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With Brazil’s October presidential elections looming, citizens face a choice between two radically different candidates. Far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro contends with socialist ex-president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (mononymously known as Lula), sharply dividing the nation between ‘bolsonaristas’ and Lula’s ‘petistas.’ As their respective campaigns gain momentum, both have begun to release proposals for their administration, including how to accelerate progress in Brazil’s fight against poverty. From 2019 to 2021, close to 10 million Brazilians fell into poverty, with the number threatening to increase as pandemic aid dries up while the effects of COVID-19 linger in the nation’s economy.

Lula’s Plan

On June 21, 2022, ex-president Lula announced his agenda should Brazilians elect him into office, focusing primarily on rebuilding the economy and helping the 63 million Brazilians living in poverty. A pillar of Lula’s plan for Brazil’s future is fighting chronic hunger, which affects more than 33 million people in Brazil a year. Lula’s efforts to reduce hunger during his past presidency were extremely effective. The United Nations recognized his introduction of the ‘Fome Zero’ (Zero Hunger) plan in 2003, which helped to reduce undernourishment in Brazil from 17 million people to 11.9 million people by 2006.

Similarly, Lula has stressed the importance of widening the protections and programs aimed at strengthening Brazil’s fight against poverty. The proposals released by his campaign in June emphasize the need to reform ‘Auxilio Brazil,’ a conditional cash transfer program (CCT) created by President Bolsonaro to replace Lula’s famous ‘Bolsa Familia.’ Elements of Lula’s reform include reprioritizing a minimum wage policy and tackling inequality in the labor market by prioritizing marginalized groups.

Bolsonaro’s Plan

By contrast, President Bolsonaro’s reelection bid focuses on limiting government intervention “resulting from inefficient regulations” while combating corruption and encouraging social development.

A successor to Lula’s Bolsa Familia program, President Bolsonaro’s CCT Auxilio Brazil increased the amount of money given per family to a fixed 400 real (US$72) whereas the previous program changed the amount given based on the family’s income.

More generally, President Bolsonaro’s plan hinges upon laissez-faire principles, asking for a hands-off approach to the economy. His agenda calls for the government to reduce public debt by cutting back on spending, all while lowering tax rates to promote investment. The one area where President Bolsonaro calls for a stronger state is in regard to the justice system, requesting funds to combat corruption and organized crime in Brazil.

Looking Ahead

Both candidates represent radically different directions in Brazil’s fight against poverty. Lula’s approach is direct, based upon the idea that strong government intervention during economic uncertainty is the best way to assist those who are vulnerable. President Bolsonaro’s strategy relies upon a strong private sector to generate equitable economic gains, with the government merely ensuring that all parties play by the rules. Heading into the elections in October, Brazilians will have to express their preference through their votes and watch the future administration’s agenda come to life.

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Flickr

Brazil Indigenous coronavirusThe coronavirus has resulted in deaths all over the world, but some communities are more heavily affected than others. In Brazil, the coronavirus in Indigenous communities has taken an especially hard toll. COVID-19 disproportionately affects these often-isolated groups, which struggle to access the support systems needed to withstand this threat.

The Vulnerability of Indigenous Communities

Some Indigenous tribes living in Brazil have limited or no contact with the rest of the world. However, this isolation may render some tribes unaware of the pandemic in general or of its full seriousness. The coronavirus in Indigenous communities may also put tribe members at a greater risk, because they lack exposure to many illnesses. This means that their immune systems are often not strong enough to fight COVID-19.

Additionally, isolated Indigenous communities only have limited access to unreliable testing, contact tracing and communication of quarantine protocols. Some would have to travel for days to reach modern medical facilities providing such resources.

In particular, Indigenous communities fear the village elders contracting the coronavirus. Elders are not only the most vulnerable members of the community but may also experience the most serious effects of the disease. Additionally, many refer to these elders as “living libraries” or “living encyclopedias.” They hold tribal knowledge of culture, mythology and natural medicine, and many speak endangered languages. If coronavirus in Indigenous communities wipes out this generation of elders, their tribe’s cultural history and knowledge will die with them.

