Category Archives: President Jair Bolsonaro

Our Vanishing World: Rainforests

East Creek investigation finds clearcutting rare intact old-growth on Vancouver Island


Rainforests are a crucial feature of Earth’s biosphere. Apart from being critical to Earth’s climate and vital carbon sinks, the major player in Earth’s hydrological (water) cycle, a massive producer of oxygen and home to most of the world’s species, rainforests are the home of a large Indigenous human population. They are also the source of many vital resources, including medicines, used by humans around the world.

However, the vast range of ecological services that rainforests have provided for the 400 million years of their existence, and which have been critical to the survival of Homo sapiens since we first walked the Earth 200,000 years ago, are not measured and valued by accountants and economists. Have you ever seen a balance sheet or set of national accounts that includes an entry for ‘Value of ecological services taken from nature and on which life and our entire production of goods and services depend’?

Because these services have been available without the need for human management or intervention, and given the primitive conception of accounting and economics that humans use, the ecological services of rainforests are given no monetary value. Hence, essential ecological services are treated as worthless by virtually everyone in the industrialized world. As a result, modern industrialized humans have decided to systematically destroy the rainforests in order to extract a vast amount of short-term profit for the benefit of a few and the temporary satisfaction of many. So if we do not value ecological services such as oxygen and water generation as well as climate and weather-moderating capacities, what is it that we do value by destroying rainforests?

A small proportion of rainforest is logged to provide attractive rainforest timbers – such as teak, mahogany, ebony and rosewood – for a variety of decorative purposes, including making furniture, which can last hundreds of years.

However, a much wider range and vastly greater quantity of rainforest trees are cut or burnt down for purposes such as the following: acquiring timber used in construction, clearing land to establish cattle farms so that many people can eat cheap hamburgers, clearing land to establish palm oil plantations so that many people can eat processed (including junk) foods based on this oil, clearing land to establish palm oil and soy bean plantations so that some people can delude themselves that they are using a ‘green biofuel’ in their car (when, in fact, these fuels generate a far greater carbon footprint than fossil fuels), mining (much of it illegal) for a variety of minerals (such as gold, silver, copper, coltan, cassiterite and diamonds), and logging to produce woodchips so that some people can buy cheap paper, including cheap toilet paper.

In essence then: We trade the essential life-giving and sustainably-available ecological services of Earth’s rainforests, also home to Indigenous peoples and countless wildlife, for hamburgers and other processed junk foods, carbon-intensive ‘biofuels’, paper and some building and furniture materials, as well as some minerals. Obviously, some humans are far from clever at ‘making deals’.

But if you think that is bad, consider this: ‘by one estimate, a hectare of livestock or soy is worth between $25 and $250, while the same hectare of sustainably managed forest can yield as much as $850’ harvesting, depending on the location, such products as medicinal plants, rubber, nuts and fruits while benefitting from a range of ecotourism services and research opportunities. Of course, you have to know how to manage the forest sustainably to yield this much income but that sort of intelligence is rare and invariably escapes those focused on destruction for short-term profit.

So how bad is this rainforest destruction? Well, worldwide we are currently destroying rainforests for these unsustainable and mainly short-term products at the rate of 80,000 acres each day.

Moreover, beyond the devastating impact this has on Indigenous peoples, forcing increasing numbers of them to leave their destroyed homes in the rainforest to try to survive elsewhere, this rainforest destruction is also the key driver of species extinctions globally with one million species of life on Earth threatened with extinction. As reported in the recent Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services researched and published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – the scientific body which assesses the state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services this provides to society – ‘Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The IPBES Global Assessment ranks, for the first time at this scale, the 5 direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impact. So what are the culprits behind nature’s destruction?’ Number 1. on the IPBES list is ‘Changes in land and sea use, like turning intact tropical forests into agricultural land’.

Let me briefly illustrate the nature and extent of this destruction by discussing rainforests in just three locations (the Brazilian Amazon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia/West Papua) where the destruction of rainforest was greatest in 2018 and which are representative of elsewhere around the planet where even World Heritage listed areas are ongoingly under threat.

The Brazilian Amazon

While the Amazon in South America occurs in several countries, two-thirds of it lie within the borders of Brazil. Unfortunately, since his fraudulent election in 2018, the neofascist, corrupt and insane president Jair Bolsonaro – see the definition of sanity, which Bolsonaro does not come close to meeting, in “The Global Elite is Insane Revisited” – has promptly eliminated years of painstaking effort by committed indigenous and environmental activists to convince previous governments to protect the Brazilian Amazon from the worst corporate and other depredations.

For just a taste of the documentation on Bolsonaro’s actions in accord with elite interests and to the detriment of Indigenous and environmental well-being, see the following articles/report.1

The key drivers of rainforest destruction in the Amazon are soy production and cattle ranching. Brazilian soy accounted for 14.3% of the country’s total exports, generating $31.0 billion in 2017, while cattle exports accounted for about $5.4 billion. Because Brazil leads the world in exports of both of these commodities, it is the world market for these products that is driving these industries to aggressively expand activities to the detriment of the rainforest and Indigenous peoples.

But the Amazon is huge, you might say: Does it matter if we destroy some of it for soy and cattle farming? Well, one recent study suggested that deforestation of 20–25% of the Amazon would be the tipping point beyond which it would cease to be a functioning rainforest ecosystem and this, as you might expect, would be catastrophic. Moreover, recent severe droughts appear to be ‘the first flickers of this ecological tipping point’ suggesting that it is already imminent.

So, to reiterate, the key driver of rainforest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon is consumer-generated demand for certain products in other parts of the world. And while the US and European countries play critical roles in destruction of the Amazon, China is the largest importer of agricultural products from Brazil so its government and consumers are complicit too. For example, as China’s demand for Brazilian soy surges due to the trade war between the United States and China, ‘it could drive further ecological catastrophe: 13 million hectares (50,000 square miles) in the Amazon and Cerrado could ultimately be cleared to meet this additional demand.’

The point then, is this: governments and ordinary people (in their role as consumers) in other parts of the world can play a vital role in defending the Amazon and its Indigenous peoples by choosing what they buy from Brazil. Boycotting rainforest timber, beef and soy bean products are powerful options to consider. But don’t forget, there is no point simply identifying and boycotting Brazilian timbers, beef and soy beans. If you want impact on the total market (to prevent one country’s timber, beef and soy beans being substituted for another’s), then you must boycott them all (unless you can clearly identify the source of the product as local and sustainable). Obviously, this takes commitment. The future of the Amazon depends largely on enough of us making that commitment.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa

The rainforests of the Congo Basin in central Africa are the second largest on Earth. Much of this rainforest lies within the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, crippled by corrupt government for decades and a new president elected earlier this year who has inherited a corrupt and inefficient state apparatus.

Unfortunately, therefore, rainforests in the Congo have long been under siege on several fronts. With rebel soldiers (such as the Rwanda-backed M23), miners and poachers endlessly plundering inadequately protected national parks and other wild places for their resources, illegal mining is rampant, over-fishing a chronic problem, illegal logging (and other destruction such as charcoal burning for cooking) of rainforests is completely out of control in some places, poaching of hippopotami, elephants, chimpanzees and okapi for ivory and bushmeat is unrelenting (often despite laws against hunting with guns), and wildlife trafficking of iconic species (including the increasingly rare mountain gorilla) simply beyond the concern of most people.

The Congolese natural environment – including the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Virunga National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, together with their park rangers – and the Indigenous peoples such as the Mbuti (‘pygmies’) who live in them, are under siege. In addition to the ongoing mining, smaller corporations that can’t compete with the majors, such as Soco, want to explore and drill for oil.2

Unfortunately too, as with rainforests elsewhere, ‘What Happens in the Congo Basin Doesn’t Stay in the Congo Basin’: it impacts on regions across Africa playing a part, for example, in recent droughts in Ethiopia and Somalia causing millions of people to depend on emergency food and water rations.

As with the Amazon, you have some powerful options to consider if you want to save the Congolese rainforests and their Indigenous peoples. Again, refusing to buy rainforest timbers, conflict minerals and wildlife products is a good start but remember that key minerals in your computer and mobile phone are illegally sourced from the Congo so your thoughtful consideration of minimizing how many of these devices you own can play a part too. For a fuller account of this exploitation and its destructive impact on the rainforests and its Indigenous peoples, with references to many other sources, see ‘500 years is long enough! Human Depravity in the Congo’.

