Regular readers will know I rarely lose an opportunity to compare Scotland with existing states if there are obvious comparisons or parallels. Studying how other nations govern themselves, or are governed by those they wish gone, is good practice. You learn the techniques they use to win their battles
Where the nuts come from
Today, I look at a small area in Brazil, the world’s fourth largest democracy, about to turn decidedly sour. Rather far away from Scotland, I concede, but then we did try to set up a trading post in the Panama Isthmus some years back. (The backers of that adventure went from rich, to struggling, to rich again, compensated for backing England by selling it Scotland. “Buy it while it’s a bargain, ladies!”)
Brazil is in the grip of a neo-fascist, Jair Bolsonaro, friend to the powerful, a thug elected to protect their privileges. The rich never give up without a viscous, dirty fight. They can even turn off the lights in entire cities if they think they are losing. They did it in Venezuela last week, and did it in Britain when Heath was prime minister.
What does 63 year-old Bolsonaro stand for? In a word, severe authority. He is staffing his cabinet with military men. He was a former army captain, first elected to Congress in 1991. During most of his legislative career he was a marginal figure known for speaking nostalgically about the 1964-1985 military dictatorship and for making incendiary comments about women and minorities.
England also enjoys talking nostalgically of its war years, the camaradery, the patriotism, the air raid shelters where everybody played cards, chatted and laughed, and producing lot of war dramas to revel in, followed by food shortages to make it all seem real again. England looks to a strong man to lead it, preferably wealthy, entitled, bigotted and dim.
Beware the bringer of false promises
This will sound familiar: the last decade saw Brazil’s governments mired in corruption, a recession, unemployment increasing, no great changes for the better in society’s ills, an auspicious time for the neo-fascist to take his chances.
Bolsonaro pitched himself to voters as an anti-establishment maverick who will fight graft. And in a country traumatized by violent crime, his iron-fisted approach to law and order appeals to disillusioned voters in traditionally left-wing strongholds where the Worker’s Party once presided.
He wants to roll back the progressive clock: make gun ownership as easy as carrying an iPhone, ban abortion, open up protected areas to big business especially the powerful agri-industry, and generally piss on his country as much as he can. He supports apartheid Israel – a macho-man, larger than life.
Now presidente, Bolsonaro’s meteoric rise is all the more remarkable because he campaigned on a shoestring budget, relying largely on social media and lots of television interviews and appearances as the underdog candidate, just like Nigel Farage.
And like Farage he has no accomplishments to show for his time loud mouthing. He waved a clean record and an absolutist attitude peppered with profanities. That’s it.
An uneducated people
Okay, that sets the scene, time to switch to Brazil’s ‘Little Scotland’, an area rich in mineral wealth and bolshie natives. Bolsonaro wants to throw it and them to the wolves.
A united people will never be defeated!” shouts Maria Betânia Mota, at an indigenous assembly in a partially burned-out agricultural college torched by an unknown gang.
Hundreds of voices roar back in approval. Betânia Mota is the women’s secretary of its organisers, the Indigenous Council of Roraima, which represents the majority of those living in the savannah and scrub that make up the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve in Brazil’s northernmost state. It is home to 25,000 indigenous people who raise tens of thousands of cattle and crops on smallholdings and communal farms, just like the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands but with searing heat and palm trees.
Nearly half of Roraima is protected indigenous land. So, not like Scotland at all, but a lot like Scotland in the past, and its wealth under attack now, its democracy threatened.
The Constitution forbids it
Brazil’s 1988 constitution prohibits commercial farming and mining on indigenous reserves without specific congressional approval, (for Scotland, see Fracking) but Bolsonaro – who describes indigenous people as “like animals in zoos” – (bare arsed savages?) wants to change that. He has singled out Raposa for its reserves of gold, copper, molybdenum, bauxite and diamonds. Scotland has oil and gas and electricity.
“It’s the richest area in the world. You can explore it rationally beside the indigenous, giving royalties and integrating the indigenous to society,” to quote Bolsonaro doing his best to imply they are savages but a string of beads will win them over. He also claims the area has reserves of niobium, a versatile metal used to strengthen steel he believes could transform the Brazilian economy. The government’s geological service said it had no record of niobium in Raposa.
Like Scotland confronted by the tyranny of Westminster, and moves to introduce fracking, the indigenous people feel threatened by Bolsonaro. Gold prospecting caused devastation years earlier, the land only now healing. An ill-explained visit by Bolsonaro allies raised suspicions plans are afoot to move in the pile drivers, drills, and bulldozers.
Raposa’s history is riddled with strife, mobs have torched buildings, shot at people and rice farmers done all they can to steal land. The rice farmers were finally expelled from Raposa by the supreme court in 2009. They want back again.
Bolsonaro has problems of his own. He cannot simply walk in and take control. He lost to the left-wing contender Fernando Haddad inside the reserve, where indigenous people are proud of running their own affairs.
A land not fit for invaders
So there you have it, the people who have lived off the land for generations are up against the might of the state. They are led by a woman, a former lawyer, in the mold of Nicola Sturgeon. Joênia de Carvalho, from the Wapishana tribe, has become the first indigenous woman voted into the Brazilian congress. After addressing the assembly, she said Bolsonaro’s threats, while legally difficult to impose, create “juridical insecurity”.
“People who covet indigenous lands and have a certain dispute with indigenous lands start to believe this and start to initiate conflicts,” she said. People flock to hear her speak. They chat, and discuss and debate, joining in the democratic process.
I presume a visiting British unionist would say their political debate is very divisive.
“The land is our mother. You plant, you take from her, you use her but you respect her, taking care of her. The white people don’t respect our nature. We won’t let this land be destroyed.” Mariana Tobias, 71, Macuxi shaman.
For Scotland, it should be a doddle
Sturgeon does her best to demand the House of Gothic Horrors respect the fundamental rights of the people of Scotland. Joênia de Carvalho has a similar battle on her hands. To be frank, I would not bet a dollar either will win soon, though I admire both.
They have the mass of the people behind them but which of us will lay down in front of a bulldozer or an army tank when they roll in? The people of Roraima will do that. They are in no mood to have their land and their rights stolen from them.
Read about the powers for removal from Scotland under Brexit: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-ngL