Why Outsiders Pose a Threat

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in indigenous communities often results from outsiders who visit these communities without taking the proper precautions. For example, doctors working in remote Indigenous regions have tested positive for the coronavirus. They only entered quarantine after they possibly spread the disease to multiple villages. Additionally, other medical teams have failed to follow proper quarantine protocol before entering an Indigenous reserve to care for those vulnerable to the disease.

Miners and poachers tapping resources on Indigenous lands have also spread the virus to these isolated communities. In Brazil, an estimated 40% of Yanomami people who live near these mining operations are now at risk of contracting COVID-19. Leaders from the Yanomami Indigenous Territory have spoken out, creating the hashtag #MinersOutCovidOut. Their aim is to raise awareness and demand an end to illegal gold mines and other land invasions.

The budget cuts and staff reassignment faced by FUNAI, a government agency that defends the boundaries of Indigenous land in Brazil, have made it possible for illegal miners and poachers to enter these protected regions. Indigenous people in certain tribes have also claimed that FUNAI only gave food supplies and assistance to tribes on officially demarcated land. However, even this aid was not enough to feed the large families of the tribe.

The Government in Brazil

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire in the past for dismissive statements about Indigenous communities in Brazil. He has also allowed illegal logging, mining and land grabs to continue. Currently, Bolsonaro’s administration faces criticism for its response to the pandemic. The Brazilian government’s conflicts with Indigenous communities have resulted in inadequate support required for these communities to fight COVID-19.

The Brazilian Supreme Court ordered in July 2020 that the government must create a crisis response team and develop a plan to control the coronavirus. However, Bolsonaro recently vetoed proposed laws to provide vulnerable Indigenous communities with designated intensive care beds, clean water and essential supplies. Bolsonaro defended this decision by citing excessive costs that he claimed would go against public interest.

Fighting the Coronavirus in Indigenous Communities

To fight this crisis, Brazilian Indigenous communities and outsider organizations are joining forces. The NGO Brazilian Health Expeditionary, or Expedicionários Da Saúde, has helped Indigenous people from over 700 isolated communities in the Amazon by setting up temporary medical facilities with necessary supplies. Local officials and Indigenous groups collaboratively gather money and distribute food supplies in place of the unfulfilled promise of government assistance.

Many individual tribes are also protecting themselves from the spread of the virus by remaining in isolation from the rest of the world. This means that they seek medical care within their own communities. As such, though the severity of the coronavirus in Indigenous communities in Brazil is dire, it is not without hope.

Allie Beutel 
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest, covering about 40% of Brazil as well as parts of several other South African countries, is the largest, most biodiverse river basin in the world. It used to span nearly 2,300,000 square miles and is the drainage basin for the Amazon River. As Brazil’s population boomed in the 20th century, forest degradation ensued, causing rapid loss of vegetation and animal life. Read on to learn how poverty in the Amazon rainforest plays a major role in historical and contemporary fights for preservation.

The World’s Oldest Garden

Contrary to several outdated misconceptions, the indigenous people who first inhabited the Amazon rainforest were highly intelligent. They built complex structures to sustain cities of millions of people as well as cultivated the forest, much like a garden.

For over 8,000 years, indigenous communities favored certain trees, such as the brazil nut and cocoa bean, eventually domesticating such plants and allowing them to flourish. The soil in the Amazon is not suitable for this sort of cultivation, but indigenous peoples created their own fertilizer. This allowed millions of people to inhabit the forest along major waterways.

The Introduction of Disease

In 1541, Francisco de Orellana explored along the Amazon River, taking detailed notes in his journal about the many advanced civilizations he observed along the riverbanks. Sadly, the civilizations he witnessed were already being wiped out due to European diseases brought over decades before. As more extensive settlement took place a decade later, the civilizations Orellana saw were almost completely gone due to disease.

The settlement and exploitation of the Amazon remained fairly minimal until the rubber boom in the mid-1800s. The rubber boom ushered in an era of enslavement and genocide of the indigenous people, removing almost all of the indigenous communities from the Amazon rainforest.