Indonesia and West Papua

Indonesia has the most extensive rainforest cover in Asia – and is home to hundreds of distinct Indigenous languages and over 3,000 animal species including Sumatran tigers, pygmy elephants, rhinoceros and orangutans – but the forests are being systematically degraded and destroyed. Rainforest cover has steadily declined since the 1960s when 82 percent of the country was covered with forest; it is less than 50 percent today. The rainforest is being destroyed by logging, mining, large-scale agricultural plantations (especially for palm oil), colonization, and subsistence activities like shifting agriculture and cutting for fuelwood. Much of the remaining cover consists of logged-over and degraded forest although large areas, including of the island of Kalimantan/Borneo (shared with Malaysia and Brunei), have been stripped bare.

Logging for tropical timbers and pulpwood (to make paper) is the biggest cause of rainforest destruction in the country where as much as 75 percent of the logging is illegal. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of tropical timber, which generates more than $US5 billion annually. And more than 48 million hectares (55 percent of the country’s remaining rainforests) are concessioned for logging. Destruction of the rainforest in Indonesia has opened up some of the most remote places on Earth to development: as rainforests in less remote locations have been decimated, timber corporations have stepped up practices on the island of Kalimantan/Borneo and the occupied West Papau, where great swaths of forests have been cleared in recent years. In fact, 20 percent of Indonesia’s logging concessions are in West Papua, despite ongoing resistance by West Papuans.

Unfortunately, the fastest and cheapest way to clear rainforests for plantations is by burning. Hence, every year ‘hundreds of thousands of hectares go up in smoke as developers and agriculturalists feverishly light fires before monsoon rains begin to fall. In dry years – especially during strong el Niño years – these fires can burn out of control for months on end, creating deadly pollution that affects neighboring countries and causes political tempers to flare’.

Mining operations, including for coal, also have a devastating impact on the rainforests and their peoples. By far the worst of these projects, however, is the gigantic gold, silver, and copper mine in occupied West Papua, run by Freeport-McMoRan. As widely documented, the mining company has dumped appalling amounts of waste into local streams, rendering downstream waterways and wetlands ‘unsuitable for aquatic life’. Relying on large payments to Indonesian police and military officers, the mining operation is ‘protected’; this has resulted in many West Papuans being killed.

The waste from the mine, estimated by Freeport at 700,000 tons each day, covers several square miles and Government surveys have found that tailings from the mines have produced levels of copper and sediment so high that almost all fish have disappeared from vast areas of wetlands downstream from the mine.

Like other powerful corporations in Indonesia (and elsewhere), Freeport-McMoRan is well aware that there is little official interest in its abuses of local people and the environment as long as corrupt officials are given sufficient incentive to ignore them. As elsewhere in many parts of the world, therefore, corporate access to resources includes serious human rights abuses and persistent conflicts between companies and local communities which is ignored by corrupt politicians.

Apart from the rainforest itself and the millions of people who live in them, destruction of the rainforest threatens the habitat of iconic species like Sumatran tigers and orangutans, as well as many others, and plays a part in destroying the climate too.

But the damage does not stop with the issues noted above. Forests across the world are being destroyed to make fabrics for clothing we wear every day. Fabrics like rayon, viscose and modal are all made from trees and, every year, more than 120 million trees are cut down to make clothing. This is done by companies such as Forever 21, Under Armour, Foot Locker, Prada Group and Michael Kors. You can join the Rainforest Action Network in campaigning to get these laggard companies to adopt responsible sourcing policies for their forest-based fabrics.

Bizarrely, while its incredible rainforests, along with its coral reefs and beaches, play a part in attracting tourists from across the world to see Indonesia’s charismatic native species – such as orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Komodo dragons, whale sharks, sea turtles and manta rays – and to experience its adventure and dive destinations, this tourism also contributes significantly to the destruction as rainforests make way for tourist facilities.

So, as with Brazil and the Congo, you can boycott rainforest products from Indonesia and other countries where rainforests are being destroyed. Along with suggestions made earlier, responsible choices about the clothing you wear and the tourist destinations you choose (or boycott) will all make a difference.

The ‘Big Picture’ Fight for the Rainforests: What can we do?

A great deal. Halting rainforest destruction might be a complex undertaking but it is imperative if we are to have any prospect of preserving life on Earth. So I hope that you will consider the many options I have offered above and those I mention now and do as many as you can, even if you are already working on other critical issues such as the climate and the struggle to end war and the threat of nuclear war.

If you want easy options, you can support the campaign efforts of organizations that defend rainforests, Indigenous peoples and wildlife such as the Rainforest Action Network, the Rainforest Information Centre, the Rainforest 4 Foundation and Rainforest Rescue which work closely with Indigenous and local communities while campaigning against the governments and corporations destroying rainforests, as well as the banks and insurance companies that support this destruction.

If you recognize the pervasiveness of the fear-driven violence in our world, which also drives the massive over-consumption of resources by people in industrialized countries then consider addressing this directly starting with yourself and by reviewing your relationship with children.3

If you wish to campaign strategically in support of Indigenous peoples and local communities in their struggles to halt the destruction of Earth’s rainforests.4

The governments and corporations that profit from the destruction of the rainforests are deeply entrenched and not about to give way without strategically focused campaigns to make it untenable and unprofitable for them to do so. This will include convincing key personnel, whether company directors of corporations involved in rainforest destruction, cargo ship owners, trade unionists (in many industries) and the many other agents involved in the rainforest destruction-to-customer supply chain, as well as ordinary consumers of rainforest products, to make conscious choices about the products they supply, use and/or buy. So strategy is imperative if we are to get corrupt and/or conscienceless governments and corporations, as well as people further removed from the source of the destruction, to end their role in rainforest destruction before it is too late.

The big deforestation drivers are timber, palm oil, cattle and soy while mining, oil drilling, clothing and dam construction all play significant roles too, depending on the country. And, as reported by the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project): ‘The ABCD (The Archer Daniels Midland Company [ADM], Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus Company) trader companies have a large impact on countless commodity supply chains. For example, they represent up to 90% of the global grain trade. With a wide array of clients that go from Nestlé to McDonald’s, their role in managing deforestation risk is crucial’ and, so far, grossly inadequate.5

Given the strategic sophistication necessary to tackle this complex problem effectively, if you want to view a 15 minute video of (or read a couple of short articles about) the inspirational Melbourne Rainforest Action Group (MRAG) that successfully led a national campaign from 1988 to 1991 to halt imports of rainforest timber into Australia, you can view it here: ‘Time to Act.’

In those cases where corrupt elites control or occupy countries, such as those controlling Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and West Papua, it might be necessary to remove these corrupt governments as part of the effort thus helping to restore the political space for local populations to defend rainforests and their rights.

You might also consider joining the global network of people resisting violence in all contexts by signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World.’

But if you do nothing else while understanding the simple point that Earth’s biosphere, including its rainforests, cannot sustain a human population of this magnitude of whom more than half endlessly over-consume, then consider accelerated participation in the strategy outlined in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth.’

Or, if none of the above options appeal or they seem too complicated, consider committing to The Earth Pledge

Out of love for the Earth and all of its creatures, and my respect for their needs, from this day onwards I pledge that:

  1. I will listen deeply to children (see explanation above)
  2. I will not travel by plane
  3. I will not travel by car
  4. I will not eat meat and fish
  5. I will only eat organically/biodynamically grown food
  6. I will minimize the amount of fresh water I use, including by minimizing my ownership and use of electronic devices
  7. I will not buy rainforest timber
  8. I will not buy or use single-use plastic, such as bags, bottles, containers, cups and straws
  9. I will not use banks, superannuation (pension) funds or insurance companies that provide any service to corporations involved in fossil fuels, nuclear power and/or weapons
  10. I will not accept employment from, or invest in, any organization that supports or participates in the exploitation of fellow human beings or profits from killing and/or destruction of the biosphere
  11. I will not get news from the corporate media (mainstream newspapers, television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter…)
  12. I will make the effort to learn a skill, such as food gardening or sewing, that makes me more self-reliant
  13. I will gently encourage my family and friends to consider signing this pledge.

Feeling overwhelmed? Still prefer something simpler?

I wish I could, in all sincerity, offer you that option. If it were still 1990, I would. But the time for simple actions to make a difference is long past and time is now incredibly short.

In essence, you have a choice: understand and act on the crucial importance of rainforests before we destroy their integrity and lose them completely. Or help to accelerate the human rush to extinction as a consequence of failing to do so.

