Blog, Enviroment, National Politics

How the Political Crisis is Threatening Brazil’s Sustainable Goals

*Photo credit: Ana_Cotta | Photo Title: S.O.S Amazônia

By Rodrigo Rosa, Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Latin American Studies, Columbia University.

Since 2013, Brazil’s political turmoil has produced anxiety and drawbacks on the political and economic arenas. The instability caused by the political brawl is jeopardizing the environment and threatening the country’s long-term sustainability ambitions. Recent events are going against the commitments made in the international negotiations during the COP 21[1] in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gases emissions within next decades.

Last June, Congress approved a legislative bill to reduce 600 thousand hectares of protected areas in the Amazon and other natural preserved areas in Brazil, which is equivalent to four times the area of the city of Sao Paulo.


Blog, Culture, Society

What happens when people DO NOT recognize themselves as rights holders?

By Camila Jordan, editor and writer at Brazil Talk

[ 7 min read ]

Watching a video[1] of a tragic incident in São Paulo[2], where people’s houses under a bridge were caught in a fire, triggered the following reflection.

What happens when people DO NOT recognize themselves as rights holders?

According to residents living in the occupation, the fire was started by local police officers with the intent to expel them from their impromptu homes, made out of remnants of wood and other rejected materials. However, according to an article in Folha de São Paulo and interviews with Eduardo Odloak, the sub-mayor of the region, one person from the impromptu community lit the area on fire in revolt against the actions performed by the city government.

People who had been living in the place of the incident say they had been dwelling there the last three years. Whether city hall gave warnings about their planned removal is unclear, some people said two social workers came by and urged them to go to a shelter on the Friday before the incident, but the majority didn’t seem to know what was happening.

Former mayor Fernando Haddad[3] had installed the ‘cold law’ decree, with the intent of discouraging public agents of dismantling improvised shacks and removing belongings, such as tents, sleeping bags, blankets, and mattresses, from homeless people. However, the decree ended up also allowing the creation of new small slums in different parts of the city. To combat the increase of new slums, the current mayor João Doria has now formally revoked it.

Actions like these targeting vulnerable communities are unfortunately quite common, especially in Sao Paulo, a megacity of 22 million, where land is a valuable resource and can draw the big bucks. After hundreds of fires in favelas in the last five years local activists started noticing how the price of square footage of these areas starting to increase after the fires. In 2012 a commission was installed to investigate the relation between the so called ‘accidental’ fires that were happening in the favelas and real estate speculation. The case closed without further investigations.

Last year 230 fires were registered, by March of 2017 already 44 had happened.


See more about this issue here, here, and here.


Sao Paulo has one of Brazil’s largest homeless population. According to a study conducted in 2015 by the Municipal Secretary for Social Assistance and Development (SMADS) and Fundação Instituto de Pesquisas Econômicas (FIPE), there are 16.000 homeless people. But some specialists[4] say this number is incorrect and too small, due to methodological errors and improper data collection.

Violence against the most vulnerable populations in Brazil comes at an early age and has a long history, and depending on one’s race and economic status it will be a lifelong experience with various degrees of severity and forms.

If a person is upper or middle class and white, she or he might grow up being taught that the walls that separate them from the outside world are for their safety, since there are people out there that ‘are out to get you.’ This person will learn the right time to be at home; if you are a woman, this will mean a different hour of the day. She or he will also learn the habit of crossing the street, if someone ‘funny looking’ (Hello: racial bias) is coming. And they sure will know which places in the city to avoid.

If the person is poor and black, he or she will most probably live under constant cross fire between the military police and drug cartels. They will learn not to go out at certain hours at the risk of being shot, beaten, arrested or killed. Police officers abusing power to achieve the so called ‘pacification of slums’ by raiding houses without a warrant will be an everyday fact of life. They will know someone who has been either killed or shot.

The violence comes in many shapes and forms.

It doesn’t come equally to all. Some read about it. Others see the news on TV. Others have no choice but to live with it every day of their lives.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, violence is:

  1. a) the use of physical force to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy;
  2. b) an instance of violent treatment or procedure.

Physical violence – that’s the one hardly deniable, easier proved and condemned, but how about ‘b’? How about the non-physical abuse? How about the denial of your rights as a citizen? The right to be safe in your home and neighborhood, the right to quality education and health services, the right to privacy, and even the right to life?


