Burning Issues: The Environment, Human Rights, and Democracy in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

Brazil, a country so well known yet one I had almost no full understanding of. I knew that I had to attend at least one of the seminars for the Burning Issues: The Environment, Human Rights, and Democracy in Bolsonaro’s Brazil once I saw the flyer for this event in the GEF Newsletter. All of these topics (The Environment, Human Rights, and Democracy), but particularly human rights issues are concerns that I always want to learn more about. As a Human Relations major and Nonprofit Organization Studies minor, I know that human issues are often topics addressed on a surface level within particular spheres or settings. Being able to attend a seminar on this scale of information is an opportunity I was not wanting to miss.

I was pleasantly surprised to log onto the zoom and be welcomed by the lively background music and hosts setting up the event. I was even more pleasantly surprised to see that it would be an event in both Portuguese and English! Despite the delay in getting started, the audience was able to receive a little background of what is currently going on in Brazil and how the Interamerican commissions are working to support some of the work in Brazil that is being done. It was important to point out that there were safety concerns for the speakers and participants of the seminar which is why it was structured as a webinar and ultimately lead to some of the complications with connections! After this brief introduction period, we were finally able to be in contact with Monica Benício who is a City Council member in the city of Rio and widow of Marielle Franco — a Rio de Janeiro Congresswoman tragically assassinated in 2018.

Monica discussed to us in her native language how the protests have emerged within Brazil and grown over time as the citizens demand their rights. There was an emphasis on the general sense of being exhausted and tired from the process as a whole. The corruption witnessed by the population includes a turbulent period with high violence, especially against women. There have been demonstrations in Rio since 2014 that worked to express the exhaustion the communities are facing as they combat the oppressive nature of the current ‘democratic’ system within Brazil. We were also able to hear about the assination of Marielle and how it moved society not only because of the assination but also because of what she represented politically. As a Black woman in power, her impact was incredibly substantial throughout several communities across Brazil. Unfortunately, this meant that the majority at large would not work to protect her and instead forcefully removed her from power.

I am incredibly privileged to have been able to attend such an engaging and informing seminar this past semester. I have a huge list of notes that I was able to gather from this day and that I will continue to learn from over time. Human rights are critical components of our lives and every day their availability is tested by individuals seeking to maintain or establish power over marginalized communities. We must work to be better informed.

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