Quick Take:

6,385 miles from their home university in Campinas, Brazil, six social scientists came to UC Santa Cruz this week for an all-day symposium on the Latin American far right.

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Some 6,385 miles from their home university in Campinas, Brazil, six social scientists came to UC Santa Cruz on Wednesday for an all-day symposium on the Latin American far right.

Headlined “The Far-Right and Democracy: Brazil and the Américas,” the event saw four panels of scholars from UCSC and the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) near São Paulo, Brazil, discuss topics ranging from the influence of Indigenous peoples in Latin American politics to the political rights of marginalized groups in Brazil.

Patricia Pinho, a UCSC professor of Latin American and Latino studies (LALS) and the event’s primary orchestrator, said the timing is rather auspicious.

“We are just four days away — and I say this without any exaggeration — from the most important elections in Brazilian history,” Pinho said. “The Brazilian people will decide whether we will begin the recovery of our democracy, or if we are going to continue our descent into neo-fascism.”

Patricia Pinho (left) and Mario Medeiros da Silva (right).
Patricia Pinho, a UCSC professor of Latin American and Latino Studies (left) and Mario Medeiros da Silva, a UNICAMP sociologist (right). Credit: Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz

Indeed, the local event comes on the eve of the first round of Brazil’s 2022 presidential election this Sunday, in which current president Jair Bolsonaro — representing Brazil’s right-wing Liberal Party (PL) — will face off against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (colloquiall, “Lula”), a leftist Workers Party politician who held the Brazilian presidency from 2003 to 2010.

The symposium’s timing, though, is coincidental. Andre Kaysel, a political science professor at UNICAMP, told Lookout that the purpose of his and his colleagues’ visit was to strengthen relationships with universities in California during the start of their academic years. (In Brazil, school typically starts in February, since it’s in the Southern Hemisphere.) Prior to coming to UCSC, the UNICAMP scholars visited San Diego State University and UC Berkeley, though they did not appear at public events there.

“Brazil and the U.S., in the last couple of years, have endured similar or at least parallel political processes, where the far right has played a key role,” Kaysel said, “and defeated or not, [they] will continue to play an important role. This, I think, marks the case for closer relations and research initiatives around this theme.”

UNICAMP anthropologist Artionka Capiberibe.
UNICAMP anthropologist Artionka Capiberibe’s talk, titled “The contemporary normative war against Indigenous rights and Brazil’s endless colonial mentality,” dealt with how the rise of the far right in Brazil has been associated with rollbacks in Indigenous land rights. Credit: Thomas Sawano / Lookout Santa Cruz

But Bolsonaro’s specter — whose emergence as the face of Latin America’s far right has earned him the nickname “Tropical Trump” — hung over most of the event. During the first panel of the day, titled “Indigenous Rights and Resistance in the Américas,” UNICAMP anthropology professor Artionka Capiberibe spoke on how Bolsonaro’s tenure has seen rollbacks in legal protections for Indigenous peoples in Brazil — shown in clear terms, she said, by the dropping number of protected Indigenous territories demarcated by the Brazilian government in recent years, a move applauded by agricultural lobbyists in the country.

“Where a gradual decrease in demarcation is observed, this fact would be normal if it was indicating that needs have been met,” Capiberibe said. “But the reason is different. … It is easy to see the connection between the decrease in demarcation and the rise of the far right in Brazil.”

Indigenous rights are an important issue in Latin American politics. Though many people associate the conversion of vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest into farmland with its global climate effects, it has more immediate impacts on its inhabitants: An estimated 517,000 people live in protected Indigenous lands in Brazil alone.

With Bolsonaro being friendly to agricultural interests, this has put Indigenous-rights activists — often called “forest guardians” by themselves and the popular media — in the sights of the Brazilian far right.

Speaking on the same panel as Capiberibe, Flora Lu, a UCSC ecological anthropologist and provost of John R. Lewis College and College 9 who studies indigenous groups in Ecuador, pointed to the June 2022 murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira as constituting two in a series of recent politically motivated killings of Indigenous-rights activists.

Phillips and Pereira were en route to a summit of Indigenous-rights activists in Atalaia do Norte, a municipality in the far west of Brazil, when they died. Their killings was soon followed by a spate of violence against Indigenous people in Brazil, which claimed the lives of at least four. Among those killed, Lu said, was activist Janildo Oliveira Guajajara, a member of the Guajajara tribe in Maranhão state, Brazil.

“Janildo was the sixth forest guardian to be murdered since 2016,” Lu said, “and part of a larger pattern of attacks on Indigenous peoples and land defenders in Brazil and other places.”

While Bolsonaro generally lags behind Lula in the polls, a big topic of conversation at the symposium was the legacy his presidency would have on the country post-election. “Bolsonarism” — which like “Trumpism” describes the elected leader’s combination of rhetorical bluster and far-right economic and social policies — is likely here to stay, Capiberibe said.

“Even with Lula’s victory, there will still be a national congress and the judiciary full of representatives of the Bolsonarist ideology,” Capiberibe said.

Thomas Sawano joins the Lookout team after two-and-a-half years at City on a Hill Press, the student-run newspaper at UCSC. While there, he reported on the university, arts and culture events, and the...