“Aqui não tem traficante, aqui não tem arma, aqui não tem assassino!”*

*Translation: “There are no drug dealers here, there are no guns here, there are no murderers here!”


Reflecting upon what people in the video were saying, I was brought back to the time I worked in Rio de Janeiro’s poorest favelas. I became friends with many of the families living in extreme poverty, meaning they had no access to water, sanitation or electricity. In that three year period I had the chance and opportunity to listen to their stories of suffering, of a daily feeling of insecurity and violence, and this sense of invisibility they feel society had towards them.

Fabbi Silva[5], my friend, someone I admire and worked with in Rio, is a resident and coordinator of several projects in Parque das Missões[6], considered one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous favelas. She works with women in circles of trust talking about issues like racism, domestic violence, feminism and does poetry readings with young teens and children[7]. The impact her projects had and continue to have in a community stricken with extreme poverty and violence are immense. Fabbi dares to inspire the community to tell a different narrative about themselves.


Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 11.14.47 AM.png

Young girls proudly performing a dance show about their ancestrality

When I asked her about the video and what she thought about my reflection she immediately answered that the violation of rights starts at an early age and comes from all sides.

“It has become our normality.”

She emphasized the fact that these rights violations are continuous and targeted at poor and black populations. “We cannot talk about these violations without talking about systemic racism”, Fabbi reinforced.

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 11.15.04 AM.png

Children and Fabbi reading poetry

Most of these vulnerable communities do not see themselves as holders of rights, they have never been taught, shown or proven that they hold the same rights as the richer and whiter counterparts of their country. As mentioned above, their neighborhoods are blighted, lacking access to water and basic sanitation, connections to the electrical system are usually illegal since private companies decide not to provide services in certain neighborhoods.

In Rio, I saw how people had to stay awake two or three nights of the week to fill their large water containers, as late as three in the morning. This is the time at which the state  owned water company (soon to be privatized) decides to open the water stream for some of the most invisible favelas. These are also the same people who have to wake up at 4 am to catch a three-hour commute to get to the city and work. The access to education and the public health system are precarious, not only in quality but, as Fabbi mentioned to me over the phone, in the way they are treated as second class citizens by public servants. All these violences, little by little, day by day, have a devastating effect – people stop believing they are citizens with power and rights.

While studying and living in New York, I have been confronted with so many patterns of inequality and racism that call to mind the reality in Brazil.

Two continental sized countries. Two countries with a deep history of racism. Two societies that need to start urgently addressing, head first, the roots of these inequalities that we can still clearly see today affecting colored populations across all aspects of their lives.

So, dear reader, what shall we do? I suppose there is no other way but to start the change within oneself. One needs to look inside, acknowledge one’s biases, racism and start being aware, start listening, observing. Start being an ally to this pressing cause.





All photos were published with Fabbi’s authorization.

** Corrected version, previously said that the water company in Rio was privately owned is in fact still state owned.






[5] (video in Portuguese)



Blog, Culture, National Politics, Society

What do you know about the military regime in Brazil?

by Mario Saraiva, MPA-DP candidate 2018 at SIPA

We need to talk about the military regime. I don’t think the issue has received the attention it deserves. Some stories from the period of dictatorship in Brazil are famous, such as the kidnapping of the American ambassador by the communist guerrilla, and how the US was a key supporter of the regime. However, many Brazilians are still unaware of the atrocities that happened from 1964 to 1985.  Our neighbors, Argentina and Chile, have publicly examined the crimes committed against human rights during their dictatorships regimes but Brazil…let’s just say Brazil is not there yet. Open dialogue about the military regime remains limited and consequently, my generation—born after 1985—is at risk of forgetting what we as a nation have been through.

 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana words carry a timely lesson for Brazil as the country approaches the one-year countdown for its 2018 presidential election.


Blog, Events

Public Policies in an Uncertain World

by Fernanda Nogueira and Camila Jordan, Editors and Writers at Brazil Talk 

New York, 21st  of July 2017, School of International and Public Affairs 

Brazil Talk was present on the Public Policies in an Uncertain World – Actions for Tomorrow seminar at SIPA this Friday. The panels consisted of presentations of the final papers made by graduate students of the GEMPA (Global Executive Masters of Public Administration) program, as well as a keynote talk by Mark Anthony Thomas, Senior Vice President of Partnerships for the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

The event contained three panels focused on innovations in public management, fostering economic development and advances in financial policy, all united by a single theme – how to build a better tomorrow. Willian Silva organizer and GEMPA graduate began with an introduction to the current state of sanitation in Brazil, and perspectives on how to improve the chaotic situation in Brazil. Willian furthered mentioned the contrast found between states in the southern region of Brazil versus the north of the country, historically poorer and with less access to resources.