A President with a Corrupt Agenda

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest directly correlates with the man in power, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, and the increase in slash and burn tactics in the forest has skyrocketed since. By August of 2019, Brazil saw nearly two times as many fires in the entirety of 2018. This is the highest level of deforestation the Amazon has seen since 2008. Swaths almost 4,000 square miles larger than Yellowstone Park have burned to the ground because of Bolsonaro’s policies. A large part of his election campaign revolved around the promise of exploiting the Amazon to improve Brazil’s struggling economy.

Circumstances for Unavoidable Poverty

Poverty in the Amazon rainforest has become nearly unavoidable due to conditions created by the people in power. Brazil is the world’s main exporter of beef and the most convenient way to keep up this exportation is to utilize slash and burn agriculture to quickly create spaces for cattle ranchers to take advantage of.

Although this may sound like it stimulates the economy and helps these low-income farmers, the Amazon rainforest provides resources that once depleted, cannot be replaced. These ranchers will never be able to escape their impoverished conditions because the burned forest land becomes useless so quickly. The poor indigenous communities suffer from poverty in the Amazon rainforest as do the poor ranchers. Both groups are trying to get by, but burning down the forest has no substantial or long-lasting benefits.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Although the destruction of the Amazon is daunting, there are several nonprofits working to preserve this biological gem and the people that depend on it. International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs and Amazon Conservation Team both prioritize supporting the indigenous people and environmental activists. Poverty in the Amazon rainforest unfortunately often falls upon the indigenous people, which is why these organizations are so critical in advocacy for the people who need it the most.

Rainforest Trust and Amazon Conservation Association are two more groups that prioritize tree restoration. Amazon Conservation Association has successfully planted more than 275,000 trees to date and Rainforest Trust has saved more than 23 million acres of the Amazon. With such a rich history and international importance, poverty in the Amazon rainforest cannot be ignored.

These are just a few of the many outstanding organizations working to save the rainforest from a corrupt government. Moving forward, it is essential that these organizations continue their work to conserve the Amazon rainforest and help reduce poverty for those living there.

Natalie Tarbox
Photo: Unsplash

Celebrities are Donating
The Amazon rainforest fires of late 2019 are some of the worst to occur since 2010 with an increase in deforestation rates as a primary cause. Celebrities are donating to the Amazon, pledging money to organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, Amazon Watch and Rainforest trust. Many celebrities are donating to help the Amazon so that the indigenous peoples that live there can continue to do so. Other celebrities are raising awareness about the role politics is playing in the Amazon fires.

The Situation

The Amazon rainforest covers much of northwestern Brazil and extends into Colombia, Peru and other South American countries. It is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is notable for its extensive biodiversity. It is also home to nearly one million indigenous peoples consisting of over 400 tribes, each with their own language, culture and territory. These people rely on their land for everything, from food to shelter to medicine, which is why the fires are so devastating to them.

 The anti-indigenous government of Jair Bolsonaro is a root cause of the fires. Bolsonaro normalizes, incites and empowers violence against the environment of the Amazon rainforest and against the tribes who live there. Bolsonaro pledged to increase agricultural activity in the Amazon by opening it to logging, industrial-scale agriculture, ranching and mining.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron tweeted “Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!” Along with urging other world leaders to help on social media, Macron threatened to scrap a huge trade deal between the European Union and South America, putting pressure on Bolsonaro to take action.

Alongside the destruction and devastation, celebrities have begun to raise funds and awareness to help put a stop to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

Celebrities Donating to the Amazon

Many celebrities are donating monetarily to provide aid. Vanessa Hudgens donated to the Amazon Conservation Team to try to proactively help and Violette Beane gave to multiple organizations while urging her fans to donate if they could and share information if they could not.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental initiative, Earth Alliance, pledged $5 million to Amazon relief. People widely know DiCaprio for his work as an actor, but also for his work to end climate change. Earth Alliance created an emergency fund specifically for the preservation of the Amazon. The money pledged will be going to five local organizations.

In addition to donating, many celebrities are then nominating other celebrities to do the same. Lana Condor of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” donated and then nominated co-stars Janel Parris and Noah Centineo to do so as well. Zoey Deutch donated to the Rainforest Alliance and called on Camila Mendes to do the same. After donating, Mendes nominated “Riverdale” co-star, Charles Melton to give.