  1. Bolsonaro Caps Natives’ Lands, Pleasing Farmers in One of First Acts,” “Rainforest on Fire: On the Front Lines of Bolsonaro’s War on the Amazon, Brazil’s Forest Communities Fight Against Climate Catastrophe,” “Bolsonaro’s Clearcut Populism. ‘The Barbarism has Begun’,” this report from Amazon Watch: “Complicity in Destruction II: How northern consumers and financiers enable Bolsonaro’s assault on the Brazilian Amazon” and “Amazon Deforestation Accelerating Towards Unrecoverable “Tipping Point”.”
  2. For a taste of the reading on all of this, see “Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC Ambush,” “The struggle to save the ‘Congolese unicorn’,” “Meet the First Female Rangers to Guard One of World’s Deadliest Parks” and “The Battle for Africa’s Oldest National Park.”
  3. If you want to understand and address the fundamental cause of violence in our world, see “Why Violence?” and “Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice.”
  4. See “Nonviolent Campaign Strategy.”
  5. See “Revenue at risk: Why addressing deforestation is critical to business success” which contains a long list of hundreds of companies (on pages 39-46) which are making zero effective effort to end their rainforest-destroying business practices.

When Americans Act Like Millionaires

Words, and spin, and the Mad Men and Mad Women of this perverse consumerism and cultural wasteland tied to Predatory Capitalism, Celebrity Culture and Americans who have perpetual ennui because of their perpetual dumb-downing, perpetual swallow of exceptionism as a core value of the American Project To Take Over the World.

So many, and they are mostly center or center left (sic) people who want to head out of la-la land and end up in some paradise where their Social Security earnings and savings and investment accounts can stretch so they can lie in, again, someone else’s paradise.

I get disgusting things all the time, just to gauge how much more disgusting the USA becomes minute by minute — you know, Fox un-News, or crap from Rachel Maddow or CNN, or any of the mainstream media or Alt-right crap, I will peruse to see just how effective the Edward Bernays Form of Marketing and Brainwashing is turning out.

International Living, that’s yet another example of the crass — “I have mine, and you can just deal with it” as they want to parachute into other people’s lands and utilize the higher income and money savings to live a comfortable life somewhere quaint, sleepy, near a beach, palm trees, rum, topless men and women walking around.

I’ve put my money where my mouth is on this one. I bought two lots in this gold-standard community myself.

The community is in Fortim, a little town on Brazil’s northeast coast. I wrote yesterday about why I believe that now is the time to buy Brazil.

There are three megatrends happening right now in Brazil…

Brazil is rebounding from an economic downturn—this is a chance to ride the country’s next phase of substantial growth.

The U.S. dollar is extremely strong compared to the Brazilian real right now. As I write, one dollar is worth 3.96 reals. In April 2014, one dollar only bought 2.24 reals. This currency play essentially lets us buy real estate for a sizeable discount.

This particular deal taps into the Path of Progress I’ve been following for years on this coast.

My first investment in Brazil was in Fortaleza, a booming city on this northeast coast. In 2008 and 2009, I, along with members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group, bought condos close to the boardwalk in Fortaleza while prices were low. As Brazil’s economy roared ahead and middle-class numbers soared, real estate prices shot up. A member of my group bought a condo in Fortaleza for 215,000 reals. He later sold for 450,000 reals—more than doubling his money.

Here are other sites on how to find the best place as an American or Western to live, with or without thrills —

The 13 Best Countries for Americans Who Want to Live Abroad

Ranking the Most Dangerous Countries for Americans To Visit

Look, this is where the white race is, or the Western Culture — looking to leave their homes of conquest — for some happy and safe (sic) Third World (under-developed, developing, exploitable) country to create an enclave of Western mindset, judgment, values, and disgusting influences. As Andre Vltchek says:

It is no secret that Western migrants are taking advantage of poverty, low prices, and corrupts legal systems. Their arrival raises prices for housing and land. It leaves millions of local people literally homeless, and it raises the prices of food and basic services for the local population.

In a way, people in many poor countries get robbed twice: by Western corporations, and then again, by Western migrants.

In one of the hotels in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in a bar late at night, I overheard a conversation between a visiting Swiss businessman and his Chilean counterpart:

“You know, those immigrants that we call ‘paperless’”, lamented Swiss man. “It’s too many of them… too many! We should just throw them directly to the sea; we should drown them! We don’t need such scum in Europe.”

A few days earlier, my friend, an Ecuadorian government official based in Quito, told me a story:

“Lately, many Europeans keep coming to Ecuador and to other Latin American countries, searching for jobs, trying to migrate. Their economies are collapsing, but there is no humility when they come here, only arrogance. Another day, a Spaniard came to me, applying for a job. I asked him for his CV. He looked at me with total outrage: ‘But I am a Spaniard!’ he shouted. ‘So what?’ I replied. ‘These days are over, comrade; days when just being a white European man would be enough to land you a job anywhere in Latin America!’”

On the touristy island of Kos, German tourists, showing indifference, even spite, are stuffing themselves on fresh seafood, downing gallons of local wine. This year, “Greece is bit cheaper than other destinations”, a German couple at Athens’s airport tells me. “That is why we come”. Few meters from the seafront of Kos, a local hospital literally collapsed, with no ability to save human lives.

On top of it, thousands of destitute refugees from destabilized countries (destabilized by the West) from all over the world are now everywhere, at every corner of Kos. It feels like “the last supper of Europe”, repulsive orgy of indifference, consumerism, and moral decay.

But no artist bothers to depict it, as there is hardly any political art left in Europe.

So the International Living is talking about Brazil — and we know how bad off Brazil is, but read this guy’s bullshit: “Why I’m Betting on Brazil” by Ronan McMahon:

The timing on this deal is perfect. But you might not think it from watching your news feed…

In recent years, Brazil has made headlines around the world for crisis and corruption.

But that façade of scandal has always masked massive opportunities…opportunities I and members of my Real Estate Trend Alert group have successfully acted on time and again. (Find out how to become a member of this group, here).

I’ve written repeatedly about the sound fundamentals underlying any Brazil play.

Brazil is an agricultural superpower. It’s one of the world’s biggest exporters of soy, beef, coffee, orange juice, and chicken. The country sits on a huge aquifer, so there’s plenty of water to support agricultural activities. And, with a massive amount of unused land, plenty of capacity for future growth. This taps into two demographics: world population growth and the rise of the middle class.

The United Nations predicts the world population will add a billion more people by 2030, and another billion by 2050. That’s 2 billion more mouths to feed.

And as the middle class grows, they buy more meat, use more fuel, and ultimately want more of what Brazil produces. Brazil manufactures everything you could think of—from shoes to cutlery to cars to planes. It’s home to companies like brewer AmBev, aerospace firm Embraer, and JBS, the largest meat processing company in the world.

Rich in minerals like gold and copper, Brazil is also an energy giant. Oil and gas production is expected to reach 7.5 million barrels a day in 2019, making Brazil one of the world’s top producers.

Brazil is the eighth-largest economy in the world, ahead of Italy, Russia, and Canada. Back in 1960, its gross domestic product (GDP) was only $15 billion. Today, it’s more than $2 trillion.

I’m not the only one that thinks the time is right to buy Brazil.

These deal makers and deal seekers do not care about the people in those countries, but they do care about real estate, cheap this and cheap that and gorging on their own insides. Nothing like these article headlines from the Intercept to put a kink in the old International Living’s underwear:

THE BOLSONARO GOVERNMENT’S AGGRESSIVE RESPONSE SHOWS WHY OUR REPORTING ON THE SECRET BRAZIL ARCHIVE IS SO VITAL

ON THE FRONT LINES OF BOLSITIES FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CATASTROPHE

BERNIE SANDERS CALLS FOR BRAZIL’S JUDICIARY TO RELEASE LULA IN WAKE OF CORRUPTION EXPOSURE

WATCH: INTERVIEW WITH BRAZIL’S EX-PRESIDENT LULA FROM PRISON, DISCUSSING GLOBAL THREATS, NEOLIBERALISM, BOLSONARO, AND MORE

BAD CHEMISTRY BRAZIL’S PESTICIDE INDUSTRY IS CREATING MASSIVE PFOS CONTAMINATION

BRAZIL’S JAIR BOLSONARO MEETS WITH DONALD TRUMP TO CONSOLIDATE THEIR FAR-RIGHT ALLIANCE

IN JAIR BOLSONARO’S BRAZIL, FAR-RIGHT BILLIONAIRE’S MEDIA EMPIRE IS BEING EXPLOITED TO INVESTIGATE JOURNALISTS — INCLUDING THE INTERCEPT

SON OF JAIR BOLSONARO, FASCIST LEADING BRAZIL’S PRESIDENTIAL POLLS, TWEETS FAKE POSTER LINKING LGBT PEOPLE TO PEDOPHILES

BRAZIL’S MARIELLE FRANCO DENOUNCED THREE MURDERS IN THE DAYS BEFORE HER ASSASSINATION.

