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Why does Canada continue trade talks with extremist Bolsonaro government?

Canada continues to engage in negotiations with the right-wing extremist Bolsonaro government of Brazil, as part of the Canada-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement talks. The Bolsonaro government is explicitly anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-black, anti-Indigenous, anti-worker and anti-environment — the very opposite of the values the Trudeau government claims to hold.

Canadian labour, environmental, human rights and civil society organizations call on our government to cease talks and to condemn the Bolsonaro government’s harmful positions and policies. We have outlined these concerns in the following letter submitted to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and International Trade Minister Jim Carr:

June 10, 2019
Subject: Canada’s trade talks with the Bolsonaro government

We, the undersigned organizations, wish to take this opportunity to express our concerns with the Canadian government’s insistence on negotiating a Canada-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement in light of the 2018 Brazilian election results.

In 2018, the right-wing extremist candidate Jair Bolsonaro was elected as President of Brazil. Shortly following his election, Minister Freeland congratulated him on his win. Since then we have seen repeated meetings between Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Brazilian President, including the Mercosur negotiations and the Lima Group emergency meetings on Venezuela.

As a network consisting of Canadian unions, environmental organizations, and civil society groups, we are particularly concerned with the Bolsonaro government’s policies as well as his publicly expressed positions on the following issues:

Bolsonaro’s policies will have serious impacts on the environment and represent a major setback for tackling the climate crisis.

We are facing ever worsening impacts of climate change and science is confirming that we need a transformational approach to respond to the climate crisis, from a social, political, and economic perspective. The new president of Brazil has downgraded Brazil’s climate diplomacy efforts, has transferred control of Indigenous reserves to agribusiness interests, and represents a threat to clean energy progress and international efforts to combat deforestation.

Bolsonaro poses a threat to organized labour.

During his election campaign, Bolsonaro repeatedly made threats to workers-party supporters. A former military man himself, he referred to the military dictatorship era in Brazil nostalgically, famously noting in an interview in 2016 that the dictatorship’s biggest mistake in its repression of labour and Leftist activists was “to torture and not to kill.” The 21-year military dictatorship in Brazil tortured thousands of union, communist, and leftist organizers, and Indigenous peoples. Over 8,000 Indigenous people and 430 political dissidents were murdered.

Bolsonaro has also stated that Brazilian workers have an “excess of rights” and is determined to deregulate the country’s labour protections. He has applauded labour law reforms that erode historic rights in order to make Brazil more “open to investment.”

Bolsonaro is explicitly anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-black, and anti-Indigenous.

Bolsonaro has used his position as president to publicly spread hate speech towards vulnerable/marginalized groups. His statements have already produced material impacts. We will not repeat the blatantly misogynist and racist commentary the president has made over the past few years in order to not give them attention or space, but a simple online search can demonstrate the kinds of hatred he is spreading. This is dangerous and Canada should explicitly condemn such statements.

Bolsonaro’s position on natural resource extraction threatens communities and Indigenous peoples.

Bolsonaro has expressed an aggressive intent to expand the extractive frontier in Brazil, making it more open to foreign investment. In the short months he has been in office he has committed to overhauling the regulation of the mining sector, including making environmental permitting and assessment “less bureaucratic and more quick” for potential investors. In light of the recent tragic Mariana and Brumadinho tailings spills, we are concerned that deregulation will only exacerbate the excessive human and environmental costs of mining in Brazil.

We are especially concerned given the ecologically and culturally sensitive nature of the Amazonian regions where Bolsonaro has vowed to make expansion ‘inevitable.’ Bolsonaro has stated on numerous occasions that Indigenous and Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian communities with autonomous territorial structures) populations in the Amazon must and will cede to mineral exploitation.

Brazilians fear Bolsonaro’s “tough position on crime” will only serve to produce more violence and justify repression of progressive groups.

International organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both produced reports which arrive at the same conclusion. The Brazilian police forces are some of the most violent in the world, producing extremely high rates of extrajudicial killings and incarceration. Despite this fact, Bolsonaro argues the police force is too weak and should be killing more. Journalists fear that human rights NGOs and organizations might become targets as a result of this expansion of criminalization of dissent.

Bolsonaro’s position is already producing real results. More land and rights defenders have been killed in Brazil than in any other country. Amnesty International’s reports suggest that this trend is worsening. Members of the large labour unions in the country also fear repression for their political activities.

Further the government is attempting to pass an anti-terrorism law which will further facilitate the criminalization of protest.

Canada should immediately cease negotiations with Brazil as part of the Mercosur-Canada FTA.

We are concerned about the Canadian government’s commitment to maintaining diplomatic relations with Brazil given this political scenario. We demand that the Canadian government cease Canada-Mercosur FTA negotiations with Brazil. Signing a Free Trade Agreement with this right-wing extremist regime will only exacerbate the risks that these agreements present for people and the environment.

Canada should not, in good faith, be negotiating this agreement to promote its business interests abroad and at home, considering these dangerous positions and precedents. Canada has a moral obligation to ensure the protection of basic human and environmental rights at home and abroad.

We look forward to hearing from you on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

BC Teachers’ Federation
Committee for human rights in Latin America (CDHAL)
Common Frontiers
Council of Canadians
MiningWatch Canada
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
Public Service Alliance of Canada
Trade Justice Network
United Steelworkers

Also published on the Trade Justice Network website.