Brazil: When progress kills

Jair Bolsonaro

Liberal lobby groups and commentators in our part of the world tend not unnaturally to be pre-occupied with what they regard as obnoxious political and social trends in Europe, which means that undesirable developments in more distant lands, such as Brazil, attract scant attention. 

Widespread dismay was the initial reaction of environmental activists in October last year when Jair Bolsonaro won that country’s presidential election, since when — in the name of progress — he has been getting on with the job of laying waste to Brazil’s rain forests and the indigenous tribes, also known as “uncontacted peoples”, which until now have thrived in the forests without help from what we like to call civilisation.

In this case, civilisation is represented by a president who has removed Amazon protections and handed control of indigenous reserves to a government ministry said to work hand-in-glove with agribusiness interests. 

The estimated one million people who live in the reserves, he says, are “isolated from true Brazil”, and his promise, or threat, is to “integrate” them.

Survival International, an advocacy charity that champions the rights of indigenous tribes, has rightly warned of the consequences of Bolsonaro’s integration mission: More deforestation, highways, mining, gun-running, drug-trafficking, invasive tourism, religious evangelists of one creed or another, and diseases against which the native population has no immunity.

For Mr Bolsonaro and his far-right followers in Brazil’s ever-expanding cities, this might add up to progress, but it is the sort of progress that can and will kill.

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