System Change is possible If we confront the companies, corporations and governments profiting from the climate crisis – Juliana Moraes, Washington Brazil Office

“Private agricultural conglomerates like Cargil, a US based company, and investment giants like Blackstone are the forefront of the deforestation in the Amazon and other parts of Brazil.”

Juliana Moraes, executive director of the Washington Brazil Office, details the destructive agenda being implemented by far-right President Bolsonaro and his corporate backers. This call for international action, vigilance and solidarity was made during the Arise Festival event: “System Change, Not Climate Change.”

Read her important contribution in full below, or watch the meeting back here:

WATCH: “System Change, Not Climate Change – A Green New Deal for People & Planet”

While working with advocacy on Brazil issues before the U.S. Congress, we focus on denouncing the democratic setbacks since 2016. In order to give voice to those mostly affected, particularly with the Bolsonaro’s government, we work with a large number of civil society organization based in Brazil, Brazilian parliamentarians and international networks such as the US Network for democracy in Brazil, the Alliance for a Global Green New Deal (GGND), among others.

We participated in the Progressive International delegation to Brazil as they were invited by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) to take part in the Struggle for Life camp in August, 2020. After a number of meetings in the Brazilian Congress, labour unions, land reform organisations and visiting two towns in the Amazon, we were able to raise awareness about the socioeconomic and environmental situation and to identify ways in which the international community can play a role on holding international companies who profit from deforestation.

The Struggle for Life took place to resist the Milestone Thesis which Bolsonaro’s government of destruction is using to reduce the constitutionally protected rights to indigenous territories. This Milestone Thesis, or PL-490, resets the clock in a sense that if Indigenous communities weren’t in their lance base from 1988 (the time in which the new Federal Constitution was signed) their land rights are cancelled. This ignores centuries of genocidal oppression as it questions whether Indigenous peoples have the right to exist.

This measure comes with a number of other dangerous bills and a very serious action by the current government to cancel Brazil’s ratification of the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This convention mandates the consultation of, and sub sequential consent, by Indigenous peoples for projects done in or near their territories.  Why is this undemocratic actions taking place?

While stuck in the 20th century, Bolsonaro’s economy of destruction and his agribusiness supporters (as well as miners and timber industries), want to perceive the wealth contained in Indigenous territories. Private agricultural conglomerates like Cargil, a US based company, and investment giants like Blackstone are the forefront of the deforestation in the Amazon and other parts of Brazil. And so, the Struggle for Life goes beyond the fight for territorial rights, it’s a struggle for life in the world! Bolsonaro is pushing for an absurd railway project, Ferrogrão, to intensify soy production and exportation in the Amazon. Projects like this favors Cargil and countries who are the main buyers of Brazilian soy.

The 21st century policies proposed by the GGND are closely aligned with Indigenous, Quilombola, riverside and other traditional communities, the so called guardian of the forest. Their main approach is the Bem Viver, or wellbeing, and the right to clean air, clean water, a healthy soil for healthy and affordable food are the actual priorities for survival on this planet. There is a lot of learning opportunities to and from the Global North and the Global South and, crossing this bridge, maintaining dialogues between those who have been protecting the planet for centuries and those who are proposing alternatives to a green transition is crucial.

A motto used in 2014 ILO event was that “there’s no jobs on a dead planet” and that “no business can fully succeed on a planet that has failed”. And here I want to highlight three important points that may seem obvious for some, but that must be stressed more frequently:

  1. The Amazon is the home of many Indigenous Peoples, it’s also the home of riverside communities and also over three thousand Quilombola communities – they are runway enslaved Africans who have similar constitutional rights as Indigenous Peoples. When we talk about the “lungs of the earth” we must take into account the struggles, wishes, and wisdom of those living there.
  2. The Amazon, however, is not the only place where Indigenous Peoples live in Brazil. They have and struggle to maintain their territories and various livelihoods all over the country – and the same goes for Quilombolas.
  3. Social, environmental, racial and historical justice is perceived as obstacles to what the economy of destruction, pushed forward by neoliberal governments, calls “development”. While we discuss the transition from this type of economy to an ecological economy or bioeconomy, we must question what Bolsonaro’s fallacious and antiquated “development” project mean when he says that deforestation is good for development. Who’s development?

Since Bolsonaro took office, deforestation rode by 85% in the Amazon. In contrast, the period from 2004-2012 was simultaneously marked by an incredible socioeconomic growth and also by a reduction in deforestation reaching 80%. Brazil, then, was also able to ensure food security and leave the UN’s hunger map (2014), which now has sadly returned.

Finally, the Struggle for Life camp as well as Indigenous rights more broadly must be a core point of discussion in the context of a Global Green New Deal and true solidarity and internationalism. Resistance is crucial, and providing tangible green transition policies is essential. A system change is possible and it can only be achieved if we are serious with confronting countries on their trade due diligence and the also confronting the industries that brought us to this climate crisis, and continue to profit from it with the help of right-wing undemocratic governments.


Madeira de desmatamento na Amazônia. Photo credit: Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil/Wikicommons

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