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The Rules of Dismantling

Illustration: Bianca Baderna

30 Nov 20

The Rules of Dismantling

Throughout the research of more than 800 publications and news about the Brazilian socio environmental crisis that we went through to build the Smoke Signal timeline, we were able to identify four patterns of the Bolsonaro’s administration: political and ideological interference in federal agencies and institutes to deregulate norms and silence opponents; budget cuts and non spending of approved funds; lack of transparency regarding official data; and criminalisation of civil society.

Browsing across the two-year timeline and following the monitor’s weekly updates helps to understand that, with a ruralist majority in Congress, Bolsonaro’s denialism is part of a rather sophisticated strategy to infiltrate the very structure of the State and consolidate his authoritarian project in Brazil.

Months before voicing his plan to “drive the cattle herd” over environmental laws in a ministerial meeting on April 22nd, 2020, the minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, was already operating to change the structure of the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama and of the biodiversity and conservation Institute Chico Mendes. He filled high ranking positions with military personnel, exonerated senior public servants and a implemented a gag-order, forbidding workers to give interviews to the press and share opinions on social media. At the National Foundation for Indigenous Issues- Funai, after failed attempts to remove the agency from the Ministry of Justice, the government nominated an evangelical missionary to coordinate programs for isolated indigenous populations.

Budget cuts have impaired actions to curb deforestation, fight forest fires, stop illegal logging and the invasion of gold diggers into indigenous lands. The lack of resources also impacted the already precarious public health assistance to traditional communities during the coronavirus pandemic. The low execution of the approved funds by the Ministry of the Environment completes the cycle of defunding Brazil’s socio environmental governance.

Countering his own “tough on crime” narrative, President Bolsonaro has welcomed illegal gold diggers and prohibited the destruction of illegal logging machinery apprehended during Ibama’s control operations. Even with the issuing of a Law and Order Decree, Brazilian Armed Forces have failed to contain the invasion of indigenous lands and the advance of illegal land grabbing and deforestation over public owned lands. As a result of two consecutive years of record fires in the Amazon, Cerrado and Pantanal, Brazil is being discarded by international investors and members of the European Parliament have put the EU-Mercosur commercial treaty on the hot seat.

During the past couple of years, satellite imagery and information produced by Inpe – the National Institute for Space Research, revealed the extension of the forest fires on the Northern biomes and documented the smoke from those fires arriving in the Southern skies of the country. The scientific data generated by Inpe’s renowned methodology has been systematically questioned and discredited by the federal government, threatening to interrupt the historic series of data series on Brazil’s deforestation monitoring.

The racism-charged declarations against indigenous and quilombolas during the 2018 Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign were not mere electoral rectoric. The president’s words translated into the total halting of land demarcation processes and on proposed bills to legalize mining inside indigenous reservations. NGOs and environmental activists have been labelled as “enemies of the country” and frequently targeted by fake news and conspiracy theories, such as the one that culminated with the arrest of volunteer brigadists and firefighters that were in the frontline against forest fires in Pará State one year ago.

Brazil arrives at the end of 2020 accumulating devastation records of its natural heritage, exposing its indigenous and quilombola populations to violence and to the pandemic and becoming an international pariah on human rights and climate diplomacy. Despite all the scandal and growing public pressure, the socio environmental dismantling of the Bolsonaro government continues; so does our monitoring.

Rebeca Lerer, journalist and human rights activist, SmokeSignal coordinator.

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