Gaza Rallies for Caracas: On the West’s Dangerous Game in Venezuela

Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of besieged Gaza to show their support of the democratically-elected government of Venezuela and its legitimate leader, President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela is struggling to defeat a coup attempt that is supported by the United States, Israel and many Western governments.

The relationship between Venezuela and Palestine has been particularly strong under the presidencies of late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez and current president Maduro. Neither leader has missed an opportunity to show their solidarity towards the Palestinian people, a fact that has always irked Tel Aviv and its western benefactors.

The Gaza rallies, however, were more than a display of gratitude towards a country that had enough courage to break off ties with Israel following the latter’s 2008-9 war on Gaza – a bloody campaign known as “Operation Cast Lead”. Thousands of Palestinians were killed in that one-sided war. No Arab government that has diplomatic ties with Israel severed its relations with Tel Aviv. While Caracas – over 10 thousand kilometers away – did. Then, former President Chavez, accused Israel of “state terrorism”.

But there is more to Palestinian solidarity with Venezuela than this recent history. Palestinians have experienced decades-long collective trauma from US-funded Israeli colonialism and military occupation. The US has imposed itself as an ‘honest peace broker’ as a way to mask its political interference and meddling in the Middle East, while fully and blindly supporting Israeli aggressions.

While the Venezuelan people have every right to protest their government, demanding greater accountability and economic solutions to the crushing poverty facing the country, no one has the right to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela or any other sovereign country anywhere.

We must remember that the US government has hardly ever been a source of stability in South America, certainly not since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Since then, the US has done more than mere meddling, but outright political and military interventions, supporting various coups that toppled or attempted to overthrow democratically-elected governments.

What is underway in Caracas is a repeat of that sad and tragic history.

The unhealthy relationship between the US and its southern neighbors took an even darker turn when, in 1904, then US President Theodore Roosevelt declared the “right” of his country to hold “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, the entire region has been Washington’s business.

Always looking for opportunities to exploit, Washington now sees a chance to undermine Venezuela and its elected government.

The Venezuelan people are dealing with overwhelming poverty and a very unstable social situation. Hyperinflation and the crumbling of the country’s oil industries led to a dramatic economic downturn, with about 10% of the population fleeing the country. Poor policy choices led to an escalation of the already endemic corruption, to a significant weakening of local production and increasing devaluation of the country’s currency.

However, consensus around president Maduro’s socialist government is still broad, as witnessed by their victory in the 2018 presidential election.

Despite the presence of about 150 international observers from 30 countries and international organizations, which declared that the last Venezuelan election was transparent, domestic opponents, supported by the US and its western and regional allies denounced it as “fraud foretold”, even before Maduro delivered his victory speech.

The US and its Western allies are frustrated by the fact that despite its economic problems, most Venezuelans remained united around Chavez, and now Maduro, who are perceived, especially by the poorer classes, as independent national leaders fighting against constant US destabilization and neocolonialism.

The world order is vastly changing, but US ruling elites refuse to change. While speaking about Washington’s need to “protect democracy” in Venezuela, US National Security Advisor, the infamous Israel supporter, John Bolton admitted that the coup in Venezuela is an opportunity to exploit the country’s oil and natural resources.

“It will make a big difference to the United States economically”, Bolton told Fox News in an interview this week, “if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Tragically, the US boycott against Venezuela forced the country to sell its gold in return for valuable currency, as well as consumer goods, food and medicinal products. The coup is meant to completely push Caracas to its knees.

Western predators are all moving in, each party playing the role entrusted of them, as if history is repeating itself. Bank of England (BoE) has blocked Maduro’s officials from withdrawing $1.2 billion worth of Venezuela’s gold. Worse, brazen interference from foreign countries is becoming so pronounced that UK foreign office minister, Sir Alan Duncan has suggested that the BoE grant access to the gold reserves to the self-proclaimed opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Germany, and France and Spain gave Venezuela’s Maduro an ultimatum: the President has eight days to call elections, otherwise they’ll recognize Guaido as president. On January 31, the European Parliament recognized Guaido as a de facto leader of Venezuela in complete disregard of the democratic rights of the Venezuelan people.

Yet, as odd as this may seem to some, Maduro still enjoys greater legitimacy in his country than Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron do in the US and France respectively. Yet, no entity is threatening to intervene in France, for example, on behalf of the ‘Yellow Vests’, who have protested in their hundreds of thousands for weeks, demanding an end to Macon’s rule.

It is doubly important that Venezuela doesn’t collapse before this US-led sinister campaign because of the rising far-right powers in South and Latin America, namely the upsurge of reactionary forces in Brazil.

If Venezuela’s political order disintegrates, others, too will become target: Bolivia, Cuba, and even Mexico.

Since the US partial withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and the Obama Administration’s ‘pivot to Asia’, to challenge the inevitable dominance of China, US policy makers have been keen on staging a comeback in South America as well. More recently, the just-departed US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley was instrumental in shaping the aggressive US policy towards Venezuela.

Now that the country is struggling with extreme poverty – itself resulting from the manipulation of oil prices – the US sees an opportunity to make its move, and reclaim its destructive, domineering role in that part of the world. The election in Brazil of far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who wants to “make Brazil great again’ is tipping the balance in favor of reactionary forces in the whole region.

But the plot against Venezuela is also an opportunity for those who want to challenge the old order, to tell the US government ‘enough is enough’; that the age of coups and blood-soaked interventions should be behind us, and that South America must not be subjugated again.

As Palestinians have fought Israeli tyranny for years, Venezuelans will continue to fight foreign tyranny and unlawful political and military interventions as well. And with true and tangible global solidarity, both nations will prevail – sooner or later.

Jesus is the way, but we are there to collect the toll…

Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

In the wake of the Brazilian presidential election where reserve army captain Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated in January to lead the largest country in South America back to the far right, returning it to the narrower US imperial orbit while strengthening ties to the global bullies in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) served for a short period as an advisor to the PT government. He resigned his office because he could not accept responsibility for some of the decisions taken where he was engaged.1 It is often said in Brazil that the PT lost the elections by their own actions—grossly disappointing their supporters—and turning the election this year into a protest vote, which the party governing since 2002 was bound to lose. Of course, elections themselves do not change the power structures of a state. And the manipulation of elections even to the point of usurping the lawfully elected candidates (e.g. Honduras) has a long tradition in the “backyard” of the United States. Nevertheless the demand for integrity and fairness in government is not restricted to those “white glove” regimes of the North.

Frei Betto discussed the issues made central to the election hysteria: corruption and religion.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson: One explanation given for corruption is the presence of dishonest people in the institution. The other explanation is that there is incoherence between the institution’s structures and procedures and the needs of those working with the institution.

The Reformation that began nearly 500 years ago was partly motivated by the corruption of the Church. Some argued that it was sufficient to purge the dishonest clergy while others argued that the rule of the Church itself was corrupt. They wanted another church or to completely reorganise the existing one.

The last elections have focused attention on corruption. The most publicised response was to put former president Lula in jail. What kind of corruption does Brazil have and what options are there for remedying it? Does Church history offer any lessons?

Frei Betto: Corruption has always existed in human history, including in the group of Jesus (Judas). To combat it, good intentions do not suffice nor the encouragement of the practice of virtues. It is necessary to create a political institution that inhibits and severely punishes corruption. This is the case in Cuba. The construction company Odebrecht2, responsible for corruption in almost all the Latin American countries in which it maintained works, confessed to corruption in of all of them, except Cuba. Does that mean there are no corrupt people in Cuba? Is there no corruption? There is, and I was invited to give a lecture at an important event of the General Comptroller of Cuba in May 2018. However, Cuban officials have to think long before accepting corruption. And in the work of the Port of Mariel, Odebrecht could not corrupt anyone.

Without this institutional mechanism that inhibits and punishes corruption, it tends to spread.

TPW: Fidel and religion:

Not only did Castro give you the opportunity to explain the relationship between him, the Cuban revolution and religion (especially Catholicism). The book also shows your own relationship. At least this is what I saw after reading your prison memoir.

The presidents of the largest countries in the Western hemisphere, the US and Brazil, both claim their policies have a religious foundation. Does that make the present conflict in Brazil (and the US) a religious conflict too? If yes, what are the religious issues? And how might they be resolved? If no, what does the religious rhetoric mean—for those who are religious and those who are not?

FB: Religion, like politics, serves to liberate or to oppress. That of Jesus was liberating; that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, oppressing. In the medieval period religion was used to expand the power of the Church. Dictators like Franco, in Spain; Salazar, in Portugal; and Pinochet, in Chile, used religion to justify the atrocities they practiced.3

Today, oligarchic governments, such as those of Trump, and neo-fascists, such as Bolsonaro’s, use religion to manipulate the conscience of the people.4 This is the “opium of the people” religion denounced by Marx. The religion of the gospel, liberating, is that of Pope Francisco, that of Saint Oscar Romero5, that of Dom Pedro Casaldáliga.

