Don’t let Bolsonaro’s Brazil join you, non-profits urge OECD

Non-profits criticise Brazil’s candidacy to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development while dismantling socio-environmental policies

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 12 May 2021
Jair Bolsonaro meeting fellow populist Narendra Modi, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. File Photo credit: Twitter@narendramodi__

Over 60 civil society organisations delivered a letter to the Secretary-General-Select of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Mathias Cormann May 12, 2021 raising concerns about Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s human rights, social and environmental agenda ahead of the country’s attempt to join as a member state.

One of the main issues addressed by the letter is a proposed law backed by Bolsonaro and a conservative agribusiness lobby (known as the ‘ruralistas’) that is set to be approved by the country’s Lower House (Chamber of Deputies) at any time.

The Bill would undermine critical elements of national legislation concerning environmental impact assessments and licensing, as a means to fast-track approval of high-risk projects, according to a press statement by non-profit, International Rivers

The letter also warns of the dangers of another proposed law that, if passed, would allow industrial mining, hydroelectric dams, gas and oil exploration, as well as other high-impact activities on indigenous lands. These lands are the most preserved areas in the country, with vital functions for protecting biodiversity and addressing climate change. 

In addition, the organisations also warned the OECD  about what is known by its opponents as the “Land-Grabbing Law”, that would facilitate granting of private land titles to large-scale speculators and ranchers that have invaded and illegally cleared forests on public lands.

“We are dealing with one of the largest institutional attacks to the protection of the environmental, climate, indigenous people, quilombola communities and other traditional people and communities in Brazil,” the organisations that signed the letter, said.

They highlighted that there was no intention nor priority by the Bolsonaro government to improve socio-environmental protections. On the contrary, there were several Bills drafted by the executive itself and by Congressional allies from the ruralista lobby that severely threatened collective rights to an ecologically balanced environment, which is guaranteed by Article 225 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution. These Bills also weaken the fight against climate change.

Lack of response to the pandemic

The letter, which has also been sent to OECD sitting Secretary-General Angel Gurría, highlights how poorly Bolsonaro has handled the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic for the past year.

“President Bolsonaro constantly underestimated the severity of the disease, supported the use of ineffective and unproven treatments, ignored the urgency to buy vaccines, attacked local officials who adopted measures to fight the pandemic and discouraged the use of masks and the population from staying at home policies as a means of containment contagion,” it read.

Brazil’s accession process could not be an endorsement of the country’s current conduct of socio-environmental and human rights policies, the letter read. Should the process move forward, “special attention is recommended, especially with regard to the resumption of public policies that gave them protection and to the non-setback in Brazilian socio-environmental legislation, in addition to the promotion of democratic space,” it said.

“Turning a blind eye to recent backtracking on human rights and environmental safeguards in examining Brazil’s candidacy to this multilateral organization would send exactly the wrong signal to the Bolsonaro administration, encouraging an escalation of already intense social and environmental conflicts, including rampant deforestation and burning in the Amazon and other sensitive biomes,” Brent Millikan, Amazon programme director at International Rivers, one of the co-authors of the letter, said.  

Brazil has been invited to OECD meetings since 1999 but has not yet joined as a member state. Bolsonaro has been pushing for the country’s accession since campaigning for the presidency in 2018 and has made concessions to countries such as the US in order to gather support to fully enter the OECD.

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