The Congress that Brazilians elected on 2 October 2022 means a bitter struggle for Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples and forests. Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing party made gains, and conservatives control both houses. Even should Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) be elected in the 30 October second round, reforming the aggressive policies enacted by Bolsonaro will be a thorny rose to grasp. And should Bolsonaro stay in office, little political opposition would remain to slow the destruction.
Fern’s trade and forest campaigner Perrine Fournier told Euronews that Brazil’s “Conservative majority will be well-placed to inflict further damage by pushing through bills which will increase the threat to the Amazon and peoples’ rights: including one related to using Indigenous territories for mining, one weakening the environmental licensing regulation and a land-grabbing bill. At a stroke, these will turn currently illegal activities into legal ones.”
Recent years under Bolsonaro have seen an unprecedented offensive on the Amazon and its communities in service of his unwavering prioritisation of agribusiness and mining over respect for human rights and traditional land rights, and concern for biodiversity and the climate. A culture of brutality towards Indigenous Peoples and environmental defenders has resulted in a disturbing rise in killings – hundreds of them – leading to complaints against Bolsonaro in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide (FW 267). His term has also been marred by four consecutive years of increased deforestation.
A legislative branch beholden to agricultural and mining interests spells continued trouble. For the EU, it means their proposed Regulation on deforestation-free products, and its traceability requirements, may face obstruction from powerful economic interests – indeed, opposition appears already engaged (FW 278). As for the Mercosur trade deal that was shelved in recent years, partly over fears of the land-grabbing and environmental harm that would accompany increased trade in agricultural commodities, it is inconceivable to go ahead with it, given the likely adoption of these bills. A number of studies have shown robust governance is needed to mitigate the negative effects of international trade, and the EU must not compound the suffering of Indigenous Peoples or threats to the Amazon.
Progress will be tough. But civil society is strong, especially within Brazil. Bolsonaro had to backtrack on his move to merge the Ministry of the Environment into the Ministry of Agriculture. His appointment of a controversial evangelist to the department of uncontacted peoples of FUNAI, the Brazilian authority responsible for relations with Indigenous Peoples (FW 252), provoked such an uproar that the individual had to leave their post. Twice. Bolsonaro’s efforts to walk back Indigenous lands to a ‘marco temporal’ reflecting earlier boundaries that disregard a history of forced expulsions and violence has been, and is still being met with fierce opposition and a legal challenge.
These clashes are unavoidable, whatever the outcome on 30 October. But each small win brings a more liveable future into view, and Brazilian civil society will need the external vigilance and support that come with initiatives such as the anti-deforestation Regulation, and international opposition to inadequate trade deals.