However, the state must be secular. Confessional politics is to yield to religious fundamentalism. As most people in the West are religious, many opportunists take advantage of this to distort the purpose of religion and make money. They announce that “Jesus is the Way” but they are there to collect the toll…

TPW: The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was probably the great “mass media” of that epoch. Today the Mass Media- mainly owned by private corporations—plays an important role in shaping the perceptions of reality and at the same time creating reality when people act according to their perceptions.

An outside observer, following Brazilian history, cannot avoid seeing that there has always been a complaint about corruption in Brazil, in political and economic life. Yet for the past several years now the PT has been portrayed as the “most corrupt” political party in all Brazilian history. Much of the PT support seems to have been lost because people believe the PT was completely corrupt.

Is this a “perception” of corruption or a “reality”? Can you place the accusations of corruption in Brazil in historical context? The statements of many supporters of military government are based on the idea that the military is not corrupt. However, the regime that the current president supported was also accused of corruption before 1986. Is it possible that the corruption that lost the PT the election is a corruption in the Mass Media, too?

FB: Corruption has always existed in Brazilian politics. The failure of the PT was not to react vigorously when some of its leaders got into corruption. And I must stress that there is no proof that Lula has been corrupted. He is an unjustly imprisoned political prisoner.6 But other PT leaders have become corrupt. A minority that greatly damaged the Party’s image in general. And this was well exploited by PT opponents in the election campaign.

The new Brazilian government, headed by Bolsonaro, has ministers accused of corruption and under investigation.7 The president’s own son, currently Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, will have to explain how one of his assistants, named Queiroz, handled so much money when Flávio served as a state deputy in Rio de Janeiro.

Operation Lava Jato,8 which investigates corruption in Brazil, is a very important initiative, but assumed a partisan character. It sends to jail the PT politicians accused of corruption and leaves in freedom politicians of other parties evidently involved in the corruption.

TPW: When the CEBs began to proliferate in Brazil, one explanation given was that they filled the gaps left because the Catholic Church never had enough priests for the Brazilian masses.

The CEBs were both potentially democratic and potentially competition for the growing Protestant churches. For this reason even conservative clergy were willing to work with these new forms of church.

An analogy could be drawn in secular life. The size of Brazil has always been a problem for those who want to govern it. The country’s administration was concentrated in the coastal cities and the interior was left to the control of the private sector (latifundistas). This has also meant that even though Brazil is a rich country—with much natural and human potential—there has been great difficulty creating and implementing national policies that balance the great differences between the peoples and regions of Brazil.

In the 1950s and 1960s there were movements to develop the Brazil as a whole. In Europe there was a “redevelopment” after the destruction of WWII, which culminated in the European Union. Yet the difference between Germany and Portugal show that even the rich European countries are not able to balance the distribution of wealth between rich and poor regions. And now there are movements to break-up the EU. Do you think it is even realistic to make, let alone expect, successful and sustained socio-economic policies for the entirety of a country as big as Brazil—at a time when, at least in the rich parts of the West, large highly differentiated political entities appear incapable of such policies? Does this mean that all social-economic policy will be surrendered to the private sector?

FB: The economic policy of a country always derives from an ethical option. And in Brazil, except the two terms of President Lula and the first of President Dilma, economic policy was never aimed at reducing social inequality. The goal now, under the Bolsonaro administration, is to make the rich richer and preserve this huge inequality.

By 2018, Brazil was the 9th most unequal country in the world and the most unequal in Latin America. The richest 1% of the population appropriated more than 25% of the national income. And the sum of the wealth of the richest 5% was equal to the sum of the wealth of the remaining 95% of the population. 80% of the Brazilian population – 165 million people – survived with an income of less than two minimum wages per month (R $1,908). And 0.1% of the richest portion concentrates in its hands 48% of all the national wealth. And the richest 10% get 74% of the national wealth. And 50% of the population –104 million Brazilians– share 3% of the country’s wealth.

• Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.

• Read Part One here

  1. Frei Betto published his reflections on this period in A Mosca Azul: Reflexão sobre o poder, São Paulo 2006.
  2. Organização Odebrecht, is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the Americas. It was founded in Salvador, Bahia, by Norberto Odebrecht in 1944. In 2016, the group admitted to illegal payments to politicians in such countries as the US, Switzerland and Brazil, settling in one of the largest consent decrees in the world.
  3. For a discussion of this topic see Karlheinz Deschner, God and the Fascists, 2013.
  4. For a detailed history of Rockefeller overt and covert promotion of right-wing “Pentecostal” religious groups throughout Latin America, especially in Brazil, see Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done, 1995.
  5. Roman Catholic Monsignor Oscar Romero was murdered by a US-funded death squad, while saying mass in San Salvador on 24 March 1980. He was canonised in October 2018 under Pope Francis. Romero was probably the most notorious victim of the US “Phoenix” political warfare operations throughout Central America. His elevation to sainthood has been seen as at least partial vindication of liberation theology in Latin America—persecuted both politically and ecclesiastically during the previous papacies.
  6. Lula was committed to prison prior to the presidential elections (thus disqualifying him) by a judge who flagrantly disregarded the law whereby an accused is entitled to exhaust the course of appeal before a sentence is enforced.
  7. The Folha de S. Paulo reported in the third week January that the investigation of Flavio Bolsonaro was suspended last week due to his immunity as a deputy and his election to the Brazilian senate. However, new accusations have been made.
  8. “Operação Lava Jato”. This is a kind of designation for police investigations into suspicions of large-scale criminal activity, especially corruption, common to Brazil and Portugal (e.g. Operação Marquês, ongoing). Lavo Jato is a combination of investigations conducted by Brazil’s federal police into corruption, obstruction of justice, etc. that began in 2014.

Democracy Or Extinction

What will it take for governments to take real action on climate? When will they declare an emergency and do what needs to be done? How much concerted, peaceful public action will be required to disrupt the current economic and political system that is driving humanity to the brink of extinction?

Meanwhile, climate records continue to tumble. 2018 was the hottest for the world’s oceans since records began in the 1950s, continuing a deeply worrying trend. Moreover, the last five years were the five hottest. The consequences are likely to be catastrophic. The oceans are crucial to the Earth’s climate; they absorb more than 90 per cent of the heating generated by greenhouse gases. Yet another sign of serious climate disruption is revealed with seemingly no impact on the juggernaut of economic ‘growth’ and government decision-making.

John Abraham, one of the authors of the new scientific study on this alarming rise in ocean temperatures, said:

We scientists sound like a broken record. Every year we present the science and plead for action. Not nearly enough is being done. We can still tackle climate change, but we must act immediately. We have the means to make a difference, we lack only the will.

It is, of course, heartening to see scientists finally being this outspoken. But it is not accurate to keep repeating the mantra, as many well-intentioned people do, that ‘we’ lack ‘the will’. Who is the ‘we’ here? Big business, powerful financial interests and corporate lobbies have fought tooth and nail to oppose any substantive action. They have battled hard over decades to obscure, rubbish and downplay the science – with huge sums devoted to disinformation campaigns – and to bend government policy in their favour.

US environmentalist Bill McKibben recently observed of the fossil fuel lobby that:

The coalition ha[s] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the earth.

One could argue that there is a lack of public will to expose and counter corporate power in collusion with nation states; that there needs to be a grassroots revolution to overturn this destructive system of rampant global capitalism. Perhaps there needs to be a revolution in human consciousness; an increased awareness of what it is to be fully human that respects ourselves, other species and the planet itself. Most likely, all of the above. If so, it is vital to say and do much more than merely say, ‘we lack only the will’.

Take the ad-dependent, establishment-preserving, Corbyn-hating Guardian. It obfuscated along similar lines in an editorial sparked by the record-breaking ocean temperatures. Global warming, the editors said:

can still be tackled if we act immediately; this is a test of will, not ability.

But where is the Guardian‘s systemic analysis of root causes of climate chaos and what needs to be done about it? The Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered by right-wing paramilitary forces one hundred years ago this month, warned that global capitalism would lead to environmental destruction. This is not a defect of capitalism, she argued, but an inherent feature of a system that is rooted in brutality, gaping inequality and the unsustainable extraction of natural resources.

In her discussion of Luxemburg’s legacy, Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Bath, noted:

This is evident in the recent decision of Brazil’s new far-right president, Bolsonaro, to “integrate the Amazon region into the Brazilian economy”. This would expand the authority and reach of powerful agribusiness corporations into the Amazon Rainforest – threatening the rights and livelihoods of indigenous people and the ecosystems their lives are entwined with.

