Oct 12, 2018

Brazil’s Presidential Candidates: The Indigenous Peoples’ Perspective

On Sunday 7 October 2018, amidst considerate political and economic tensions, Brazilian electors went to the urns all over the world to state their choice for the country’s next President and other regional representatives. The result of the first round of votes however, has prompted more tensions and uncertainties about the future of the country, having elected to the second round of votes Jair Bolsonaro from the PSL with 46,03% of the votes and Fernando Haddad from the PT with 29,28%.

For a couple of years now, Brazil has been experiencing an economic recession that has put several administrative matters to question and have left many people unsatisfied with the previous governments, ruled by the Workers Party (Partido do Trabalhador – PT). Questioning the policies implemented by PT over the last administrations, which have largely focused on the poorest segments of the country’s society, several citizens from the middle and upper classes have turned themselves to the option that seemed to better suit their interests, hopes, and expectations. This unsatisfaction was translated in the almost 50 million people who have voted for the main right wing candidate, Bolsonaro.

On the other side of the dispute, Haddad has emerged as a PT’s candidate that has substituted Lula, who had his candidacy rejected by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in Portuguese) on 31 August 2018. Having constantly stated his support for PT’s previous candidate and his intention of following the same directions adopted by Lula, Haddad’s plan of government frequently refers to the policies implemented throughout his presidency. It also often mentions the illegitimacy of the previous government ruled by Michel Temer and its social and political consequences, proposing a democratic refunding of Brazil to recover its popular and national sovereignty he believes to have been lost in 2016.

In particular, Temer’s administration was marked by several violations to indigenous people’s rights, as well as by a series of political setbacks that have brought many indigenous communities and activists to protest against these discriminations. UNPO has several times shared these courageous initiatives and condemned the maintenance of colonial structures that continue to oppress historically marginalized peoples while refraining them from advancing their rights, freedom, and capacity to make decisions for themselves that may better suit their development and life priorities.

Facing systematic violations of their rights and the frequent disregard when it comes to matters that directly affect their lives and future in clear violation to the Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which obliges the State to consult indigenous communities prior to any project in their traditional land, indigenous peoples have sought to have their cases heard. This was the case for instance of the indigenous women from the Guaraní-Kaiowá communities who have raised their voices against the racist policies and State violence implemented by the government, of the “Acampamento Terra Livre” (Free Land Camp) that took place in April 2018 as a protest against the political setback, and the demonstration that took place in Brasília on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in 9 August 2018. In spite of their brave and active attempts to change their situation, the presidential elections of 2018 represent a decisive moment for the future of their struggle as the new administration can either be responsible for finally putting an end to the violations of indigenous rights, or for giving continuance to their historical disregard, alienation, and oppression.

In this respect, although Haddad’s plan may fail to have specific proposals for indigenous peoples, rather frequently including them in the broader segment of marginalized people in Brazilian society as a whole, it does make several references to indigenous communities, to the guarantee of their rights, and to their participation in decision-making processes in his administration.. It also advocates for the promotion of racial equality and the guarantee of civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of indigenous people, recognizing both their historical marginalization and their place as a strategic and structural priority in the process of democratization of the country.

Moreover, it also specifically address the issue of demarcation of lands, particularly affected by the political setbacks during Temer’s administration, especially with the approval of the timeframe limitation for land demarcation, which refrains communities from regaining control over lands from which they were displaced before the promulgation of the Constitution of 1988, therefore ignoring the secular violence endured by indigenous peoples.

In this matter, although Haddad’s plan does not specifically refer to the recent timeframe limitation, it states that his government will promote human dignity, the well-being and the production in rural sites, as well as the right to the land, territory and to the culture of the people, affirming that the demarcation of indigenous lands will be promoted. It further recognizes that during Temer’s government the environment and the indigenous peoples were used as a tool for political bargain, mentioning the suspension of the demarcation of lands among other setbacks. Defending the implementation of a just and green economy that have the capacity to revert the ecological crisis while creating opportunities for the well-being of people, Haddad has a specific proposal for the initiation of an ecological transition that places indigenous peoples at a strategic place in its establishment and execution.

On the other hand, while Haddad’s proposals may bring the hope that the rights violations and oppressions could change, Bolsonaro’s plan of government fails to mention indigenous peoples altogether. Filled with references to corruption and to the economic situation of the country, it defines Bolsonaro’s government as a complete brake with the previous administrations. Highlighting the private property and the individual freedoms, it clearly puts forward economic, liberal, and individual values and priorities over common and social ones. In this sense, Bolsonaro’s plan defends several issues and liberties that are highly dubious when it comes to the promotion of a safer, more just and inclusive future for Brazil, as the legalization of guns and the implementation of a free market economy.

Although stated as the way to prompt the enrichment and advancement of the society, these liberties would lead to the destruction of social securities and of the several policies that are now in place to support those who live in situation of extreme poverty. Alleging to defend the education and employment of people, it does not guarantee the inclusion of all and it defends the reduction of the number of ministries, which would reduce opportunities for people from marginalized segments of the society to have their voices heard and their demands accounted for.

In this sense, the election of Bolsonaro as Brazil’s next president on the second round of elections that will take place on 28 October 2018 represents not only a huge drawback from social improvements and advancements, but also a great risk for indigenous communities. Promising to leave people to their own luck and initiatives, his plan of government lacks social considerations and the guarantee of the cultural, social, political, and environmental rights of the people. It further shapes a future where economic considerations will be prioritized, an approach that was already followed by Temer and that has been reflected not only in the previously discussed timeframe limitation for the demarcation of lands, but also in deforestation and land disputes that have led to several rights violations and demonstrations of violence between communities and companies.

The prospect of a Brazil ruled by Bolsonaro thus represents the prospect of a Brazil where indigenous rights and protection ought to be weakened rather than strengthened, of a country where business and economic interests will prevail over people’s needs, and where violence and oppression of indigenous peoples are highly likely to continue to happen, if not to increase.


Written by Julia Moreira


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons