Table of Contents
- Corruption as a Protracted Issue in Brazil
- Amazon Fires: Direct Consequences of Corruption and Extreme Policies
Although corruption is a universal phenomenon, Latin America and Brazil, particularly, have evoked global attention in terms of corruption. Brazil is often mentioned in the media for its numerous corrupt issues since the military dictatorship ceased in 1985. And though recent investigations into corrupt practices revealed a deeply corrupt system, little has been done to reform the economic and political system in Brazil. Recent corruption scandals that fuelled the controversial Amazon fires are evidence of systemic and deliberate corrupt activities that are rooted in dysfunctional policies, lack of transparency, and a political system that lacks coherence and sustainability. This paper examines the concept of corruption, pattern and history of corruption in Brazil, and the effect of the current administration’s populist and corrupt ideologies on the spread and magnitude of the Amazon fires as well as its consequences on the nation and the world in general.
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Corruption as a Protracted Issue in Brazil
Popularly defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, corruption, according to Lehmann et al. (236), is a global problem that often characterizes economic power and political relations. Corruption is viewed as a serious problem by the international community and represents a yardstick for identifying poor delivery of public services and weak nations (World Bank 15). Corruption largely influences development and has been linked to income inequality and reduced growth (Lehmann et al. 236) as well as other measurable and indirect impacts such as the erosion “of public trust in government”. This inhibits the state’s ability to properly combat poverty and promote the sustenance and maintenance of important public services which eventually mitigates the authority and legitimacy of government institutions, making them susceptible to violence and internal conflict (Chapman 17). In developing nations where corruption is rife, the citizens experience its direct impact in terms of dearth of proper sanitation and water, education, health, employment, security, and safety (Nunes 1-3). This pattern has been observed in Latin and South American nations such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela. Therefore, focus on Latin America by international organizations is not surprising and their efforts to alleviate corruption have recently instigated several initiatives such as the “GAIN” program launched in 2014 which primarily focuses on reconstructing institutions and systems for appropriate delivery and management of public services and resources.
As a nation, Brazil has also been plagued by corruption-related issues for a protracted period of time. This has eroded people’s trust in the country’s political system and its institutions. Based on the recent Transparency International Index, Brazil occupies the 79th position on the list of most corrupt nations (Lehmann et al. 233). According to Moro (162), these corruption-related issues have “deep historical roots”. Since the democratization of Brazil in 1985, corruption has heavily impacted politics and the socioeconomic lives of the nation’s citizens (Nunes 1). Fernando Collor, for example, underwent the process of impeachment for the misappropriation of public funds in 1992 (Moro 117). Sequences of corruption have had detrimental effects on the nation’s economic development, and democracy, which has taken three decades to sustain, is under attack.
Brazil’s political crisis undermines “its democratic institutions”. This is evident in “Operation Car Wash” which is considered the “largest anti-corruption investigation” in the history of Brazil, uncovering networks of corruption that involved “billions of dollars” and has led to a hundred convictions and three hundred indictments. Some of those affected include Michel Temer, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Dilma Rousseff (Fogel 154). Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right and current president, also engenders the legacy of corruption in the country through the implementation of controversial and extreme policies for personal gain. As explained below, one example of the consequences of such extremist policies is the ongoing annihilation of the Amazon.
Amazon Fires: Direct Consequences of Corruption and Extreme Policies
In 2019, an unprecedented surge in the annual incidences of fire in the Amazon rainforest was recorded. Normally, fires occur during dry seasons due to an increase in preparations for the farming season which often require the clearing of the forest and other activities such as mining, logging, livestock farming, and agriculture. These activities often lead to illegal deforestation. However, legal measures that curtail such practice are not stringent enough and the protection for the environment is not legally enforced or prioritized by the government. The fires, stoked by these illegal activities, led to an international outcry regarding the fate of the Amazon—an important global factor for inhibiting global warming and regulating carbon dioxide emissions (Quintavalle 1). According to a report, the smoke emitted by the fires was so immense that it kept Sao Paolo in darkness during daytime and about 81,000 fire incidents were recorded in the Amazon during that period while around 41,000 occurred in the BLA (Brazil’s Legal Amazon) which constitutes sixty percent of the Amazon rainforest (Miranda 2). By August 2019, it was estimated that about 907 hectares of the forest had been obliterated by fire. Besides its effect on the “global climate”, these fires also instigated environmental issues due to excess carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.
ENGOs (environmental non-governmental organizations) and international leaders deeply expressed their concerns and attributed the unwelcome development to the current Brazilian president’s policies which had particularly inhibited “environmental protections” and engendered extreme deforestation in the Amazon region since the inception of his government in early 2019 (Meyer 4). Initially, Bolsonaro refused to display any concerns and even dubbed the international criticisms as sensational in nature. Man-made deforestation, the leading cause of the fires in the Amazon region, has largely been attributed to the activities of the Brazilian government, as about 192 million acres of Amazon has been consumed by the nation since the 1970s and most of the forest’s resources have been used for mining and agricultural purposes as well as logging and cattle rearing.
Due to the focus of the international community on the Amazon between 2000 and 2014, there was a drastic 83.5% reduction in deforestation within the region. However, the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2019 marked the beginning of a rapid decline in environmental protection statutes, as they were reversed and weakened to enhance unfavorable farming practices, thereby accelerating the rate of deforestation. Bolsonaro’s government has also been utilized by land-grabbers to increase their activities in the isolated parts of the Amazon (Alvarez 5). Upon his assumption of office, Bolsonaro heavily cut funding for environmental agencies in Brazil and increased state control over the agricultural sector in order to deliberately promote lobbying, weaken protections in territories and natural reserves that are occupied by the indigenous population, as well as to encourage “the filing of counter-land claims against the places managed by forest practices that are sustainable” (Miranda 5).
These dramatic developments have occurred from political captivity and ideology that not only put Brazil at risk politically and economically but the world in general. Therefore, it is necessary that the environmental international agencies and other significant players stem the evil through increased global awareness, the Brazilian government’s accountability, and national political reorientation. Accountability can only be achieved in a system where justice is esteemed, irrespective of the perpetrator’s political and economic status. Although this is still a fledgling development in Brazil, the justice system can put an end to a practice that encourages perpetrators to act freely without being punished.
Corruption is a phenomenon that heavily impacts Brazil as a nation. Even though recent investigations into corrupt practices revealed a deeply corrupt system, little has been done to reform the economic and political system in the country. A recent corruption issue that fuelled the controversial Amazon fires is evidence of systemic and deliberate corrupt activities that are rooted in dysfunctional policies. Man-made deforestation, the leading cause of the fires in the Amazon region, has largely been attributed to the activities of the Brazilian government, as about 192 million acres of Amazon have been consumed by the nation since the 1970s. It is, therefore, necessary that international agencies and other significant players stem the evil through increased global awareness, the Brazilian government’s accountability, and national political reorientation.