“Umbrella Academy” star, Robert Sheehan, went one step further with his donation to the Rainforest Alliance by making it a monthly donation. He also plans to follow the Rainforest Alliance’s 30-day sustainability challenge.

One does not have to be a celebrity to provide aid to the Amazon fires, though. Donating is something anyone can do. The Rainforest Alliance is redirecting 100 percent of its donations to the frontline organizations in Brazil that work to protect the indigenous people. Rainforest Action Network works in Brazil’s Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory supporting the Munduruku people’s campaign to create a recognized territory and monitor the area for illegal logging and mining activity. Other organizations include, but are not limited to Rainforest Foundation U.S., Amazon Watch, Earth Alliance, Amazon Conservation Team and World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

– Darci Flatley
Photo: Flickr

 Brazil’s indigenous population

Brazil’s indigenous population includes nearly 900,000 people and more than 300 unique groups. They face a litany of issues including discrimination, threats to their native lands and extreme poverty. Here are six facts about Brazil’s indigenous population.

6 Facts About Brazil’s Indigenous Population

  1. Indigenous people can be found living in areas ranging from Brazil’s cities to remote regions of the Amazon rainforest. Totaling over 300 groups, they represent a diverse and varying subsect of the Brazilian population. Depending on a group’s culture, history or location, they encounter different problems and require separate solutions. This is essential to keep in mind when discussing issues facing Brazil’s indigenous population as a whole.
  2. Indigenous Brazilians endure severe forms of discrimination and prejudice. As recently as the 1960s, there was a coordinated effort to eradicate Brazil’s indigenous population entirely. The “Figueiredo report” details the genocide, torture, rape and enslavement of indigenous people during a 30 year period. Today, the period’s brutal legacy lives on. “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians,” Brazil’s recently elected president Jair Bolsonaro once said.
  3. Due to discrimination, Brazil’s indigenous population’s access to education and health care is limited compared to their non-indigenous compatriots. A 2008 United Nations report highlighted the low education and health standards endured by this population. Additionally, reports allege that they are often denied care by public health services due simply to their affiliation with indigenous groups.
  4. Many of Brazil’s indigenous population have been crowded into reservations that are constantly shrinking in size. Brazilian businesses and the government have partnered to continue deforestation of the Amazon, which is home to many indigenous tribes. The largest tribe left is the Guarani, with roughly 51,000 members, but most of their land has been replaced by cattle farms and sugar cane plantations. Armed bands of “grileiros” have recently launched attacks on indigenous communities, pushing them further into the Amazon, burning the rainforest, and planting grass for cattle. The NGO Repórter Brasil published a report in 2019 that found that 14 indigenous communities are currently being invaded or are seriously threatened by one.
  5. These conditions have led to a reality where many of Brazil’s indigenous population live in extreme poverty. While no official count exists, it is widely maintained that indigenous groups face poverty at a much higher rate than the rest of Brazil.
  6. NGOs such as Survival International and Cultural Survival provide hope for Brazil’s struggling indigenous population. These NGOs attempt to lobby international organizations and human rights groups on issues of indigenous concern, such as the issues outlined above. Both groups identify international action as the only viable path left for indigenous Brazilians. Cultural Survival works with indigenous groups to develop media and advocacy projects; thus far, the organization has invested $2.5 million into indigenous groups. Further, the team actively trains members to become community radio journalists, allowing for indigenous groups to have a voice in the media.

Pushed from native lands and facing serious threats to life, many members of indigenous groups are doing what they can to survive in a nation often hostile and violent towards them. “Today, we are seeing the biggest attack on our rights in Brazilian history,” said indigenous lawmaker Joênia Wapichana.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

 

Land Demarcation Rights
Within hours of being sworn in as the new president of Brazil this past January 2019, Jair Bolsonaro removed land demarcation rights from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and transferred that power to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Under the 1988 Brazil Constitution, it is illegal for agricultural companies to lease land inside indigenous reservations for the growing of commercial crops. However, with the transference of land demarcation rights to the Ministry of Agriculture, the agribusiness sector of Brazil may be allowed to cultivate land inside of indigenous territory – because they will be the ones defining what constitutes “indigenous land.”

