During the first U.S. presidential debate, Democratic candidate Joe Biden called attention to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and proposed a plan to stop it. CNN reports that Biden wants to gather $20 billion from the international community to compensate the Brazilian government for the economic value that the Amazon contains. President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro declined the offer.
The Amazon crisis has plagued Bolsonaro’s presidency. The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, occupying over 2 million square miles with the vast majority being located in Brazil. According to NBC, the Amazon contributes $8.2 billion annually to the Brazilian economy and is the most biodiverse area in the world. However, the rainforest is under threat. Wildfires have deforested over 7,400 acres in a crisis that grows worse by the day. The cause of these wildfires? According to Bolsonaro, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. “The fires practically occur in the same places, on the east side of the forest, where peasants and Indians burn their fields in already deforested areas,” Bolsonaro said in a pre-recorded speech to the United Nations, NBC reports.
This statement is part of a litany of attacks against indigenous peoples that Bolsonaro has launched since assuming office. Human Rights Watch observed a 65 percent increase in deforestation on indigenous lands. This observation is indicative of the suffering indigenous peoples continue to face at the hands of Brazilian mining and logging industries. Previous administrations have ignored criminal activity in the rainforest. Bolsonaro, however, plans to eliminate corporate crime in the Amazon altogether—by legalizing it.
The devastation of the Amazon is not the only way in which Bolsonaro has failed his country. His response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous. Rather than combat the crisis, the Brazilian health ministry removed coronavirus statistics from their website entirely, The New York Times reports. He has also repeatedly blamed left-wing activists for corruption in the country and is escalating threats of violence against them. Al Jazeera reports that in a speech, Bolsonaro said “these red criminals will be banished from our homeland” and called for a “cleansing never seen in the history of Brazil.” Bolsonaro has also proposed legislation to embolden the Brazilian police – if passed, the law would violate international law on the use of force, according to Human Rights Watch.
Merriam Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” It is clear that by this definition, Jair Bolsonaro is a fascist. His rhetoric about the “Brazilian homeland” and targeted attacks on indigenous peoples are clear examples of national and racial exaltation and discrimination. His support of industry at indigenous peoples’ expense shows social and economic regimentation. His censorship of information and ability to bend the Brazilian health ministry to his will are clear signs of autocracy, and his attempts to strengthen the police and crush leftists are obvious signs of suppression.
So why should this matter to the rest of the world, particularly those in America? The situation in Brazil closely mirrors that of the United States. Under the Trump administration, large-scale projects that are devastating to the environment and indigenous communities have been revived and expanded, most notably the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, The Guardian reports. The New York Times has covered Trump’s attempts to designate “Antifa” as a terrorist organization. It is worth mentioning that “Antifa” is not an organization at all, rather it is an umbrella term for anti-fascist action movements, many of which overlap with leftist movements. One does not even need to speak of Trump’s abysmal response to COVID-19; over 218,000 Americans have died of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. As the election grows ever closer, America sits on the precipice of dictatorship. Brazil may show the future if we fall.