The Implications of Closing Civic Space for Sustainable Development in Brazil
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This report on Brazil is one of a set of four country case studies designed to study the implications of closing civic space for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The case study was commissioned in response to the wave of legal, administrative, political and informal means to restrict civic space and the activities of civil society actors in countries around the world in the past decade. Based on a literature review and conceptual framework developed for the study (see also Hossain et al 2018), the report documents how changing civic space in Brazil, a country characterized as a competitive developmental state at the outset of the period analysed, has impacted on development outcomes, with a focus on specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) outcomes including poverty, hunger, inequality and the preservation of biodiversity and water resources. The study found that: Almost three decades of imperfect and unequal democracy in Brazil saw a flourishing of civil society engagement with state poverty and development policies, particularly under the Workers’ Party government of 2003-2016. Inequalities declined and the poorest and most marginalized saw relatively rapid development gains. Brazil also played an international role in influencing development policies beyond the country’s borders and shaping the SDG agenda in the wake of the 2012 Rio+20 summit; Since the economic and political crisis surrounding the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, there have been signs of rapid reversal. Backed by the increasingly powerful rural caucus, which represents groups with interests in land and natural resources in Congress, there has been a rise in attacks on and criminalization of agrarian movements, organisations and their leaders. Hundreds of activists and rights defenders have been killed since 2016. There are now fears that the situation will worsen still further under the government of the extreme right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, elected in October 2018; The crackdown on Brazil’s civil society disproportionately affects four million members of the ‘traditional peoples and communities’ (PCTs), the majority of the country’s rural poor and a significant proportion of all Brazilians living in poverty. PCTs are communities, often of indigenous and/or African descent, whose livelihood systems depend on collective management of diverse landscapes. These groups won significant government recognition and some strengthening of their rights over land during the Workers’ Party government, but progress has slowed, and in some instances reversed, since the 2016 impeachment; SDGs 1 and 2 (ending poverty and zero hunger) are particularly likely to be affected through changes in key participation spaces and policies (including land titling, cash transfers and food purchase programmes) with which civil society organisations have engaged in the past; SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) is affected, as organized civil society has been fundamental for giving visibility and promoting inclusion of PCTs and other marginalised rural populations in the Brazilian citizenship and social justice agenda. In the current climate of impunity for attacks on rural activism, the study examines the establishment of the National Council for Traditional Peoples and Communities (CNPCT), and the role of social movements and NGO allies in resisting pressure on PCT territories from agribusiness and extractive industries and attacks on rights defenders; SDG 6 (water and sanitation) and SDG 15 (life on land) are also being affected, substantially because the protection of PCT and other rural territories is not only of fundamental importance for human rights, but also for environmental goals. Civil society organizations, working with PCT groups and movements, have a key role to play in Brazil’s efforts to improve water management and halt biodiversity loss.