Brazil and its Controversial Speech – Building with BRICS – Part 2
Brazil, which has recently overtaken the UK as the world’s sixth largest economy, and at the same time carries the bitter 84th position in the Human Development Index, is the first country of our series of articles about the BRICS group. This country of 200 million people will again take centre stage for a global discussion on sustainable development, as it will host the second Earth Summit, or Rio+20, next month.
Last year, every country was asked to provide input for the official UN document, the so-called Draft Zero. The Brazilian proposal adds several issues to the Rio+20 talks. But the country is overloading its input to the conference: Brazil’s proposals address several subjects, but they are as superficial as the country’s determination to change. Just to give you an idea of this superficiality, take a look on how many times the words “sustainable development” were used throughout the 36-page-document: 210 times! Would it be an attempt to make the reader a firm believer of Brazil’s honesty and desire to change? Let’s analyse two of its key topics in more depth.
The Controversial Speech: What the Brazilian Government Does Not Say
The Brazilian government has identified new and emerging challenges that must be addressed if we are to be on track for sustainable development. It covers a wide range of topics – important topics – but it seems to lack objectivity and commitment. At the same time as the country is suggesting essential changes in the world, it itself is doing exactly the opposite.
A key case in point is the Forest Code Bill, approved by the Brazilian Congress with 274 votes for and 184 against after years of back-and-forth discussions. With no consideration of the public opinion, scientists’ advice and even the country’s president’s request, Federal Deputies made a decision that favours big landowners and farmers (who, in many cases, turned out to be they themselves or their relatives).
The approved bill provides amnesty for farmers who have illegally deforested before July 2008. It also gives to state and municipal governments the power to decide how much forest needs to be replaced along riversides, which is a huge setback for the environmental law in Brazil. Watch the video below to see what its approval means.
All across Brazil, people are rising up to demand that Dilma Rousseff, the country’s president, veto the bill. Several international organisations, such as Avaaz.org, Greenpeace, 350.org and WWF, have also launched similar campaigns, which have already reached millions of people. Rousseff has only a few days to decide what to do, and the world is closely watching her steps. At this point in time, not only her international reputation, but the entire environmental politics in Brazil are at risk.
Paulo Adario, Brazilian environmentalist and Greenpeace Amazon campaign director who was awarded with the “Forest Hero” honour by the UN earlier this year, talks about the risk the country is taking with the forest bill.
“At the same time the Brazilian Government sells an image of protector of the Amazon for the world, with the help of the fact that the deforestation rates have decreased in the last years, in practise several measures and its behaviour tells otherwise. Protected areas are being reduced by Dilma administration, the big projects are ruining with the region and she is omitting herself in this discussion of weakening of the forest law – leaded by farmers and landowners in the National Congress.”
Reducing Extreme Poverty with a Social-Environmental Protection Programme
Brazil proposed eight ideas. The main proposal was inspired by former president Lula’s social programmes. It suggests the implementation of a global Social-Environmental Protection Programme in which, by guaranteeing income, extreme poverty would be reduced, and the rights of a quality environment, food and nutrition security, adequate housing and access to fresh water would be secured.
The benefits of such programmes in Brazil are undeniable. At the very least, they have helped the country to stand by the global financial crisis and even increase economic growth. On the other hand, these social mechanisms must be used as emergency ways to rapidly guarantee income distribution and reduce the gap between the most poor and the most rich.
Apart from that specific goal, they will not be able, as Brazil suggests, to achieve “a situation in which quality of life and environmental conditions are fully incorporated into the rights of poor populations” (p. 26). What would be the role of a minimum of $17 and a maximum of $162 per month (these are the incomes in Brazilian social programme, depending on several aspects, such as the number of children, income, region, etc.) in promoting this global change? In the case of Brazil (and many other developing countries), it is also necessary to take into account corruption, which is, sadly, very much a reality in such programmes. In 2009, an audit brought up that 312,000 benefits were being given irregularly to politicians, businesspeople and dead people – a sum of R$318m (around $164m). Apart from that, such benefits are also being used as a bargaining chip in elections: candidates can both offer the benefit or threaten taking it back if people don’t vote for them.
The government’s duty is to create alternatives and possibilities for citizens to have chances to be empowered, to work and live with dignity, without the need to resort to doubtful assistance. As many critics of these programmes have been pointing out, it is not enough to give money to the most poor, it is necessary to open doors and make them stand on their own feet.
There are plenty of other controversial issues the proposals condemn, but the country is stuck in its errors: human rights violations against traditional communities, such as indigenous people and quilombolas; urban and rural slave labour exploitation; the incentive to a development without borders or limits, destroying the Amazon Forest, its people, and the entire biodiversity.
The clock is ticking. Rio+20 is no longer in the future. It has arrived. Despite all the efforts, expectations are lower and lower. Members of the European Parliament have already announced they would not attend the meeting because it’s too expensive. In response to this, Rousseff has intervened to lower accommodation costs.
But the question remains: is there still time for Brazil to save the Rio Summit? And is the country prepared to lead this new movement towards a greener path?
As a Brazilian and follower of the environmental discussions in the country, I will keep my fingers crossed that the president will make the right call and stand up for environmental and social justice.