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Report Summary June 7, 2011
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Brazil on the Rise
Can the vast nation maintain its progress?
By Brian Beary

Centuries ago, Brazil was a remote Portuguese colony. Today the biggest nation in Latin America has evolved into a stable democracy, a regional power and an important U.S. and European Union partner. Economic. . . .

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The Issues
  • Is Brazil's economy a model for developing countries?
  • Is Brazil doing enough to stop deforestation?
  • Can Brazil be a superpower?


Pro/Con
Should Brazil become a permanent Security Council member?

Pro Pro
Carlos Eduardo Lins Da Silva
Editor, Política Externa, São Paulo, Brazil. Written for CQ Global Researcher, June 2011
Ray Walser
Senior Policy Analyst, Heritage Foundation. Written for CQ Global Researcher, June 2011


Spotlight
Despite safeguards, traditional way of life is threatened.

Deforestation is dramatically shrinking Brazil's legendary Amazon rain forest — threatening dozens of indigenous tribes. But deforestation is only the latest threat from outsiders encroaching on native peoples' homeland.

Ever since Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived in Brazil in 1500, new diseases, slavery, warfare, loss of land and marriage to outsiders have caused native peoples' numbers to decline steadily, notes University of Maryland anthropologist Janet Chernela, an expert on indigenous Amazonian groups. Today, the Amazon's native population totals about 600,000, compared to the 2 million to 4 million who lived in Brazil when Cabral arrived.

Most recently, the biggest threat has been the loss of their culture and way of life due to depletion of their rain forest habitat.Footnote 1 As a result, native peoples are adopting multitasking lifestyles, says Jason Bremner, director of population, health and environment at the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington D.C., think tank.

“They may hunt and farm while also working as security guards for oil companies. There is a lot of diversity among them, and they all use the land differently,” he says. Some support communal land rights, while others claim ownership of designated plots. “We need to understand these divergences when devising a conservation strategy.”Footnote 2

Indigenous Brazilians have traditionally lived in small settlements and made decisions by consensus. “Governance and leadership among indigenous peoples is not always understood by outsiders, who often assume the existence of a tribal chief,” says Chernela. Several indigenous associations have emerged since the late 1980s, she notes, but no national-level organization represents all the groups.

Native peoples' subsistence lifestyles rely heavily on the forests for hunting, fishing and farming — activities that have a “light ecological impact,” Chernela says. They usually harvest a portion of land for up to 10 years, then leave it fallow until the forest regenerates. “They are stewards of the forests,” she says, in contrast to how non-native people use the land, which “is generally unsustainable.”

Steve Schwartzman, director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in Washington, is an Amazon expert who lived with the Panara group for more than a year in the early 1980s. Since the 1960s, he says, when the government began building roads into the Amazon, the Panara's isolation from the rest of Brazil has been breached, with catastrophic results.

“Within five years, about 60 percent of the indigenous Panara died from common illnesses like colds, flu and measles,” he says. The population nearly collapsed in the 1970s but has rebounded in recent years, largely due to higher birth rates, he says.

Indigenous Brazilians protest dam projects in the Amazon (Getty Images/Ben Hider)
Indigenous Brazilians protest dam projects in the Amazon that will flood their lands, including the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, expected to be the world's third-largest and to attract 100,000 new settlers to the area. The demonstration was held outside Brazil's Permanent Mission to the U.N. in New York City on April 28, 2010. (Getty Images/Ben Hider)

Adoption of the 1988 Brazilian constitution, which guaranteed collective ownership of lands originally occupied by indigenous Brazilians, was a landmark event for native groups, which now enjoy limited autonomy in several protected areas.Footnote 3 However, the process of designating indigenous lands has stalled, Chernela says, and many Amazonians have lost their land to expanding industrial agriculture. A new organization, the 1.5-million-member Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Workers' Movement), supports landless populations' efforts to occupy unused lands.

But not all indigenous peoples live in the native territories. For example, three-quarters of the 40,000 people living in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, a city in northwestern Brazil, are indigenous, and the municipality has recognized three native tongues as official languages since 2002.

The constitution also removed a ban on native populations being educated in their own languages, which has triggered a rise in indigenous teachers and bilingual schooling. The Brazilian government also has adopted key global treaties that boost native peoples' rights, including the 1989 International Labor Organization's Convention 169 and the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.Footnote 4

Given the global interest in maintaining the fragile Amazon ecosystem, indigenous peoples have been seeking clarification of their right to manage their own food supply, particularly with regard to subsistence farming, hunting and fishing in protected forests. Erick Fernandes, World Bank adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean on agriculture and rural development, notes that the “indigenous people asked what their legal rights were to take charge of this issue and were told they do have a right.”Footnote 5

Looking to the future, habitat changes will continue to impinge heavily on Amazonian peoples. For example, the water supply of indigenous groups appears threatened after the Brazilian government's decision in May to give next-to-final approval for Pará state's proposed Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River. The structure is expected to be the world's third-largest dam and to power 23 million Brazilian homes.Footnote 6 It also is expected to bring 100,000 new settlers to the area.

Indigenous groups struggle to prevent such developments, primarily because they lack strong political representation in state and national parliaments, which don't properly defend native rights, says Chernela.

However, the picture is not entirely bleak. The EDF's Schwartzman believes the Brazilian government has, over the past decade, gotten more serious about preserving the Amazon, and indigenous people have become more assertive.

“Their land rights are much stronger since 1988,” he says. “Their story across the region is one of relocation, followed by ethnic reaffirmation.”

— Brian Beary

[1] Fiona Harvey, “The long road to rainforest conservation,” Financial Times, June 28 2010, www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9195323a-7d13-11df-8845-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=1ab2a3bc-7d38-11df-8845-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1HWckVicv.

Footnote:
1. Fiona Harvey, “The long road to rainforest conservation,” Financial Times, June 28 2010, www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9195323a-7d13-11df-8845-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=1ab2a3bc-7d38-11df-8845-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1HWckVicv.

[2] Comments made during roundtable discussion: “Deforestation, Population and Development in a Warming World,” Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, Feb. 15, 2011.

Footnote:
2. Comments made during roundtable discussion: “Deforestation, Population and Development in a Warming World,” Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, Feb. 15, 2011.

[3] Brazil's constitution is at www.v-brazil.com/government/laws/titleVIII.html.

Footnote:
3. Brazil's constitution is at www.v-brazil.com/government/laws/titleVIII.html.

[4] See “C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989,” International Labour Organization, www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl?C169; and “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” United Nations, www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/drip.html.

Footnote:
4. See “C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989,” International Labour Organization, www.ilo.org/ilolex/cgi-lex/convde.pl?C169; and “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” United Nations, www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/drip.html.

[5] Comments made at a conference organized by the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: “Brazil and Africa: Cooperation for Innovation in Agriculture and What the U.S. Can Do,” U.S. House of Representatives, May 16, 2011.

Footnote:
5. Comments made at a conference organized by the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: “Brazil and Africa: Cooperation for Innovation in Agriculture and What the U.S. Can Do,” U.S. House of Representatives, May 16, 2011.

[6] Gary Duffy, “Brazil grants environmental licence for Belo Monte dam,” BBC News, Feb. 2, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8492577.stm.

Footnote:
6. Gary Duffy, “Brazil grants environmental licence for Belo Monte dam,” BBC News, Feb. 2, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8492577.stm.


Document Citation
Beary, B. (2011, June 7). Brazil on the rise. CQ Global Researcher, 5, 263-290. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/globalresearcher/
Document ID: cqrglobal2011060700
Document URL: http://library.cqpress.com/globalresearcher/cqrglobal2011060700


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