USAID Programs in Brazil
Having existed for more than 60 years, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has close and successful ties with the Brazilian government. The cooperation between the two institutions has taken on a variety of forms, including health, poverty and emergency relief. In particular, its focus on combating deforestation in the Amazon and its effort in fighting COVID-19 are noteworthy as lasting successes. These efforts speak to the dynamic nature of USAID programs in Brazil and the multiple roles they can embody.

Preserving the Amazon Rainforest

One of the primary roles of USAID in Brazil is working to preserve the Amazon rainforest. Although it is the largest source of biodiversity in the world, it is under threat from groups looking to extract its abundant natural resources. The organization works closely with the Brazilian government to give those living near the Amazon the tools to sustainably use its materials and prevent incidents like forest fires.

A possible concern of the project is that it harms local businesses. However, USAID works to combine environmental and economic sustainability. Critics of these conservation efforts in the Amazon include Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has said that the environmental regulations are “biased against agriculture and economic development.” However, USAID programs in Brazil show that both goals can coexist. These programs look to “ensure the integrity and conservation of the Brazilian Amazon ecosystem over the next 20 years” while also protecting economic viability, according to USAID. USAID does this by providing grants to sustainable local businesses and promoting private sector involvement in conservation. By focusing on sustainable economic growth, USAID lifts many in Brazil’s poorest region out of poverty while ensuring that their businesses are viable in the long term.

Mitigating the Impacts of the Pandemic

In addition, USAID programs in Brazil played an important part in mitigating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. In February 2021, USAID spent upwards of $2.1 million on relief, garnering an additional $3.5 million from the private sector. The program also distributed hundreds of thousands of masks, trained health professionals and worked to mitigate the economic impacts of the virus. Given that Brazil is the third country based on the case fatality ratio cases and has the largest death rate per 100,000 people, USAID’s relief spending targeted one of the most Coronavirus-afflicted countries in the world.

An essential part of the USAID’s COVID-19 relief plan for Brazil involves providing long-term medical assistance. Focusing primarily on the poorest region of the country, the northeast, USAID shipped more than 200 ventilators to Brazil at a time when ventilators were still highly scarce. Supplements to the ventilators included a field hospital in Bacanal, Maranhão as well as stretchers, beds and supplies. In doing so, USAID ensured that its operation would be effective in the short term, but equipped health officials in the region with the tools to combat future coronavirus surges.

Mitigating the Impact of Heavy Rainfall

USAID programs in Brazil also work to mitigate the impact of sudden crises. In February 2022, heavy rainfall affected nearly 800,000 people, displacing more than 73,000 in the state of Bahia. USAID responded by sending $100,000 in relief to the affected areas and providing temporary shelter and emergency supplies to the region. Given Bahia is one of the country’s largest and poorest states, the emergency aid prevents thousands of permanent displacements and economic upheaval.

Other forms of emergency aid include food, financial and job opportunities for Venezuelans migrating following the country’s economic collapse in 2014. This aid ensures that Venezuelans entering Brazil do not stay in poverty, while also alleviating the strain that such a massive migration places on the local economy.

In this light, the various forms of aid provided by the United States encompass a changing approach to international assistance and soft power. Through ecological, economic and emergency relief, USAID programs in Brazil have shown how to gradually adapt to the needs of a developing nation as well as immediate issues. It also shows how the successful implementation of aid is possible at both a large regional level and the smaller local level.

– Samuel Bowles
Photo: Flickr

 Migration in Brazil
As one of the largest and most populous nations in the Americas, Brazil has long served as a safe haven for immigrants around the world. In fact, migration in Brazil includes people from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Immigrants in Brazil, in turn, have brought many economic and cultural benefits to the nation.

