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Human rights workers in Brazil now at risk following election of new president

By Cian Molloy - 05 November, 2018

Head and shoulders photo of Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro

Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro

Human rights workers in Brazil are facing increased risk following the election last week of Jair Bolsonaro as the country’s new president, according to the Irish aid agency Trócaire.

A retired military officer who promotes himself as an outsider and a supporter of family values, Mr Bolsonaro is seen as being right-wing economically, as he favours cutting taxes, reducing government spending and sweeping deregulation. When appointing his cabinet, Mr Bolsonaro chose as his justice minister a judge who jailed the new president’s main political opponent before the elections.

Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra said she sees Mr Bolsonaro’s election as being part of “a growing pattern of the rise of populist right-wing leaders …who stoke the fears of people who feel vulnerable in the face of social and economic change”. She said similar leaders have risen to power in the United States, Italy, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, and parts of Africa and Latin America.

“Bolsonaro’s election will embolden dangerous political movements in the region at a time when Latin America is already volatile,” she warned, pointing to the growing economic and political crisis in Venezuela, the escalation of political violence in Nicaragua and the rise in gang violence and killing of human rights activists in Guatemala and Honduras.

“The election of a person with extremist opinions on a range of issues – from women to minorities to the environment – will further destabilise Latin America, as what happens in Brazil affects the entire region,” said Ms de Barra.

Since its foundation in 1973, Trócaire has been active in Latin America and is committed to supporting vulnerable people, especially those belonging to indigenous groups and those environmental and human rights activists who work to protect indigenous peoples.

“We are particularly concerned at Bolsonaro’s intention to target activists. Already there have been reports of increased intimidation of human rights activists in Brazil,” said Ms de Barra.

Head and shoulders photo of Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra

Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra

“Bolsonaro wants to increase deforestation, build destructive hydro-electric dams, open up new mines and reduce environmental protection. All of these actions will place indigenous communities and their defenders at risk.

“It is also very worrying from a climate change perspective. His plans to clear large areas of the Amazon will make it impossible for Brazil to meet its carbon emission reduction targets and endanger global efforts to reduce temperature rises. These are very worrying times for Brazil, for the region and for all of us who care about human rights.”

If you want to help Trócaire and its support for human rights activists in Latin America, you can sign the charity’s Human Rights Defender petition.

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