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The effect of Bolsonaro’s rhetoric on Brazil’s indigenous peoples by Dorothea Hilhorst

Newly elected Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has immediately started making work of his animosity towards indigenous peoples by transferring the mandate to deal with indigenous land issues to the Ministry of Agriculture that aims to put these lands to commercial use. To justify his policies, Dorothea Hilhorst argues, Bolsonaro uses rhetorical tricks that turn reality upside down.


Immediately after he resumed office on the 1st of January, Bolsolnaro set to turning his hostile attitude towards indigenous peoples into policy. In the prelude to elections, Bolsonaro made no secret of his animosity. One of his quotes was that “[o]ur Amazon is like a child with chickenpox; every dot you see is an indigenous reservation”.

Indigenous people in Brazil have a long history of asserting their right to self-determination. Their territories are in the Amazon, and they can be seen to protect the vast forests against destruction. Bolsonaro, at one occasion, said that “[t]he Indians do not speak our language, they don’t have money, or culture. They are just natives. How they ended up having a 13% of the national territory?” He rhetorically turns the table: instead of recognising that the colonizers of Brazil usurped 87% of indigenous territories, he makes it sound as if indigenous peoples invaded the country.

Bolsonaro’s messages about indigenous peoples are two-layered. Bolsonaro’s tweets about the topic emphasise the need to integrate indigenous peoples into Brazilian society, pointing out that they live in isolated territories rich in natural resources that need to serve economic purposes. He couches this calculating economic attitude in patronising language. The New York Times quoted him saying: “[I]ndigenous people want to rent out the land, they want to be able to do business, they want electricity, a dentist to remove the stumps of teeth from their mouths … indigenous people are human beings like us. They don’t want to be used for political purposes.”

Moving away from international norms

The patronising language with regards to indigenous peoples disregards the internationally agreed-on norms on indigenous rights that Brazil also recognised and ratified. These are in particular international human rights laws and standards: the ILO [International Labor Organization] Convention No. 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Both pieces of international law strongly affirm that indigenous peoples have the right to determine whether they would like to be integrated into the dominant society or maintain their own cultures and identities.

Bolsonaro’s war against NGOs

But Bolsonaro (see the above quote) turns this around by claiming that he knows what indigenous people really want, whereas other entities according to him use indigenous peoples for political purposes. So, who would be using indigenous peoples for political purposes? Well, those are the development organisations, or the NGOs, that were another target of Bolsonaro’s miserable campaign slogans. On January 2nd, his second day in office, he issued a temporary decree (to be ratified within 120 days) that mandates the office of the Secretary of Government (a close collaborator to Bolsonaro) to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory.” In the eyes of the new president, NGOs exploit indigenous peoples for their own political gain. NGOs, in his view, like to keep indigenous people poor and primitive.

Development organisations and social movements have the tide turned against them. When Bob Dylan sang that the times are changing, this was a hopeful statement, signalling an era where the agenda of social movements was going to make the day. Today’s changing times move in an opposite direction, and social movements and NGOs face increasing opposition. The recent vicious campaign against Soros, culminating in a bomb attack on his house, is just one of the many manifestations of this trend, as Soros has been a major financer of organisations that advocate for democracy and human rights. The State of Civil Society Report 2018 of CIVICUS showed that 109 countries further curtailed the space for civil society in 2017. Social movements continue to celebrate successes, but on the whole are increasingly cornered by legal and financial restrictions.

The transfer of land

But back to Brazil, where Bolsonaro plays a blame game and accuses NGOs of exploiting indigenous peoples. At the same time, his actions point out that his economic interest in the exploitation of the 13% of Brazil’s land that is now reserved for indigenous peoples overrides his concern for their dental condition (see quote above) and lifestyles.

In the first week in the office, he issued an executive order placing the power to decide over indigenous lands in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture, instead of the specialised government agency FUNAI (National Indian Foundation) that was responsible for indigenous affairs and has the mandate to protect their rights. According to Victoria Tauli Corpuz, quoted by Deutsche Welle, this is a regressive move, because the Agriculture Ministry is the agency that supports the expansion of the areas for the production of crops for export and for cattle ranching.