First Wave of Brazil Migration

Brazil’s first wave of non-colonial immigration began in the late 1800s; from 1870 to 1930, between 2 and 3  million migrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East sailed to the nation in search of a new home. The abolition of slavery spurred the influx of foreigners. Landowners around the country believed that immigrant laborers would help Brazil form a wage-based economy similar to European countries. However, in 1891 Brazilian elites also sought to “whiten” their nation by enacting racist laws which welcomed European immigrants while banning those from African and Asian nations. Brazilians saw Japanese immigrants as an exception to this rule. They viewed Japanese immigrants as essentially European in their mannerisms and industrial habits. In 1935, a federal deputy commented, “The Japanese colonists are even whiter than the Portuguese.”

Continued Brazil Migration

Brazil has aggressively sought out foreign workers to grow its economy. After World War II, for example, the government encouraged workers from Spain, Syria and Lebanon to move to the country, correctly assuming that the laborers would aid Brazil’s industrial sectors. By 1970, 115,000 Spaniards and 22,000 Syrian-Lebanese called Brazil home.

In the following decades, the nation saw a wave of Korean immigration. These families, like those before them, saw Brazil as a land of social mobility. They purchased cheap visas into Bolivia or Paraguay and used the relaxed border laws to enter Brazil.

Informality Supports Undocumented Immigrants

Brazil’s attitude towards immigrants stands out in its informality. While undocumented immigrants do not always receive encouragement to enter Brazil, there remain no current policies that discourage them. In addition, Brazil’s government has frequently created legalization programs that help unregistered citizens gain documentation. The three most recent of these programs gave more than 100,000 foreigners the right to permanent residency in Brazil.

More than 40,000 of those 100,000 foreigners originated from Bolivia. The country of 11 million has struggled for years financially, and as a result, many have flocked to the surrounding nations of Chile, Peru and Brazil. Currently, more than 130,000 Bolivians officially reside in Brazil, although the Brazilian Embassy in the Bolivian La Paz estimates that in total, more than a million Bolivians live within Brazilian borders. This leaves a vast majority of these immigrants undocumented and subsequently subjected to long hours and low pay in the clothing factories and sewing shops where they typically work.

Venezuela: The Largest New Immigrant Population

The largest immigrant population currently residing in Brazil, however, is not Bolivian but Venezuelan. Venezuela is currently experiencing the largest recorded refugee crisis in the history of the Americas, due to political turmoil and widespread poverty. Brazil’s government has been generally supportive of these immigrants. In August 2018, for example, when the state of Roraima requested to close its border with Venezuela, the Brazilian Supreme Court denied the request on constitutional grounds.

Currently, Brazil houses more than 260,000 Venezuelan refugees. The government has granted asylum to more than 20,000, and a two-year residency permit was made available to purchase in 2017 if certain applicants do not qualify for asylum. A 2020 program titled Operação Acolhida (“Operation Welcome”)  funds more than 10,000 plane tickets to help Venezuelans travel to Brazil and is helping 50,000 to get to cities around Brazil. 

Mutually Beneficial into the Future

Brazil has gained many cultural benefits from the enormous amount of immigrants living within its borders. School children and adults alike enjoy Japanese manga and anime; similarly, Brazilian jiu-jitsu would not have been possible without the sumo wrestling the Japanese brought. Kibe, a simple croquette that bars and street carts around Brazil sell, comes from the Middle East via Lebanese immigrants. Stores owned by Korean families provide many items in a typical Brazilian’s wardrobe. 

Some organizations worry that as President Jair Bolsonairo continues to lead the country, Brazil will become less hospitable to migrants. One of the president’s first moves in office, after all, was to pull out of a United Nations migration accord that had been signed the previous month. “We will never withhold help to those in need, but immigration cannot be indiscriminate,” he wrote on Twitter. Still, it seems that the principles of migration in Brazil have generally stayed the same under Bolsonairo. The nation continues to house many from struggling Latin American countries; this February, it also became the first nation in the world to grant humanitarian visas to Ukrainians. 

Migration in Brazil has been a symbiotic process for many years. Brazil has been hospitable towards immigrants, more so than most large countries; and those immigrants have repaid the nation through their work and their culture. One hopes this relationship is able to remain mutually beneficial long into the future.

– Finn Harnett
Photo: Flickr