This destruction of indigenous peoples and ecosystems has been inflicted on the continent since Columbus ‘discovered’ America in 1492. Globally, the process intensified during the Industrial Revolution and, in more recent decades, with the rise of destructive ‘neoliberal’ economic policies pursued with ideological fervour by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and later acolytes. No wonder that Luxemburg saw a stark choice between ‘socialism or barbarism’. Today, the choice is most likely ‘socialism or extinction‘.

To any reader unsettled by the scare word ‘socialism’, simply replace it with ‘democracy’: a genuinely inclusive system where the general population has proper input and control, and does not simply have its wishes overridden by a tiny elite that enriches itself at our, and the planet’s, expense.

Media Barbarism

As we have long pointed out, the corporate media are a crucial component of this barbaric and destructive system of global capitalism. Our previous media alert highlighted that even the very names of ‘our’ newspapers propagate a myth of neutral, reliable news (‘Express‘, ‘Telegraph‘, ‘The Times‘, ‘The Observer‘) or a stalwart defender of democracy (‘The Guardian‘). And, as we have also noted, BBC News promotes itself as a trusted global news brand because it supposedly ‘champions the truth’.

Propaganda is what Official Enemies – such as North Korea, Iran or Russia – pump out. But not ‘us’. Thus, BBC Newsnight will readily grant BBC correspondent John Sweeney the resources to compile a condescending report on Russia’s Sputnik News:

Sputnik UK is well-named – it’s a tin can that broadcasts its curious one-note message to the universe: Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.

Recall that Sweeney is a serial Western propagandist who welcomed, indeed pushed for, the invasion of Iraq. He wrote in the Observer in January 1999:

Life will only get better for ordinary Iraqis once the West finally stops dithering and commits to a clear, unambiguous policy of snuffing out Saddam. And when he falls the people of Iraq will say: ‘What kept you? Why did it take you so long?’

If, by contrast, a BBC correspondent had repeatedly called out the UK media’s ‘one-note message’ in boosting the war crimes of Bush and Blair – an extremely unlikely scenario – would they still have a major BBC platform? Of course not.

Or consider a recent BBC News article that proclaimed:

Facebook tackles Russians making fake news stories

That fake news is a systemic feature of BBC coverage, and the rest of Western ‘mainstream’ media, is virtually an unthinkable thought for corporate journalists. Try to imagine Facebook taking action against BBC News or the Guardian, or any other ‘mainstream’ outlet for their never-ending stream of power-friendly ‘journalism’.

Try to imagine BBC News critically examining Western propaganda, including its own output, in the same way that it treated Russian propaganda in this BBC News at Ten piece by Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford.

Try to imagine Guardian editor Katharine Viner being made accountable for the fake viral Guardian exclusive last month that Trump’s former campaigner manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. She has simply kept her head down and tried to stonewall any challenges.

Try to imagine BBC Question Time host Fiona Bruce being punished by her BBC bosses for brazenly misleading viewers about Labour being behind the Tories in the polls. Or for her poor treatment of Labour guest panellist Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, who described the BBC’s behaviour as a ‘disgrace’. Bruce is married to Nigel Sharrocks, Chairman of the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board which earns significant sums of money from the BBC. There is no mention of this on Fiona Bruce’s Wikipedia page; nor is there a Wikipedia page on Sharrocks himself.

Veteran journalist John Pilger, effectively barred from the Guardian since 2015, and largely shunned by the corporate media, is clear that:

Real journalists act as agents of people, not power.

Such a simple powerful truth shames all those editors and media ‘professionals’ masquerading as journalists on BBC News, ITV News, the Guardian and elsewhere. When was the last time you saw a BBC News political editor truly challenging any Prime Minister in the past few decades, rather than uncritically ‘reporting’ what the PM has said or even fulsomely praising them?

Pilger was asked how journalism has changed in recent years. He responded:

When I began as a journalist, especially as a foreign correspondent, the press in the UK was conservative and owned by powerful establishment forces, as it is now. But the difference compared to today is that there were spaces for independent journalism that dissented from the received wisdom of authority. That space has now all but closed and independent journalists have gone to the internet, or to a metaphoric underground.

He continued:

The single biggest challenge is rescuing journalism from its deferential role as the stenographer of great power. The United States has constitutionally the freest press on earth, yet in practice it has a media obsequious to the formulas and deceptions of power. That is why the US was effectively given media approval to invade Iraq, and Libya, and Syria and dozens of other countries.

Pilger added his strong support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

The truth about Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia and many other flashpoints was told when WikiLeaks published the revelations of whistle-blowers. […] Julian Assange is a political refugee in London for one reason only: WikiLeaks told the truth about the greatest crimes of the 21st century. He is not forgiven for that, and he should be supported by journalists and by people everywhere.

In reality, Assange has been ignored, traduced, ridiculed and smeared by corporate journalists; not least by the Guardian which capitalised on his and WikiLeaks’ work.

Living Through the Worst-Case Scenario

Returning to the pressing issue of climate catastrophe, we are currently living through the worst-case scenario considered by climate scientists. According to a recent study in Nature, global temperatures could rise by a massive 5C by the end of this century. To understand the appalling seriousness of this, Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, warned several years ago that:

the difference between two degrees and four degrees [of global warming] is human civilisation.

In other words, we are talking about the end of human life as we know it; perhaps even human extinction.

Rob Jackson, an Earth scientist at Stanford University and the chair of the Global Carbon Project, which tracks worldwide emissions levels, warns of the huge risk of assuming that humanity will be able to develop technology to remove carbon directly from the atmosphere any time soon:

It’s a very dangerous game, I think. We’re assuming that this thing we can’t do today will somehow be possible and cheaper in the future. I believe in tech, but I don’t believe in magic.

And even the most magical high-tech fixes removing carbon or blocking sunlight will not be able to resurrect, for example, the 98 per cent and 75 per cent of insects already wiped out in Puerto Rican jungles and German nature reserves, respectively. These insects are the key to the survival of the entire food chain; when they are dead, they will remain dead, and we will die with them.

Instead of magic, scientists are increasingly calling for immediate radical action. But their urgent calls make, at best, a tiny splash for a day or two in the corporate news bubble; and then the ripples die away, leaving an eerie, deathly silence.

Almost in desperation, climate experts say that:

it may still technically be possible to limit warming to 1.5C if drastic action is taken now. [our emphasis]

Scientific research shows that the impacts of climate change could be mitigated if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately. The internationally agreed goal of restricting global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible, say scientists. But it is:

the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.

Worse still, the scientific analysis:

[does] not include the possibility of tipping points such as the sudden release of huge volumes of methane from permafrost, which could spark runaway global warming.

We have now had three decades of increasingly alarming reports from climate scientists since the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988. Last October, the IPCC warned that we only had 12 years left to turn things around, taking radical action now. But alarm bells from scientists have not, and will not, stop governments in their tracks. Only peaceful and massive concerted action from citizens around the world stands a chance of doing that at this desperately late stage.

The Illusion of the Rich: an Island of Prosperity surrounded by Misery and Suffering

Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) was born in 1944 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He began his political engagement as Catholic student and was imprisoned by the military regime that seized power in 1964 and ruled until 1985. I interviewed him first in 1986 after the publication of his book of interviews Fidel and Religion. This is the first of two interviews given in December after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.1

*****

Dr. T.P. Wilkinson: When we met in 1986, the Brazilian military regime was considered at an end and elected government was to be restored. 32 years later a man has been elected who claims allegiance to the military regime. He is quoted saying the military should have tortured less and killed more. You were imprisoned under that regime. Could you briefly sketch the developments in Brazil since 1986 as you saw them? Has Brazil returned to military-style rule, if not actual dictatorship?

Frei Betto: The Brazilian military dictatorship began in 1964 and ended in 1985. The civil society of our country has made important accomplishments since then: a new constitution approved in 1988, called the “Civilian Constitution”; social movements of national scale, like the CUT (Unique Workers Central), the MST (Landless Workers Movement), the CMP (Popular Movements Central) and the MTST (Homeless Movement Workers).

We elect five and a half presidential terms, led by progressive politicians: Fernando Henrique Cardoso (two terms, 1995-1998 and 1999-2002), Lula (2003-2006 and 2007-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2014 and 2015-2016, when it was ended in a leadership coup by vice president Michel Temer). In this period, from 1995 until 2016, Brazil made significant advances in the social sphere, with a reduction of inequality and the inclusion of thousands of families that previously lived in misery and poverty. Only under the Lula government, 36 million people found social inclusion.

