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The “Joyous, Sometimes Labored Breathing” of an Alternative in Rural Brazil

#Blog#Defense of Territory#Grassroots Feminisms#Human Rights Defense
May 2019

Tarso Ramos

Delegation Participant

In late April, Grassroots International, our partners, and our allies hosted a delegation to Brazil. The seven-member delegation met with social movements like the Landless Workers’ Movement and ASSEMA as they deal with threats from a growing right wing.

Tarso Ramos is a friend, a former Grassroots International board member, Executive Director of Political Research Associates, and a member of our delegation to Brazil. Here, he reports back from witnessing the ongoing resilience and resistance of these communities amid dark times.

Our delegation to Maranhão came only months after the inauguration of Brazil’s fascistic new president, Jair Bolsonaro. Yet it was immediately evident that social movements are already confronting escalating attacks on human rights in general and land-based communities in particular.

We met with movements of landless workers, Afro-descendent quilombola communities, and Indigenous Peoples who are coming together with determination to support each other and jointly confront crises of displacement, ecocide, and authoritarianism. I was inspired by this growing alignment, and by the prominence of women’s leadership across the movements and communities we visited.

At quilombola gatherings and MST settlements, women organizers, educators, and elders were at the forefront of their communities’ struggles. Their grassroots feminisms starkly contrasted with the toxic masculinity and rising militarism so evident in Brazil, the U.S., and beyond.

It was likewise inspiring to see what these movements have been able to build in a region that has long been dominated by a powerful and brutal landed oligarchy, including community-controlled schools and curriculum, worker cooperatives, and self-governed agricultural settlements.

“Grassroots International’s delegation was right on time, with a message of unfailing solidarity with people’s movements in Brazil and determination to globalize their struggles”

Beyond any of these remarkable accomplishments, these real-world solutions, Brazil’s social movements and traditional communities have won something even more important: viable alternatives to capitalist arrangements of domination, extraction, commodification, and expulsion. Another world is indeed possible and we could hear its sometimes joyous and sometimes labored breathing in rural Brazil.

The Right-Wing Threat

The rise of authoritarianism – and its determination to accelerate failed extractive models – threatens all of this. As in the U.S. and many other places around the globe, a coalition of unfettered capitalists, right-wing religious movements, and racial nationalists has seized power.

In Maranhão, a state already known for landowner violence, we learned about more frequent assassinations of community leaders, increased U.S. military presence at the Alcântara army base (and, by extension, the resource-rich Amazon basin), and the Bolsonaro regime’s subordination of indigenous and quilombola rights to mining and agribusiness. Communities and the natural systems on which all life depends are under unprecedented pressure.

The Brazilian government’s invitation to U.S. corporations – and the U.S. military – to effectively recolonize Brazil has sent shock waves through the region. Land grabs – whether by Chinese companies or Harvard University – are increasingly common as speculators seek to profit from commercializing the Amazon rainforest.

Given these realities, Brazilian social movements rightly fear what the immediate future holds. Grassroots International’s delegation was right on time, with a message of unfailing solidarity with people’s movements in Brazil and determination to globalize their struggles, and in so doing, to globalize hope and democratic possibilities.

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