In August 2019, reports from NASA and NGOs drew the world’s attention devastating forest fires in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The fires have shed light on the plight of the indigenous communities of the rainforest, who are hit by both the fires and the political circumstances in the region.
The Amazon fires resulted from a rise in illegal land grabbing and logging. Loggers in the area use a technique known as “slash and burn”, a land-clearing method that involves the cutting and burning of plants. The land is cleared in order to make room for agriculture, livestock, logging and mining. The technique leads to increased deforestation and carries a high risk of forest fires in the dry season. The large increase of the fires and deforestation in the Amazon increased the threat of global warming and related environmental issues.
The majority of the Amazon rainforest lies in Brazil. In 2000, a plan by the Brazilian government to protect the rainforest resulted in the gradual decline of deforestation. However, when President Jair Bolsonaro came into power in 2019, his administration reversed course on these environmental policies. By summer 2019, the deforestation reached its greatest height in over a decade.
The encroachment of illegal loggers and mining companies has particularly affected the indigenous populations of the Amazon, amplifying the persecution they have suffered since deforestation began in earnest during the 1980s. In 1988, the Brazilian constitution was re-written following the end of decades military rule. The new constitution, which reflected the visions of a democratically run government, automatically granted the indigenous people permanent possession of the lands they traditionally occupied. Unfortunately, indigenous lands that have been granted demarcation still face frequent illegal invasions by settlers and mining and logging companies.
During his campaign for the presidency, Bolsonaro’s platform showed little regard for the indigenous population of Brazil. His key policies included revoking the protected status of indigenous reserves, opening the land for large-scale mining and agribusiness. Since taking office, the Bolsonaro administration has made enacted some of these campaign promises. The administration has made significant changes to the environmental policies that were seen to be “suffocating the economy”. One of Bolsonaro’s first acts as president was to shift the power to regulate and create indigenous reserves, moving this power from the National Indian Foundation Agency to the Agriculture Ministry. As a result, throughout 2019, indigenous populations faced increased persecutions and attacks on their land.
Bolsonaro’s policy changes have correlated with an increase in deforestation and attacks on indigenous people. Illegal loggers and land grabbers continue to encroach on indigenous lands in their attempts to clear trees in the Amazon. Despite reports of these actions, the government denies their policy changes have resulted in the activities of the illegal loggers.
In January 2019, the administration vowed to put a stop to the illegal practice. However, a month later, NGO Reporter Brasil, found that 14 fully protected indigenous territories are under attack from landgrabbers and illegal loggers, with no visible government protection. In the year that has passed since Reporter Brasil’s findings, there no signs of slowing.
The indigenous people are facing increasing rage, hate, prejudice and intolerance from surrounding areas, leading to several deaths. In 2019, ten indigenous people were killed by groups conducting illegal encroachment. Seven among the ten killed were indigenous leaders working to protect the forest and non-contact tribes within the rainforest. Despite the continuous calls to halt increasing violence against the indigenous people, there has been no real effort from the government to protect or support them.
The government’s inaction, and the Bolsonaro administration’s attitude towards the indigenous community suggest it is unlikely that they will get the reassurances they need. It will most likely take international pressure to stop the killing and persecution of the indigenous people and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Brazil’s Senate voted on 31 August to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office for manipulating the budget, effectively putting an end to the thirteen years in power of her left-wing Worker’s Party. Ms Rousseff has denied the charges. Michel Temer has been sworn in as president and will serve the remainder of Ms Rousseff’s term until 1 January 2019. He has promised to boost Brazil’s economy, which is going through its longest and deepest recession in the past quarter of a century. His critics have already warned that he plans to cut many of the popular social programmes that had been introduced by the Workers’ Party.
Sixty-one senators voted in favour of her dismissal and twenty against, effectively meeting the two-thirds majority needed to remove her from the presidency.
During his first cabinet meeting since the vote, Mr Temer disclosed that his inauguration marked a “new era.” The centre-right PMDB party politician had been serving as acting president during the impeachment proceedings. During the meeting, which was broadcast live on television, he asked his ministers to “vigorously defend” the government from accusations that Ms Rousseff’s dismissal amounted to a coup d’état, adding, “we can’t leave one accusation unanswered.” He also told ministers to work closely with the Congress in order to rive the Brazilian economy.
The dismissal of Ms Rousseff has caused a rift between Brazil and three left-wing South American governments, who shortly after the vote was announced criticized the move. Brazil and Venezuela recalled each other’s ambassadors, while Brazilian envoys to Bolivia and Ecuador have also ben ordered home. In the wake of the vote, anti-Temer demonstrations were held in a number of cities, including Brasilia.
While Ms Rousseff lost the impeachment battle, she did win a separate Senate vote that had sought to ban her from public office for eight years. Pledging to appeal against her dismissal, she told her supporters, “I will not say goodbye to you. I am certain I can say: ‘See you soon,’” adding, “they have convicted an innocent person and carried out a parliamentary coup.” In May, Ms Rousseff was suspended after the Senate voted to go ahead with the impeachment process. She was accused of moving funds between government budgets, which under Brazilian law is illegal. Her critics stated that she was trying to plug deficit holes in popular social programmes in a bid to boost her chances of being re-elected in 2014. Ms Rousseff fought the allegations, arguing that her right-wing rivals had been trying to remove her from office ever since her re-election, adding that she was being ousted because she had allowed a wide-ranging corruption investigation to go ahead, which resulted in many high-profile politicians being charged. Senators who voted on Wednesday in favour to remove her from office have disclosed that Ms Rousseff and the Workers’ Party are the ones who were corrupt, adding that they needed to go.
The Brazilian Senate has voted to hold an impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff, who has been accused of breaking the budget law.
Following a marathon debate, which ended early on Wednesday, the Senate voted 59 to 21 in favour of going ahead with the trial against Ms Rousseff, which is likely to be held at the end of this month. A two-thirds majority is needed in the final vote following the trial, which is likely to take place in the week after the Summer Olympics closing ceremony. Ms Rousseff was suspended in May by the Senate over alleged illegal accounting practices, which she says were common practice under previous administrations. She has been accused of spending money without congressional approval and taking out unauthorized loans from state banks to boost the national budget ahead of the 2014 election, when she was re-elected. Her allies in the Workers’ Party have pointed out that many of the members of the Brazilian Congress who have accused her are implicated in corruption cases themselves.
While Ms Rousseff is not facing corruption charges in Brazil’s wide-ranging scandal around the state oil company, Petrobras, she has been tainted by the Scandal, in which her Workers’ Party is accused of lining its campaign war chests with some of the missing money. If Ms Rousseff is removed from office, the interim president, her former running mate Michel Temer, will remain in the presidential chair until the next elections, due to take place in 2018. Ms Rousseff has accused him of orchestrating a political coup against her.
On November 1, Brazil’s government filed a 7.2 billion dollar lawsuit against the mining company Samarco and its co-owners, Australia’s BHP Billiton and Vale, to clean up the damage caused by the mine catastrophe in state of Minas Gerais.
In a speech to the climate change summit in Paris on Monday, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff blamed the disaster on the “irresponsible action of the company”. “We are severely punishing those responsible for this tragedy” she said.
The dam, holding waste water from Samarco mine in south-eastern Brazil, burst on November 5, killing 16 people and injuring 45. The closest village to the dam, Bento Rodrigues, was completely destroyed. The city council had to evacuate about 600 people from the village to higher ground. The mine waste also reached another village called Paracatú de Baixo. There was no warning so residents had to run for their lives as they realised the dam had collapsed.
According to a pair of United Nations experts, the avalanche of mud unleashed by the dam failure contained high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. These findings contradicted repeated statements by the mining companies responsible for the dam that chemicals released by the accident were harmless. “The scale of the environmental damage is the equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools of toxic mud waste contaminating the soil, rivers and water system of an area covering over 850 kilometres,” the U.N. agency’s special rapporteur John Knox said in a statement.
Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira said the toxic mud had devastated forests over a large area. The initial reports showed that an area of at least 9 square kilometres of natural vegetation was destroyed. The mud caused destruction along the path of the River Doce, which meets the Atlantic Ocean in the state of Espirito Santo, some 500 kilometres away from the area where the dam collapsed. Teixeira said a full study will be carried out by the Environmental Agency Ibama in 2016, once the rainy season is over. On November 17, Samarco agreed to pay the Brazilian government 260 million dollars in compensation for the disaster. The money will be used to cover initial clean-up and to help the victims and their families.
According to the Brazilian Committee on Dams, the dam breach near Mariana may be the most severe ever recorded in the country. The biggest dam breach recorded before this disaster was in Itabirito, Brazil, in 1986, when 7 people died.
On Wednesday, opposition lawyers filed a new petition to Congress for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
The authors of the filing are prominent lawyers Helio Bicudo, a founding member of the president’s ruling Worker’s Party, and Miguel Feale, a former justice minister, who are backed by the country’s main opposition party, the PSDB. The new petition reinforces an earlier one by the lawyers to include accusations that the doctoring of government accounts continued into Rousseff’s current team. It also accused the president of signing spending decrees of 820 million reais (US $210 million) with approval from Congress, which is an impeachable violation of the country’s budget laws.
If the request is taken up by the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who himself is under growing pressure to resign due to corruption allegations, months-long impeachment proceedings would begin, which will effectively prolong a political crisis that has deepened the country’s economic slump.
The request is considered to be the most serious attempt so far to impeach the Brazilian president as it is based on a federal audit court ruling that her government manipulated its accounts in a bid to disguise the size of the deficit and to allow for more spending in the run-up to her narrow re-election last year.
The president’s government is scrambling to block impeachment proceedings in the lower house, where the president’s opponents would require two-thirds of the votes in order to approve an impeachment trial that would be held in the Senate. Furthermore, polls have shown that two in every three Brazilians want to see the president impeached. Her approval rate has fallen to single digits in recent polls, with many blaming her for not stopping a corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras and for mismanaging the country’s once-booming economy.
If Congress does impeach the president, then Vice President Michel Temer, who is the leader of the country’s largest party, the PMDB, would serve as president of the remainder of the term. However it currently remains unclear when, or even wether, the speaker will decide to take up the impeachment request, as Cunha is battling to remain in office following revelations of secret Swiss bank accounts in his name that link him to the massive bribery and political kickback scandal at Petrobras.