Thoughts and Links on the Amazon and on the Brazilian Navy

Rob over has some interesting thoughts/reflections on the Brazilian navy over at World Politics Review. Rob’s knowledge of naval politics and history, as well as his background in security matters, is far greater than mine, and it provides an important reminder that although military dictatorships may  be a thing of the past in South America, military spending and policy are still an important part of the modern state, one that historians too often overlook.

Meanwhile, Erik has some comments on Brazil’s recent updating of the forest code to expand deforestation of the Amazon, which the Brazilian Senate approved by a vote of 58-8. I agree with Erik on most accounts, and I would only add two additional comments. First is the issue of senatorial politics in Brazil. Each Brazilian state has 3 senators, and with at least 11 states with major direct stakes in the Amazon, that gives 33 senators for Amazonian states, already approaching a simple majority. Most of these senators from Brazil’s North and Northeast are closely tied to the business interests and landowning interests that profit from the destruction of the forest. These regions in Brazil are really where the last bastion of the coronelismo, or patronage politics, of the 19th century remains strongest. If politicians aren’t large landholders themselves (and they usually are), they’re directly connected to those interests through marriage, financial donations, business partnerships, etc. It’s the same reason why so many murders of environmental activists go unpunished – they’re ultimately tied directly to the wealthy who have the power to pull political strings that prevent prosecutions. Certainly, that doesn’t address why only 8 senators voted against the issue, but the fraternal “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality of many senators may also play a role (alongside the desire to control national resources, as you mention). Voting for deforestation is a vote to aid themselves or their wealthy supporters, often at the expense of the poor and of indigenous minorities.

Secondly, I wouldn’t doubt if ostensibly “managed” deforestation had broad support in Brazil (though it’s not clear that the government can control or manage the deforestation of the region any better now than it has in the past). In my time in Brazil, I regularly heard the argument that environmentalists needed to leave Brazil alone and that it was none of their business, even from far leftists who framed it exactly in the terms you mention above (it’s just imperialism, it’s not like the “first world” has room to judge, etc.). It’s easy to understand these arguments, and there is some fairness in them even while the so-called “developed” countries continue to pollute and leave a larger carbon footprint, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about conserving and protecting what remains (to say nothing of the forest’s ability to produce oxygen, its biodiversity, and its function as a habitat to indigenous peoples across numerous countries).

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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