According to Instituto Trata Brasil, leading organization on sanitation data in Brazil, only 50,3% of Brazilians have access to the sewage system and of the amount collected only 42% of the sewage is treated. In the north, only 16% of the sewage is treated versus the 47% in the southeast region. He stressed the importance and urgency of this matter in Brazil since it has proven impact on social and economic well being, affecting more negatively already vulnerable populations.

This shows that Brazil still has a long way to go, structural and fundamental issues such as sanitation are yet to be made priority by our governments.

The plurality of subjects presented in the seminar and the very existence of this program shows the importance of providing quality education to people who are already in the public sector, and are no longer at the beginning of their careers. It made us think about a possible parallel with the quota system in universities. Providing quality education from early on is of utmost urgency, but what about the generation that is already in the workforce? What about those who are currently working to improve our country’s public sector? Those people need attention and inclusion, too. Programs like the GEMPA are an opportunity for them to increase their knowledge and expertise, as well as expand horizons and connect with different people around the globe. It also provides a space to be inspired by leading minds on the sector and to aspire to greater things in their environments.

After all, we cannot count only on the “new generation” to take action – it is the people who are currently inserted in the system that has the power to change it from within, and open way for new actors to have the opportunity to cause an impact, too.

Blog, Events, National Politics

Interview with Marina Silva & Zé Gustavo

Brazil Talk

Brazil Conference, April 2017-04-15


The rhythm of the conference was fast, interesting and overwhelming, at times. Numerous concomitant panels intercalated with quick networking coffee breaks, while numerous politicians, policymakers, students, and entrepreneurs gave interviews and discussed challenges to the development of Brazil and its solutions.

Amidst this environment, Marina Silva, former Minister of Environment, Presidential Candidate, and now spokesperson for Rede party, met Brazil Talk’s team for an interview. For a little under an hour, she responded to our questions on Brazil’s future, together with Zé Gustavo, Rede Sustentabilidade Party’s spokesperson. We talked about key subjects regarding the development of the country such as political reform, youth engagement in politics, and sustainability.

Calm and composed, she shared her visions and expectations for Brazil. She mentioned how the Brazilian party system needs renovation, and how this system, together with campaign financing, presents a barrier to entry for new people in politics — and, therefore, new ideas. Moreover, Marina explained her perspective on how this stagnation has led youth to not be interested in politics, even though this seems to be changing. Lastly, she also argued that sustainable development is already in motion, which will be hard to stop or even reverse.

We are very thankful to Marina and Zé for taking the time to talk to us; next, we present a summary of what we lively discussed, and hopefully it will feel like a call for action for our readers, too.

Political Reform.

[Brazil Talk]:

Every panel here mentioned the need for a political reform, but few people addressed the “how to get there”. What is your view on this point, how would that reform take place? What is the role of Rede in this, given the current polarization between parties, and the need for renovation?

[Marina Silva]:

I will begin from what you said, that everyone talked about a political reform, but nobody actually said what that would be like. I think there is an issue that makes it harder for people to talk about this: what they [politicians in Brazil] are proposing goes in the opposite direction of what society wants. They are proposing more power to the parties, more power to the old chiefs, and more money so that parties can make millionaire campaigns – at a moment where the society wants more participation, more protagonism, they are going in the opposite direction. At the moment of complaints against the abuse of economic power, to propose in a wide open manner a BRL 2 billion increase in the party fund, that is the institutionalization of economic power abuse and it is being catalyzed via the public budget. What has been done via slush funds, what has been done via “Petrolão”, via pension funds, via stolen consigned loans, via BNDES, even via Belo Monte? I can talk for a year [about this] (…) Now they are saying “ok, we won’t let this happen again, all guilty parties are going to jail, and now everything is going to be financed by public budget”. They are transforming the parties in autarkies; they already have the monopoly of politics, because you can only run if you belong to a party, and now they are proposing the legalization of the abuse of economic power – but abusing the taxpayer.

[Brazil Talk]:

In this sense, could you talk a about the fact that Rede supports independent candidacies?

