for Norway, after the US and the EU. Hydro’s acquisitions in Amazon and Statoil’s offshore investments alone are worth ten times as much as we have promised for the fight against climate change. Furthermore, the Government Pension Fund invests abroad in the meat industry in the Amazon, and we import over 400,000 tonnes of soybeans from Brazil each year for animal feed. These industries account for over 80 percent of deforestation, contributing to land poisoning, environmental degradation, increasing concentration of profits and violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. Furthermore, the Government Pension Fund invests abroad in the meat industry in the Amazon, and we import over 400,000 tonnes of soybeans from Brazil each year for animal feed. These industries account for over 80 percent of deforestation, contributing to land poisoning, environmental degradation, increasing concentration of profits and violations of indigenous peoples’ rights. Furthermore, the Government Pension Fund invests abroad in the meat industry in the Amazon, and we import over 400,000 tonnes of soybeans from Brazil each year for animal feed. These industries account for over 80 percent of deforestation, contributing to land poisoning, environmental degradation, increasing concentration of profits and violations of indigenous peoples’ rights.
Where does Brazil go?
It may seem that there are few bright spots to see in today’s Brazil according to Countryaah.com. Several of the positive changes we saw in the first decade of NPT’s government are about to be reversed. The change processes have not been deep enough, and this is particularly evident in times of crisis. 2016 has been a seemingly endless series of shocking political decisions and revelations, and one must have kept the tongue straight in the mouth for sticking with Brazilian politics. The street demonstrations that embrace people from the far right to the far left show a polarized country where people have totally lost faith in leadership. At the same time, it is not completely dark. Millions of Brazilians have known about increased social and economic inclusion over the past decade. They will not accept a reversal of this process. On the contrary, the demonstrations that brought millions to the streets in June 2013 were a spontaneous expression of frustration that has built up among the population. Admittedly, the right-wing demonstrations have been more visible in the street scene since then. But organized civil society has mobilized in parallel. In the three years that have passed, these demonstrations have become more thematically focused. In the cities, teachers, garbage dumpsters and transport workers have been striking, and favela residents have been protesting against forced displacement and police violence. The roofless movement (MTST) protests against housing speculation and housing shortages, while the free public transport (MPL) movement protests against the steady increase in public transport prices. In the countryside, the Landless Movement (MST) is Brazil’s biggest social movement, and is fighting for land reform and land redistribution. Brazil’s constitution states that land that does not fulfill its social function can be expropriated. Around 1.5 million landless people have, under the Constitution, occupied agricultural land that is fallow for producing food. Historically, MST has had strong ties to NPT, and was one of the forces that got the party in government position. However, under NPT’s rule, land reforms have almost stopped, and very few occupation camps are now converted to settlements.
Together, these social movements want to tie cities and lands closer together in the fight for social change. This activism and political consciousness is no longer channeled into political parties, even in the leftist radical PSOL. Everyone has witnessed how quickly and deeply PT fell, morally and ideologically, as soon as they got high support. Disillusioned with the limitations of representative democracy, social movements use occupations and demonstrations to make their voices heard. This challenges the institutional spaces for popular participation that have largely been emptied of real influence. This has shown that it is possible to fight for social change outside the party system, and represents an important discourse change for political participation and citizenship in Brazil.
It is not good to say what the next few months will bring. As of today, Dilma is unlikely to get the presidency back. Temer’s temporary government may give the economy a temporary boost, but after the August Olympics comes the great silence and it remains to be seen what it will mean for Brazil. If there is a place there is hope to find, then it is in the growing political awareness among Brazilians that has had enough of corruption and skewed development and will push for political reform. But having them is a long and steep way to go.
Population: 205.82 million (2016)
Life expectancy: 73.8 years (2016)
Infant mortality: 18 per 1000 (2016)
GDP per capita (PPP): US $ 15,200 (2016)
Religion: Catholicism 64.6 %, Protestantism 22.2%, other 13.4% (2010)
Official languages: Portuguese
Currency unit: Real
Export items: Transport equipment, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, coffee and cars.
Regional relations: Member of CAN (associate member), Mercosur, CELAC, UNASUR, Union Latina and OAS