The Challenge to Democracy in Brazil

A new report from the TUC, The Challenge to Democracy in Brazil, looks at the situation in that country since Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) government was overthrown in 2017 in a judicial and congressional coup. Since then, an unprecedented assault on the rights of organised labour and the country’s welfare state has been in full swing.

The 50-page report covers four major areas of concern: labour rights and austerity; democracy and human rights; racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia; and the environment and indigenous rights.

On union rights, the report notes that Brazil has been catapulted into the ITUC’s list of the 10 Worst Countries for Working People, with a rating of “No guarantee of Rights”. Strikes are violently repressed and trade unionists are threatened and murdered.

Far right President Bolsonaro has unilaterally ended ‘check off’, the process by which employers facilitate union membership through payroll collections, immediately plunging Brazil’s trade unions into a deep financial crisis. He has even abolished the Ministry of Labour, established in 1930. Labour reforms include increasing the workday from 8 to 12 hours and making it easier to fire workers. For all Bolsonaro’s talk of workers “enjoying an excess of rights”, fewer than 15% of Brazil’s workers are in trade unions.

Meanwhile austerity measures have strangled Brazil’s ability to respond to Covid-19, which Bolsonaro dismissed as “a little flu”. Budget cuts, particularly in education and pensions, as well as privatisations, undermine any social safety net and increase the gap between the country’s wealthy elite and the mass of ordinary people.

On human rights, the report underlines that the government has rapidly reversed advances made by previous administrations. Political violence is on the rise. The report notes: “The most famous victim of political violence in recent years was Marielle Franco, a Black, socialist, bisexual city councillor in Rio de Janeiro, from the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), who was brutally murdered in 2018 by members of a Rio de Janeiro militia with close ties to Bolsonaro and his family.”

Bolsonaro has pushed for legislation that would effectively grant police a license to kill in any situation in which they feel threatened. His government has even published a list of journalists, activists, and social media influencers that it considers hostile to its agenda, and has encouraged its supporters to attack them online.

Violence is also on the increase against black, female and LGBT+ Brazilians. The country has one of the worst records of violence against women and trans people in the world. Black youth are also far more likely to be victims of state violence, accounting for roughly 75% of those killed by police. Furthermore, women’s reproductive rights are under threat, with the government favouring the elimination of all forms of abortion in Brazil.

On environmental protection and indigenous rights, the report states that an area seven times larger than Greater London was lost to deforestation in Brazil between August 2019 and July 2020. Bolsonaro has systematically defunded environmental protection and promises to legalise mining in indigenous territories. The report suggests that impunity is state policy. At the same time, Brazil has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists, with 24 activists being murdered in 2019 alone.

The TUC report makes some important recommendations to the UK government. These include a moratorium on all trade talks with Brazil as long as the Bolsonaro government fails to respect international labour and human rights standards and environmental protections. In particular, the glowing remarks about how “the environment for exporters should improve under the new government of Jair Bolsonaro” should be immediately removed from the UK Government exporting guide to Brazil. Instead, businesses should be warned that human rights violations might be present in their value chain if they invest in Brazil.

MPs too need to raise concerns about the labour and human rights abuses taking place in Brazil and be ready to oppose any trade deal with Brazil while the country fails to respect international labour and human rights standards and environmental protections.

Trade unions are also encouraged to alert their members to the dangers of a UK-Brazil trade deal and to build solidarity links with Brazilian trade unions.

The full report is available here.

Image: Protests against Bolsonaro during Brazil’s Independence Day. Author: Tetizeraz, made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

EVENT: Latin America 2021 Conference. Saturday 4th December 2021 | 10am-5pm.
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Speakers include: • Jeremy Corbyn MP • Kate Hudson, CND • John McDonnell MP • Claudia Turbet-Delof, Bolivia • Richard Burgon MP • Mariela Kohon, TUC • Julia Felmanas, Brazil • Jon Trickett MP • Dr Emily Morris • Jess Barnard, Young Labour • Bárbara Montalvo, Cuban Ambassador • Gabriel Rodriguez, Argentina • Guiselle Morales-Echaverry, Nicaraguan Ambassador • Rocio Maniero, Venezuelan Ambassador • Fidel Narvaez, Ecuador • Valia Rodriguez, Cuban doctor • Tony Burke, Unite • Roger McKenzie, Liberation • Ronan Burtenshaw, Editor, Tribune • Ben Chacko, Editor, Morning Star • Belgica Guaña, Ecuador • Plus more great speakers to be announced.

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Bringing together experts, academics, trade unionists, politicians, and activists from the UK, Europe and Latin America. Sessions include:Biden Vs Trump: what difference does it make to Latin America?Solidarity with Bolivia – social progress, democracy & equalityPeru – Where now after the Left’s presidential election victory?Brazil – could the growing resistance the far-right Bolsonaro signal Lula’s return?Argentina – alternatives & resistance to neo-liberalismVenezuela – End the sanctions, Give back the goldColombia – can the people win peace and justice?Cuba: Manufacturing Dissent – US funding and media reportingNicaragua: Nicaraguan elections and beyond
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