[Marina Silva]:

Actually, what we support is the ending of the parties’ monopoly. Since we still don’t have independent candidacies as people have in many countries, such as Chile and Mexico – actually in the democratic world, 9 out 10 democracies have some sort of independent candidacies. But since we don’t have that in Brazil, Rede has proposed to have a share of civic candidates. That means that the independent candidacies are affiliated to Rede, but not organically – they come in the name of a cause. Obviously, they cannot affiliate if they support topics that are extremely against our basic values, such as death penalty. But the right thing would be to have a change in the Brazilian electoral legislation that allows for independent candidacies to run for elections through an independent platform, with a list of people who endorse that candidate. Zé has an idea that one could create some sort of association of independent candidates so that they could reach the electoral coefficient, as it is quite difficult. And why is that important? Because the majority of people don’t have any power inside the parties, even more with the “closed lists”. You can try to share your ideas in a party, but it is unlikely you will be heard; people hide under these closed lists, and their goal is to achieve privileged forum – and escape the justice system.

[Brazil Talk]:

Taking into account that the campaigning today is very expensive and that the independent candidacies would have a lot of difficulties in gathering funds, what would you suggest for having a system where the independent candidates would compete on equal terms with huge parties?

[Marina Silva]:

With public funding, the right thing would be to [formally] establish an independent candidacies system. In that case, they would have access to public funding. Perhaps a good alternative would be a mixed process of public funding, where individuals could have a contribution ceiling, such as BRL 10 or 20 per person, and that would also apply to parties. It is essential for us to improve the political system in light of the already existing experience and knowledge in the world so that the new independent candidates will really have the opportunity of helping renew politics in the country. The parties will also have to improve, and there is no way to improve the quality of politics in Brazil if the parties don’t improve themselves. The possibility that the parties might have a competitor that might surprise them, perhaps that will oblige them to have better criteria in programmatic terms, the choice of candidates, and characteristics of these candidates, in political, technical and mainly ethical terms.

[Brazil Talk]:

Do you think that we are closer or further away from achieving an independent system?

[Marina Silva]:

Measuring through Congress, I think it is very difficult.  We are working with a group of young people on a petition to support this idea of ​​a constitutional amendment for independent candidacies applications. I believe that if we have enough adhesion, it is possible that it gets approved. This change probably will not apply to the 2018 elections. As it is an amendment to the constitution, it is a more time-consuming procedure. But it also depends a lot on our mobilization because society is increasingly being put aside in this process. What is happening is very serious. The closed list takes away the possibility of some electoral surprise. I was a congresswoman, but I would hardly be [elected] with a closed list [process]. I was never the priority [candidate], even of the PT [party] at the time when it was a party with the original ideals, the priority candidates were those of the majority tendencies.

Youth Engagement in Politics.

[Brazil Talk]:

What do you believe makes young people not want to participate in politics nowadays? We have many friends who no longer want to discuss politics, let alone enter and participate in politics. What do you think prevents the young from entering the party structure?

[Zé Gustavo]:

(…) [Youth tends to think] ‘I would rather be at a college party, or anything else, or investing in a corporate side and making money than dedicating energy, time and youth in a political proposal, a party.’

Nowadays, even if not everyone is looking into politics, there has been a great awakening. In São Paulo, for instance, there were some really interesting candidacies of young candidates from different parties in the last elections.

Here [at the conference], for instance, we had a round table with Áurea Carolina, in Belo Horizonte, Janaína Lima, in São Paulo. It’s a very interesting discovery. Young Brazilians have been discovering this [new] way of doing politics. Our generation did not have any political education. After the democratic re-establishment in 1988, people who debated politics moved on to fill decision-making roles and management posts.

But our political education was left aside in the hands of political parties, who did nothing. So our generation does not understand exactly how it works, what to do, how to do it — only through rare cases where professors helped us, or through the privilege of being in a family that has a strong relationship with politics (…).

[Marina Silva]:

I usually say that youth cannot be ‘attracted’ to politics. This “attract the young” thing does not exist. Youth needs to feel attracted and engaged for politics themselves. And this distancing phenomenon that Zé mentions has been happening for a long time. The entire decade after the coup until the regaining of democracy, it was almost inevitable that the youth demanded space in politics.

Can you imagine my father, in the middle of a rubber plantation, if I had said to him that  I was involved with Chico Mendes, with an underground party, God, my father would have died. But it was something almost natural. We were attracted to it, we felt compelled.

Anyway, maybe the way of being attracted to politics is to see new ideals because our fight was a fight that you [youth], sometimes, value a lot — but your cause is much greater.

Maybe it is so great we can’t even see it. Daniel [Hogan] says that our generation fought for freedom, thinking that, with freedom, we would build the world we wanted. Then he says the difference between our generation and the youth today is that they have to use the freedom we conquered to fight for the world they want. You have to fight to have that world and it is a much larger job, much harder, more tiring. Because, otherwise, if you do not fight, we won’t even have a world. And this youth will do using the rest, the few, remaining good politicians. Sometimes it is sad to give youth such a herculean task, but I like the biblical proverb (…)

Sustainable Development.

[Brazil Talk]:

How do you think, in today’s world with Trump, we should include the sustainability agenda into the political discussion, so that this is not just “EnviroBoring” (Ecochato) talk? How do we not become “EnviroBoring” people, and still make sustainability permeate politics and become part of public management?

[Marina Silva]:

Society has made a contribution in terms of mobilization, as I said. Unfortunately, contrary to all this, governments are increasingly refractory to the socio-environmental agenda. Here, I think we still have an advantage that Trump says what he thinks, in the roughest way possible. It is more difficult when some make a nice speech, but their practices are the opposite. This is what I call a hollow consensus: there is agreement, but there are no consequences. For example, Brazil, when it changed the forest code – “Now it’s zero deforestation! “But deforestation is increasing. Now we will have protests from indigenous populations, [and other issues] (…) as a result from that.

People are making up hollow consensuses. It seems that we only learn through the pain. Some not even through pain. The suffering that climate change is causing worldwide is already too much. I think change will come as a mutation process, where businesses and citizens do their part, rather than a transition between governments. It’s an agenda which seems they [the government] will have to run after or be pulled into it. Because what is going on is so serious and dramatic, that we have no other way out.

[Brazil Talk]:

And what do you think is the biggest impediment, in terms of government, so that this agenda can move forward?

[Marina Silva]:

The project of power for power. People make speeches that appeal to their funders and voters, not to what is needed. It is not a vision for a country. It is not a worldview. And lastly, it is what pleases your own, who want that speech be put into practice. In Brazil that was it. The evasion of public lands is done deliberately because they go to the President and then he/she passes a preventative measure, a bill that will guarantee that public land for them. It is a triple loss. It is an environmental loss, an economic loss, since it is public property and finally a grave social loss. Unfortunately, this is the logic behind the power for power strategy, of money for money and this will only change if the public opinion is capable of making different choices. The United States made another choice and Obama was able to reposition the U.S. under the Climate Convention. He changed the pendulum, but now we’re going back.

[Brazil Talk]:

A friend from the World Wild Fund commented that even with Trump and the setbacks in the environmental agenda, we have already started a process with no return. For example, some people are already saying they will not go back to coal, oil companies are already investing in clean energy, etc. Do you think that this rationale also applies to Brazil?

[Marina Silva]:

I believe in the mutation story. (…) That is, companies, governments, and society bringing about change each in their own spaces. For example, entrepreneurs say they will not go back to coal because there were pioneers who started the process giving it economic viability, competitiveness and technical response using a sustainable methodology. Well, if there is a clean answer, politically correct, why should I, businessperson, go back to a process that will be execrated and bring loss? In that sense, I hope it is a path that has no turning back.

There is one more thing: life will always seek life. If in fact, what is at stake is the possibility of destruction of life on the planet, I do not believe that the death drive will prevail. We’ll have to find the last resort in order to try to survive as a species. Since our existence depends on other species, there is no way we can save ourselves without them. I believe in this mutation, and that the change will come through a paradox: a dispersive aggregation and at the same time an aggregating dispersion.

The dispersive aggregation is the dispersion in the social fabric of the aggregating ideal that we must change to guarantee the conditions that sustain life. This is the aggregating dispersion that unites us. It is dispersing us, but it also unites us around a single goal: to change the development model.

As you create an experience here, it will create another experience there, that will soon see another surface. It’s another model, it’s as if we had a bypass to migrate to another model. Well, I have to believe that, because with Trump here [U.S.], Temer there [Brazil], that’s all that’s left [laughs].


Brazil Talk is a non-partisan, not-for-profit website offering new perspectives about Brazilian issues through opinion articles, interviews, videos, graphics and events.

The Brazil Talk team is grateful for Marina Silva and Zé Gustavo for contributing their perspectives to our platform.


All photos by Isabela Messias