TPW: In the 1980s there were several prominent people in the Church who were identified with democratic ideals, peace and justice, for example, Cardinal Arns in Sao Paulo — and as whom I met later Archbishop Dennis Hurley in Durban. There were also ecumenical movements pursuing justice in Brazil and South Africa. However, it seems that once the military dictatorship was ended and the apartheid government replaced by the ANC, the Church lost its profile and many of those people associated with the struggles left the stage. Is there still an active Church-based movement in Brazil and where is it now? What challenges does it face?

FB:  It is necessary to understand that the end of the dictatorship in Brazil coincided with the election of John Paul II, followed by Benedict XVI. There were 34 years of conservative pontificates that did not support the line of the CEB (basic church communities) and the theology of liberation. This opened space for the evangelical churches with their conservative profile.

There still exists at the base a church that is alive and combative, but without prominent figures like Cardinal Arns and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga. Fortunately with Pope Francis this progressive pastoral work resumes. The canonisation of Monsignor Oscar Romero was very important for the recognition of the Church of liberation and the poor. And it is very active in Brazil and Latin America with feminist theology, indigenous theology, black theology and eco-theology.

TPW:  In 1986, there was still a Soviet Union, a GDR, and “competition” in Europe to demonstrate the “best” social-economic system for the majority of citizens. By 1990, all that was gone. Two years ago Fidel Castro died. It is putting it mildly to say the world has changed since 1986. It has been argued that the Soviet Union actually contributed little to social-economic justice in the rest of the world, despite claims to the contrary. However, since its demise there appears to be no limit to the expansion and aggressivity of the “Western” system. Unrestricted capitalism has “won”. It would appear that there is no longer a vision of what a just world could look like capable of providing orientation, especially on a global scale. You are certainly critical but not a pessimist. Where do you see the potential for social justice in future? What obstacles do you consider most important to overcome?

FB: Socialism had the merit of forcing the rich world to concede more rights to workers. Without the communist “threat”, there would have been no welfare state in Western Europe. Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism no longer needs rings because it does not lose its fingers… It has changed its productive phase for one of speculation and, as Piketty demonstrates, concentrates ever more profits into fewer hands.2

This gaping inequality has a limit, which is the desperation of the poor, like the waves of refugees flooding into the world of the rich and the demonstrations in France, the yellow vests. It is an illusion of the rich to think that they can have an island of prosperity surrounded by misery and suffering.

Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaíah already preached that peace can only exist with the fruits of justice. And we can add today: there will never be peace as a simple balance of weapons.

TPW: Your interviews with Castro revealed a remarkable man quite different from the personality depicted or caricatured since the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959. Anyone who followed his writing and speeches, even after retirement, could see that your portrait was accurate and sincere. The survival of the Cuban Revolution after the fall of the Soviet Union could be seen as proof that it was not a “Soviet creation” but a genuinely Cuban phenomenon, like Castro himself. In fact, Cuba managed, despite US policy, to support social-economic change in Latin America, especially in cooperation with Chavez in Venezuela. How do you see Cuba today, especially in relation to its Latin American neighbours?

FB: Cuba resists despite all pressure from the White House. Today, all Latin American countries support Cuban sovereignty and vote in the UN, with the support of more than 170 countries, for the suspension of the blockade. For Cuba’s economy, so damaged by the isolation the country has been condemned to, relations with the progressive governments of Latin America and the world are very important. However, Venezuela faces a serious economic crisis. And Brazil—starting in January—will be governed by a fascist party allied with the US policy of preserving the blockade. Fortunately Mexico now has a progressive government that can strengthen ties of solidarity with Cuba, especially by absorbing Cuban doctors who have been expelled from Brazil.3

TPW: Venezuela has been under a kind of siege since Chavez became president that is at least as challenging as the US embargo of Cuba. Now Brazil has a president who has announced a very aggressive attitude toward the government in Caracas. Venezuela is not as radical as Cuba was. Chavez and Castro were sometimes presented as if they were a pair, both with very personalistic leadership styles. Have you formed a view of the situation in Venezuela, a direct neighbour of Brazil? Sometime around 1962 the US initiated activities that culminated in the 1964 military coup in Brazil under the pretext that Goulart would align Brazil with Cuba and the Soviet Union — something to prevent. Do you see an international context to the recent presidential election results — especially given the vitriolic statements made about Venezuela by the new president and the intense conflict between the US and both Russia and China — part of the so-called BRICS group?

FB:  I think tensions between US and both China and Russia will worsen. The Cold War is back. And Latin America is the target of this conflict. The countries of the Continent know that they cannot go on without the import of their products by China. And they fear Trump’s protectionist measures. So my assessment is that this reheating of the Cold War will be favorable to the Latin American economy.

TPW:  You are described among other places on the website of the Dominican Order in Germany as a “political activist“. One could say that the Dominican order, the OP, was founded as an “activist” order. Not everyone would agree that the order’s history of activism has been very positive — especially those familiar with the history of the Inquisition. Did your activism grow out of your vocation or do you believe your choice to become a Dominican was shaped by an at least latent desire to “preach”, to be an activist? How do you see your activism as a Dominican and the contradictions of the order’s role in history?

FB:  The Dominican Order, like our families, has its side of light and its side of darkness. There is no chemically pure institution. In 800 years of history, the Order had the sad page of the Inquisition, but is also proud to have had among its friars Thomas Aquinas, Savonarola, Giordano Bruno, Fra Angelico, Master Eckhart, Vitoria, Tomaso de Campanella, Bartolomé de las Casas and Father Lebret.

I entered the Dominicans because of my admiration for their presence in Brazil, along with the indigenous movement, the student movement and popular movements. I did not know that I am inscribed in the annals of the German Dominicans as a “political activist.” This honors me very much, because it puts me next to another political activist, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not die of hepatitis in bed, but like so many political prisoners in Latin America: he was arrested, tortured, tried by two political powers and sentenced to death on the cross. I thank God for being a disciple of this political prisoner who, within Caesar’s reign, announced another possible kingdom, that of God.

  1. Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.
  2. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013).
  3. In the wake of his election, Jair Bolsonaro demanded that several thousand Cuban physicians employed in parts of the Brazil with little or no medical care would have to leave the country if the Cuban government did not comply with his demands that full wages be paid in Brazil and that families be permitted to move to Brazil with the seconded medical personnel. The Cuban government rejected this attempt by Brazil to extract Cuban medical professionals and deprive Cuba of the income agreed under the Dilmar (PT) government in return for Cuba’s medical mission. See “Cuba to pull doctors out of Brazil after President-elect Bolsonaro comments”, The Guardian, 14 November 2018.

When Bolsonaro and Netanyahu Are “Brothers”: Why Brazil Should Shun the Israeli Model

Newly-inaugurated Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, is set to be the arch-enemy of the environment and of indigenous and disadvantaged communities in his country. He also promises to be a friend of like-minded, far-right leaders the world over.

It is, therefore, not surprising to see a special kind of friendship blossoming between Bolsonaro and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We need good brothers like Netanyahu,” Bolsonaro said on January 1, the day of his inauguration in Brasilia.

Bolsonaro is a “great ally (and) a brother”, Netanyahu replied.

But, while Bolsonaro sees in Netanyahu a role model – for reasons that should worry many Brazilians – the country certainly does not need ‘brothers’ like the Israeli leader.

Netanyahu’s militancy, oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people, his racially-motivated targeting of Black African immigrants and his persistent violations of international law are not at all what a country like Brazil needs to escape corruption, bring about communal harmony and usher in an era of regional integration and economic prosperity.

Netanyahu, of course, was keen on attending Bolsonaro’s inauguration, which is likely to go down in Brazilian history as an infamous day, where democracy and human rights came under their most serious threat since Brazil launched its democratic transition in the early 1980s.

In recent years, Brazil has emerged as a sensible regional power that defended Palestinian human rights and championed the integration of the ‘State of Palestine’ into the larger international community.

Frustrated by Brazil’s record on Palestine and Israel, Netanyahu, a shrewd politician, saw an opportunity in the populist discourse parroted by Bolsonaro during his campaign.

The new Brazilian President wants to reverse Brazil’s foreign policy on Palestine and Israel, the same way he wants to reverse all the policies of his predecessors regarding indigenous rights, the protection of the rainforest, among other pressing matters.

What is truly worrying is that, Bolsonaro, who has been likened to Donald Trump – least because of his vow to “make Brazil great again” – is likely to keep his promises. Indeed, only hours after his inauguration, he issued an executive order targeting land rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil, to the delight of the agricultural lobbies, which are eager to cut down much of the country’s forests.