This was a controversial decision, but not a surprising one for Bolsonaro. During his campaign, the far-right president-elect of Brazil promised to open up indigenous territories – which make up 13 percent of Brazilian land – to agricultural and mining interests. The Parliamentary Agricultural Front endorsed him, a congressional lobby which represents the agribusiness sector of the Brazilian economy and whose members make up more than a quarter of the nation’s Senate.

Bolsonaro and Indigenous Rights

In addition, Bolsonaro has been a vocal opponent of indigenous rights throughout his political career. The indigenous rights organization, Survival International, created an archive of various speeches, interviews and social media posts where Bolsonaro made racist remarks or proclaimed his intent to remove the rights of indigenous peoples, especially where land demarcation was concerned.

The list extends as far back as 1998 when Bolsonaro said that it was “a shame that the Brazilian cavalry hasn’t been as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.” (from the newspaper Correio Braziliense, April 1998). In February 2018, Bolsonaro announced his intent to remove land demarcation altogether: “If I become President, there will not be a centimeter more of indigenous land.”

For many indigenous groups, the fulfillment of these claims is all but a declaration of war against them by the government. The indigenous territories of Brazil are home to approximately 900,000 people from 305 different ethnic groups. These groups range in size from tribes of 50,000 or more to dwindling groups that consist of only a few families; at least one tribe in the Amazon region consists of a single, unnamed survivor. Some of these groups have never made contact with the outside world. If the Brazilian government is to allow their lands to be opened to industrial interests, any of these people could lose the land that they have inhabited for centuries.

Opponents of land demarcation, including President Bolsonaro and the new Minister of Agriculture, Tereza Cristina Dias, have argued that indigenous groups would benefit from being exposed to agricultural and industrial interests.

Indigenous Rights Activists

Nevertheless, indigenous rights activists maintain that the original inhabitants of Brazil have a right to stay on their own land with their own cultures. In a letter to President Bolsonaro, representatives from three different tribes – the Aruak, the Baniwa and the Apurina – stated their opposition to the forced opening of demarcation lines: “Who is not indigenous cannot suggest or dictate rules of how we should behave or act in our territory and in our country. We have the capacity and autonomy to speak for ourselves. We have the full civilian capacity to think, discuss the paths of indigenous peoples according to our rights… Our way of life is different. We are not against those who opt for a Western, capitalist economic model. But we have our own way of living and organizing in our lands and we have our way of sustainability. Therefore, we do not accept development nor an economic model done in any way and exclusive, that only impacts our territories. Our form of sustainability is to maintain and guarantee the future of our generation.”

Bolsonaro’s new policies have sparked protest by indigenous rights activists, who refuse to give their land up without a fight. The “Red January” movement, led by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), has denounced Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous and anti-environmental stances in Brazil and all over the world. In the words of activist Rosilene Guajajara of the Amazon Guajajara tribe, “We’ve been resisting for 519 years. We won’t stop now. We’ll put all our strength together and we’ll win.”

Environment Impact of Agriculture on the Amazon

Aside from the threat posed to indigenous groups, the environmental impact of agricultural overtaking the Amazon could be devastating for the entire planet. Sometimes referred to as “the lungs of the planet,” the Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. It is also home to nearly 10 percent of the world’s wildlife, including 427 mammal species, 1,300 bird species and nearly 40,000 different plant species – including many that no one has discovered or named yet.

Since 1970, around 700,000 square miles of land – 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest – have been cleared away for use in cattle ranching, soy plantations and other agricultural ventures. The rate of disappearing land decreased drastically between 2004 and 2012, but in recent years deforestation has seen an increase. Recent research shows that the Amazon rainforest is currently absorbing a third less oxygen than it was a decade ago.

This increase in deforestation is in part due to the prominent agricultural lobby in Brazil pushing for more control over indigenous territory – the same agricultural lobby that endorsed Bolsonaro as he promised to strip indigenous tribes of their land demarcation rights.

Whether or not the combined resistance of Brazil’s indigenous peoples can put a stop to President Bolsonaro’s attempts to industrialize their land remains to be seen. Organizations like APIB and Survival International are attempting to save land demarcation rights by spreading the word about the plight of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr