Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the Brazilians resisting their far-right President; this includes standing in solidarity with the country’s inspiring Black Lives Matter movement, writes Brazil Solidarity Initiative Vice-Chair, Claudia Webbe MP. (8/01/2020)
In the face of concerted opposition and smears from the country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil was a global centre of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020, with people again and again taking part in inspiring mass acts of resistance and huge mobilisations for equality.
In this context, the recent murder of Afro-Brazilian João Alberto Silveira Freitas by security guards at a Porto Alegre Carrefor supermarket triggered mass protests, with thousands of protesters joining one march in Sao Paulo alone.
Soon afterwards, São Paulo artist NegoVila was shot dead by off-duty Police, again sparking protests.
These deaths were followed last month by the shooting of two young black girls. Emily Victoria Moreira dos Santos (aged four) and Rebeca Beatriz Rodrigues Santos (aged seven), were allegedly killed by police and this tragedy meant the number of children killed in Rio this year is eight, nearly all black children, and leading to more protests in a country where the majority of people identify as black or brown.
There have also been protests and other campaigns drawing attention to widespread allegations of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against demonstrators following these deaths.
Alongside these tragic developments, the role of police racism is also being highlighted by the BLM movement, and it was recently revealed in a survey by the Institute of Public Security (ISP) that 80% of those killed by Police in Rio de Janeiro were Black, this was in line with the official data published.
Specifically, state data indicates that 80.3 percent of those killed in police operations in the first half of 2019 were Black. That is a shocking 711 of an equally shocking total figure of 885 deaths.
As prominent Brazilian human rights lawyer Gabriel Sampaio put it, “Above all, it is a portrait of deaths that reveals how structural racism is in Brazil and how much it is institutional.”
This whole question of state killings and impunity strongly relates to the issue of Bolsonaro’s future. He has been involved in a series of scandals due to his position of openly emboldening violence, including from the police forces and by glorifying the repressive days of the country’s previous military regime which governed with impunity from 1964 to 1985.
That Brazil’s massive BLM and anti-racist movements are on the right side of history was further shown when – in light of João Alberto Silveira’s murder – the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) pointedly said that “Government officials in Brazil have a particular responsibility to acknowledge the persisting racism in the country.”
And as spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani added, “The structural racism, discrimination, and violence that people of African descent face in Brazil is documented by official data, which indicates that the number of Afro-Brazilian victims of homicide is disproportionately higher than other groups.”
In another important development, October 12 was declared Black and Indigenous Liberation Day by some of the country’s social and anti-racist movements, in contrast to the day previously being termed “Columbus Day” observed by many countries of the Americas and including in Italy and Spain, and as a recognition of the need to reject a history of racism and colonialism.
In addition to this widespread, inspiring and determined opposition of black, indigenous and anti-racist movements, as I have previously written, Bolsonaro also faces continuing resistance to his deadly handling of the country’s Coronavirus crisis, which still remains totally out of control.
In one recent act of defiance and solidarity, a convoy of over 30 ambulances sounded their sirens in the country’s largest city Sao Paulo, in a one-minute tribute to those who have died in the crisis.
“We sounded the ambulance sirens, so the people take into account the memory and respect for those who died,” said Jean Gorinchteyn, health secretary for the state of Sao Paulo.
In a particularly relevant remark, in light of the continued belittling of the extent and seriousness of the Coronavirus by Bolsonaro, he added that “it serves to call attention to wearing face masks and respecting social distancing to fight the pandemic.”
Just one day before, supporters of Bolsonaro had continued the far-right’s reckless approach – despite the country having the third highest number of cases and second highest coronavirus deaths in the world – by occupying the same space to protest against vaccination, a policy that state governor Joao Doria proposes to be mandatory there.
The people of Brazil have also dealt Bolsonaro a blow in recent local elections, with candidates he backed faced with heavy defeats, including in the three biggest places in terms of the number of voters. In Sao Paulo, his preferred candidate finished fourth and in Rio de Janeiro his preferred candidate lost the mayoral election by over 30 points. And in Belo Horizonte, Bolsonaro’s favoured candidate failed to progress.
Internationally, the defeat of Donald Trump to Joe Biden in the US Presidential race is also a big defeat for Bolsonaro who has been one of Trump’s main allies on the world stage.
In particular, Bolsonaro felt the wrath of Biden after the US President-elect promised to allocate US$20,000 million to the countries of the Amazon in exchange for their commitment to preserving the forest, something which Bolsonaro has completely failed to do by continuing to encourage de-forestation and expanding agro-industry and mining.
According to data from the National Institute of Space Research, wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon area increased 120% in October compared to the same period in 2019, yet Bolsonaro has consistently argued that the fires recorded in the Amazon are nothing but “lies.”
The defeat of Trump has shown that it is possible to defeat the extreme right – as Brazil’s BLM, indigenous, environmental, public health, trade union, Left and other progressive movements seek to put Bolsonaro alongside Trump in the dustbin of history, they deserve nothing less than our full international solidarity and support.
- Claudia Webbe is the MP for Leicester East and Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative.
Photo credit: Trump delivers a personalised football shirt to Bolsonaro – Isac Nóbrega/PR