Confiscating indigenous peoples’ territories, as Bolsonaro plans to do, is something that Netanyahu, his government and their predecessors have done without remorse for many years. Yes, it is clear that the claim of ‘brotherhood’ is based on very solid ground.

But there are other dimensions to the love affair between both leaders. Much work has been invested in turning Brazil from having an arguably pro-Palestinian government, to a Trump-like foreign policy.

In his campaign, Bolsonaro reached out to conservative political groups, the never truly tamed military and Evangelical churches, all with powerful lobbies, sinister agendas and unmistakable influence. Such groups have historically, not only in South America, but in the United States and other countries as well, conditioned their political support for any candidate on the unconditional and blind support of Israel.

This is how the United States has become the main benefactor for Israel, and that is precisely how Tel Aviv aims to conquer new political grounds.

The western world, in particular, is turning towards far-right demagogues for simple answers to complicated and convoluted problems. Brazil, thanks to Bolsonaro and his supporters, is now joining the disturbing trend.

Israel is unabashedly exploiting the unmitigated rise of global neo-fascism and populism. Worse, the once perceived to be anti-Semitic trends are now wholly embraced by the ‘Jewish State’, which is seeking to broaden its political influence but also its weapons market.

Politically, far-right parties understand that in order for Israel to help them whitewash their past and present sins, they would have to submit completely to Israel’s agenda in the Middle East. And that is precisely what is taking place from Washington, to Rome to Budapest to Vienna … And, as of late, Brasilia.

But another, perhaps more compelling reason is money. Israel has much to offer by way of its destructive war and ‘security’ technology, a massive product line that has been used with lethal consequences against Palestinians.

The border control industry is thriving in the US and Europe. In both cases, Israel is serving the task of the successful role model and the technology supplier. And Israeli ‘security’ technology, thanks to the newfound sympathy for Israel’s alleged security problems, is now invading European borders as well.

According to the Israeli Ynetnews, Israel is the seventh largest arms exporter in the world and is emerging as a leader in the global export of aerial drones.

Europe’s excitement for Israel’s drone technology is related to mostly unfounded fears of migrants and refugees. In the case of Brazil, Israeli drones technology will be put to fight against criminal gangs and other internal reasons.

For the record, Israeli drones manufactured by Elbit Systems have been purchased and used by the former Brazilian government just before the FIFA World Cup in 2014.

What makes future deals between both countries more alarming is the sudden affinity of far-right politicians in both countries. Expectedly, Bolsonaro and Netanyahu discussed the drones at length during the latter’s visit to Brazil.

Israel has used extreme violence to counter Palestinian demands for human rights, including lethal violence against ongoing peaceful protests at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel. If Bolsonaro thinks that he will successfully counter local crimes through unhinged violence – as opposed to addressing social and economic inequality and unfair distribution of wealth in his country – then he can only expect to exasperate an already horrific death toll.

Israeli security obsessions should not be duplicated, neither in Brazil nor anywhere else, and Brazilians, many of whom rightly worry about the state of democracy in their country, should not succumb to the Israeli militant mindset which has wrought no peace, but much violence.

Israel exports wars to its neighbors, and war technology to the rest of the world. As many countries are plagued by conflict, often resulting from massive income inequalities, Israel should not be seen as the model to follow, but rather the example to avoid.

Tribal Nationalism vs Global Unity

Change, discontent and uncertainty are some of the most prominent characteristics of the times. These interconnected terms are routinely used to describe global affairs and are key factors animating the global protest movement as well as the growing tide of nationalism. Both movements arise from the same seed, one is progressive and in harmony with the new, the other is of the past and seeks to obstruct and divide.

These are transitional times, as humanity moves out of one civilization imbued with certain ideals, values and beliefs to a new way of living based on altogether different principles; times of unease and insecurity certainly, but also times of great hope and opportunity.

If humanity is to progress and the natural environment is to survive, fundamental change in the way life is lived is essential; systemic change as well as an accelerated shift in attitudes and values. Many people throughout the world recognize this and are advocating such a shift; those in power – political and corporate – reject such demands and do all they can to maintain the status quo and perpetuate the existing unjust systems. Despite this entrenched resistance, the new cannot be held at bay for much longer: change is coming, the question is when, how and with what impact it will occur, not if.

Widespread uncertainty is in part the result of this sustained intransigence, coupled with the instability within the socio-economic systems, which are in a state of terminal decay; fueled by the past, they are carcasses – forms without life. The pervading uncertainty is being exploited by the reactionary forces of the world; powerful forces using fear to manipulate people and drum-up what we might call tribal nationalism, as opposed to civic nationalism, in order to assert themselves, and in many countries they appear to be in the ascendency.

The current explosion of tribal nationalism or right-wing populism is a crude response to worries about immigration and national identity, coupled with genuine social injustices including economic hardship and unemployment. Throughout the world right-wing groups with protectionist economic policies and anti-immigration views continue to gain support and in some cases win power. The loudest sign of this regressive trend was the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. His nationalistic, ‘America First’ message fuels intolerance and division and encourages national or self- interest. It casts a shadow of suspicion over foreigners, particularly those that think, live and pray differently, and it is by nature inward looking and brittle.

Strengthened by Trump’s election, far right and ultra conservative politicians in other countries have flourished. Throughout Europe right-wing and far right parties have been empowered: Prime-Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary (who has repeatedly called for an end to ‘liberal democracies’ in Europe); President Recep Erdoğan in Turkey who has attacked the media, centralized power and is pursuing a form of Islamic nationalism; the Law and Justice government in Poland; Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister; The Freedom Party in Austria; Jair Bolsonaro the newly elected President of Brazil and Prime-Minister Narendra Modi of India. And in Russia, according to a series of studies conducted by the Research Council of Norway, “nationalism has been growing since the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1990-1991), along with attempts by the regime to commandeer it.

These political parties, and others, have adopted what The Economist states is “a pessimistic view that foreign affairs are often a zero-sum game in which global interests compete with national ones. It is a big change that makes for a more dangerous world.” The Brexit vote (52% voted leave, 48% remain in the 2016 referendum) in the UK was another example of how right-wing politicians manipulated a disgruntled populous by inflaming nationalistic sentiment and intolerance. The vote to leave was in many ways a protest vote – a negative vote – largely against freedom of movement of people from Europe; i.e., against immigration. Duplicitous advocates of leaving the European Union, mainly from the Conservative and UKIP parties, used slogans like ‘taking back control’ and taking ‘our country back’ to win support for their campaign. Consistent with the response in other countries many who were won over by the nationalists’ agenda and voted to leave were over 60 years of age; young people (those under 30) who will feel the impact of leaving most, commonly see themselves as ‘citizens of the world’ and overwhelmingly voted to remain part of the EU.

Civic nationalism

Tribal nationalism plays on notions of identity, encouraging allegiance to a national and in some cases racial ideal; national bonds of belonging and personal identity rooted in the nation state are fostered, and in a world in which many people, particularly older individuals, experience a fragmented sense of self and a national feeling of loss, such ideals appear comforting, offering a sense of belonging. But far from creating security this type of  nationalism (like all forms of conditioned constructs) isolates and excludes, strengthening false notions of superiority and inferiority, creating an atmosphere of distrust, and establishing a climate in which fear can flourish.

Images of self which are rooted in any form of ideology (religious, political, racial, etc.), imprison and divide, feeding intolerance and division, all of which is in opposition to the movement and tone of the time, which is towards greater levels of cooperation, tolerance and understanding of others. Within the paradigm of Tribal Nationalism ‘the other’, other nations as well as people from other nations, are seen as a threat, as rivals, and are viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility. When outsiders are described in inflammatory terms, such as ‘murderers’, ‘rapists’ and people who ‘infest’ the pristine nation, fear and anger is facilitated, violence legitimised and a process of dehumanisation of ‘the other’ set in motion. And, as history shows, when this takes place unbridled atrocities are perpetuated.

Civic nationalism on the other hand brings the people of a particular nation together around common values to work for the good of the community. It encourages cooperation, tolerance and sharing and can serve as a stepping stone to global responsibility; collective action in which the skills, gifts and abilities of the individual nations of the world are used for the benefit and enrichment of all, and not just for the nation state. Conversely, tribal nationalism is tied to the old ways of competition and suspicion, it is a dangerous ideology which is being cynically employed by right-wing politicians, who see widespread public discontent as an opportunity to manipulate the argument and gain power. It is of the past, is detrimental to human development and has no place in our world.

As any child will tell you, beyond national constructs, beyond racial and tribal identities, humanity is one, diverse but part of a single unity. We are moving into a time when this essential fact will be the guiding principle of human affairs.