Brazil's Election Will Be Decisive for Indigenous People, the Environment, and the Climate Crisis
FREDERIC MOUSSEAU, ANA GAITAN-URIBE
Over the past two decades, the expansion of cattle ranching and industrial agriculture in Brazil, especially soybean monocultures, has been devastating. Between 1985 and 2020, the Brazilian Amazon lost around 82 million hectares of natural vegetation, including 53 million hectares of forests. Coincidentally, during this time, agricultural land rose to more than 81 million hectares within the country. In 2020 alone, Brazil lost 2.4 million hectares of savanna, of which 40 percent were in protected areas.
About 45 million hectares of forest have been converted to cattle pasture since the late 1990s. Unsurprisingly, Brazil is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis, with deforestation as a significant contributor, which has resulted in some 34.5 Gt of CO₂ emissions over the past 20 years. The massive use of pesticides has also had a disastrous impact on Brazilian communities—with widespread contamination of soil, water, and livestock—threatening their health and livelihoods. Ever since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took power in 2019, he has spared no effort to further expand the exploitation of natural resources and encroach further on Indigenous lands. Rich biodiversity ecosystems are being destroyed at a rapid pace to be turned into pastures for an ever-expanding cattle herd or transformed into large crop fields to feed farmed animals.
The expansion of industrial agriculture has involved land grabs and widespread human rights abuses. Killings, violence, and persecutions are constant for those defending land and environmental rights, including Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. In many cases, police or members of the security forces are implicated in the killings. Amazon Watch has recorded a 150 percent rise in illegal land invasions since Bolsonaro came to power with his pro-business, anti-Indigenous rhetoric. His government has slashed the budget, staffing, and enforcement of the agencies responsible for the protection of Indigenous rights (FUNAI), land reform (INCRA), and environmental protection (IBAMA).
In August 2021, a coalition of Indigenous groups accused Bolsonaro’s government of genocide, crimes against humanity, and ecocide before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Their statement before the ICC emphasized “the escalation of invasions in Indigenous Lands, deforestation and fires in Brazilian biomes, as well as in the increase of illegal mining in our territories.”