The protection of indigenous lands is not a concern for indigenous peoples alone. Joan Carling, an indigenous leader that was recently awarded by the United Nations Environmental Agency as a champion of the earth, said in her award video:  “When our lands are being taken away for mining, dams or agribusiness, of course we will defend it. We are trying to protect the environment, not just for ourselves. We are protecting it for humanity”. The Amazon is dubbed as the lungs of the world, and the fight to save it from further destruction is gaining momentum[1]. Let’s hope that the indigenous peoples of the Amazon can continue to resist Bolsonaro. Not just for their sake, but also for the sake of the climate and the quality of life on earth.

[1] For example, an international consortium comprised of indigenous organisations, international NGOs, and universities that includes the ISS was recently awarded 14.8 million euros to strengthen community-based environmental monitoring in Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador. See: https://www.hivos.org/program/all-eyes-on-the-amazon/#all-eyes-on-the-amazon


Image Credit: Agência Brasil


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About the author:

Dorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

She is a regular author for Bliss. Read all her posts here

 

 

Emancipatory education in practice: perspectives from Rio de Janeiro’s favelas by Veriene Melo

Emancipatory education is a platform to humanise and redefine the educational process in liberatory terms. Linking theory and practice from this lens can help us explore the role of education as a crucial instrument in the struggle for social change in communities at the margins.


An eye towards liberatory pedagogic practices

The more that traditional schools focus on “one-size-fits-all” curriculums meant solely to prepare individuals for the market, the more they detach themselves from local needs, knowledges, and values. A lack of exposure to critical content about social, economic, and political contradictions in formal education limits people’s ability to challenge the status quo and their attempts to rupture existing hegemonic arrangements.[i] [ii] Moving away from top-down approaches concerned with promoting modernisation processes and exposing notions of oppression and existential violence as authentic and ever-present, emancipatory education advances pedagogic practices that seek to empower individuals to think critically and act upon social and structural inequalities with the aim of transforming their lives and communities.[iii] [iv]

Conceiving education as a cultural act and a two-way process between educators and students based on the co-production of knowledge and critical dialogue, the framework is closely linked to the demands of the community and departs from the experiences and capabilities individuals bring with them to learning spaces. Due to its often more autonomous nature, emancipatory education invites us to embrace non-formal educational platforms as more inclusive learning sites where counter-hegemonic discourses and actions can flourish.[v] From this perspective, the work of civil society organisations can become a source of empowering possibilities and access to democratic life. Results from a case study of a youth program in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil help us bridge the framework’s theoretical and practical dimensions with processes, methods, and experiences reflecting real-world practices.

Realising the potential of favela youth

In the over 750 favelas scattered across Rio de Janeiro, crime and the permissiveness of violence—combined with the chronic lack of services, deep socio-economic deprivation, and a culture of marginalisation of the poor—have, for much of the city’s recent history, confined the majority of its 1,4 million residents to invisibility and intense social exclusion.[vi] As a result, favela youth face serious structural barriers that undermine their social and economic mobility, including exposure to poverty, difficulties moving up the educational pipeline, limited work and income opportunities, and the lack of access to platforms for cultural affirmation. Youths, in particular, are more likely to be out of school and work and are disproportionately impacted by lethal violence and police brutality.[vii]

Within this context, the Networks for Youth Agency program (hereby: Agency)[viii] promotes a capacity-building methodology that supports mostly black and low-income favela youths aged 14-29 in leading actions of social impact by encouraging their protagonism and artistic production. Since 2011, the program—which is now financed by the Ford Foundation and inspires a similar initiative in the UK[ix]—has engaged over 2,500 young people from dozens of Rio favelas, incubating 180 original projects. For a period ranging between two and four months,[x] participants are introduced to several educational instruments meant to stimulate them to cultivate their interests, exercise their analytical and critical thinking skills, and draw from their social history, lived experiences, and cultural identities to advance their ideas.

agenciaproject_crimelab

Linking theory and practice in emancipatory education

An in-depth analysis of Agency points to three aspects of the program’s methodology that are particularly reminiscent of a Freirean emancipatory education. The first involves situating participants as agents of community transformation. Approaching young people as potent individuals and changemakers, the program provides participants with instruments to formulate and carry out initiatives that bear a potential territorial impact, placing them at the heart of local development processes in favelas. The result is an assembling of diverse projects that manage to reach hundreds of residents. From strategies to promote women’s empowerment and youth conflict resolution, to platforms to address education, work, and urban transportation challenges, these localised actions are mechanisms of positive social regeneration that help create a counter-narrative to dominant discourses about favelas and its young residents, which tends to be driven by assumptions of criminality and precariousness.

The program’s bottom-up approach to community development brings us to its second emancipatory education-related dimension of contextualised learning and praxis. The various instruments and exercises applied in the methodology integrate the interests, realities, and demands of young people, creating a dynamic and interactive platform that attract participants to join the learning process as active subjects rather than passive objects. It is, therefore, by first contextualising education to the lifeworld of young people and respecting their dispositions and abilities that Agency can stimulate participants to draw from elements of their social and physical world to advance context-sensitive initiatives that are based on community conditions, resources, and everyday practices.

The third broader linkage to emancipatory education has to do with the adoption of an educational model based on reflective practices and critical dialogue. Agency educators stimulate participants to think critically about their place in the world, their life conditions, and different issues impacting their communities. The advancement of tools that promote a critical analysis of dominant discourses and unequal social structures is, however, meant to go beyond supporting young people in the process of broadening their political conscience and social critique, to encourage them to use that reflection to realise their potential for social engagement by envisioning solutions.

A platform of possibility in efforts to transform education

Conclusions from my analysis of Agency points to opportunities for emancipatory education to play a key role in efforts to capacitate, empower, and more actively engage youth in local development processes via non-formal educational platforms in communities at the margins. The study inevitably also reveals great and multifaceted challenges. For instance, the program must grapple with a series of operational and methodological constraints as well as obstacles pertaining to the social context where it operates. Also, as an incrementalist strategy, there can be no guarantee that Agency’s outcomes are long-lasting—which does not diminish its transformative significance in particular settings and at a particular points in time.

fernando-e-cordao-marinamoreira-agencia

In all, despite its shortcomings, emancipatory education remains a relevant platform of inspiration and hope as we dare reinvent education moved by hopes for social justice and equity. Ultimately, exploring the personal experiences of participants and the local impact of provisions that are helping young people in poor and violence-stricken communities tap into their potential, cultivate a more critical reading of their world, and become agents of social change, is an important step in efforts in identifying and supporting transformative pedagogical initiatives that are bottom-up not only on paper, but also in essence and practice.


[i] Mayo, P. (2015) ‘Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love’ by Antonia Darder. Journal of Transformative Education, 2004, 2 (1), 64-66.
[ii] Illich, I. (1971) Deschooling Society. New York: Harper & Row.
[iii] Torres, C. (2013) Political Sociology of Adult Education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
[iv] Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
[v] Giroux, H. (2011) On Critical Pedagogy (Critical Pedagogy Today Series). New York: Bloomsbury.
Torres, C. (1990). The Politics of Nonformal Education in Latin America. New York: Praeger.
[vi] Jovchelovitch, S. And Priego-Hernández, J. (2013). Underground sociabilities: identity,           culture and resistance in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. UNESCO Office in Brazil and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Souza e Silva, J. (2014). “Towards a New Paradigm of Public Policy in Rio’s Favelas.” Conference on Violence and Policing in Latin America and U.S. Cities. Stanford, CA, April 28-29 2014.
Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE). (2010). Censo Demográfico 2010. Características Gerais da População, Religião e Pessoas com Deficiência. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE.
[vii] Waiselfisz, J. (2015). Mapa da Violência 2015: Mortes Matadas Por Armas de Fogo. Brasília: UNESCO.
Instituto Pereira Passos (IPP) and Instituto TIM. (2017). Agentes da Transformação: Cadernos da Juventude Carioca. Rio de Janeiro: Instituto Pereira Passos.
[viii] For more on Networks for Youth Agency (Agência de Redes Para Juventude), please visit: http://agenciarj.org (in Portuguese).
[ix] For information on Agency’s UK version, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/yourbusiness/young-enterprise/11489791/How-the-Rio-slums-helped-inspire-a-start-up-revolution.html
[x] The full methodology promoted by Agency lasts a total of four months, but groups who are not awarded the funds to implement their projects leave the program at an earlier phase upon completion of the first two months of workshops.

About the author:

UntitledVeriene Melo is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and a former visiting student at the ISS. For over five years, she worked at the Stanford Program on Poverty and Governance (PovGov), participating in policy-oriented research projects on public security, local governance, and youth education with a focus on Rio’s favelas.