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Brazil, Bolsonaro & Coronavirus Catastrophe – Patrick Foley, Brazil Solidarity Initiative.

“We can’t talk about Brazil’s crisis without mentioning the huge roll-back of workers’ rights, social programs, & access to healthcare & education that have all taken place since the far-right came to power.”

Patrick Foley, Brazil Solidarity Initiative.

From the raging amazon fires to the ideologically driven mismanagement of the pandemic. the situation in Brazil is critical. Brazil is the third worst hit country in the world hit by the coronavirus, but this only adds to a plethora of problems caused by Bolsonaro and the far-right’s destructive agenda for the country, writes Patrick Foley.

Brazil has the third highest number of cases in the world with 4,970,953, behind only the US and India, while Brazil has suffered the second highest number of deaths at 147,571 as of October 7th.

The pandemic has spread from urbanised hubs and into vulnerable communities in harder to reach regions, with less access to healthcare.  A recent New York Times article explained that even in remote towns, people have been as likely to contract COVID-19 as they would be in New York, a city of over 8 million people. Amongst those severely affected are Brazil’s indigenous communities, already facing an existential threat under Bolsonaro, who plans to exploit protected lands for their natural resources, robbing indigenous people of their lands and their way of life.

No matter what the global far-right say, this pandemic is political. The far-right’s racist stance towards black and indigenous Brazilians, as well as their anti-environmental agenda, are well documented and they are using the crisis to put their plans into action.

Bolsonaro even vetoed sections of a bill that would have forced the government to provide drinking water, disinfectants, and hospital beds for Indigenous people during the pandemic. The government even barred Doctors Without Borders from aiding villages of the Terena Indigenous tribe in Southern Brazil.

Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles, known was caught saying that the government should use the pandemic as a cover for rolling back environmental protections. Salles’ poor record on environmental protection is well known, Brazil’s climate activists have even nicknamed him “the Terminator”.

Acting on the government’s continued statements, we’ve witnessed illegal mining, logging and other activities skyrocketing in the Amazon under Bolsonaro’s tenure. With these invasions comes violence towards indigenous groups, and the increasing threat COVID-19 spread into these remote areas. Indigenous communities are currently battling on three fronts – the unprecedented Pantanal fires that have engulfed 10% of the Brazilian wetlands; the growing far-right threat against them and the aforementioned spread of the pandemic into their lands.

Bolsonaro’s laid bare his anti-indigenous agenda, and his willingness to spread disinformation against his political opponents, when he the increasingly used his speech at the UN to blame indigenous communities for the Amazon fires. He then turned on the media for spreading panic about the pandemic.

The increasingly authoritarian President’s own reactionary attitude towards the pandemic has clearly had a damaging effect. Labelling the virus as a “little flu” and using a homophobic slur to taunt those wearing masks for protection, he has undoubtedly contributed to the spread. The mis-information around the crisis even saw a far-right supporter desecrate a memorial for the dead. He branded those present as “leftist terrorists,” in a profoundly disturbing scene.

While it was uplifting to see British parliamentarians, trade unionists, academics and activists pen a letter to raise awareness of Bolsonaro’s dangerous coronavirus response, we need to do more to show support for those fighting for Public Health in Brazil – we must ensure our own government stops enabling Brazil’s far-right.

Last year, Minister for Trade Connor Burns met with notorious Rio mayor Wilson Witzel, who’s now been suspended over a COVID-19 related graft scandal. Witzel was the official responsible for overseeing Rio’s bloodiest period in over 2 decades. There were 1,810 police killings, predominantly young black men, in 2019 alone.

Rather than challenge this record, likened to “genocide” by veteran Brazilian journalist Luis Nassif, the UK minister praised the government’s ambition for reducing violence. Challenging the burning and destruction of the Brazilian Amazon, nor the threat posed to indigenous Brazilians, was not on the agenda.

We can’t talk about Brazil’s crisis without mentioning the huge roll-back of workers’ rights, social programs, and access to healthcare and education that have all taken place since the far-right came to power.

This has all been underpinned by an assault on democracy that started with the coup against Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, and continued with the political persecution of the 2018 election front-runner Lula da Silva. If Dilma had not been illegitimately removed and Lula falsely imprisoned, leading to Bolsonaro’s election, we would not be witnessing the atrocities we see today.

As the UK looks elsewhere than the EU for trade deals, it’s up to us to ensure that conditions for trade with Brazil include upholding the protection of human rights, the protection of the Amazon and ensuring the end to violence towards indigenous communities, quilombos and social movements. It’s up to us in the Labour movement to make our voices heard at this critical time for Brazil.

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