In the height of debate on the agreement that the EU negotiated - in theory - with Mercosur, Brazilian activists and professors brought their doubts on this matter all the way to Brussels, particularly regarding the quality of their country’s democracy.
In the middle of discussions surrounding the grey area of achieving ratification of the agreement that the Europeans and the large Latin American bloc signed in summer 2019, the voices of criticism are making themselves heard in Brussels.
'It is not only naïve to believe that the European Union is going to reach a successful agreement with someone who doesn’t respect principles, but it also shows that they don't understand what is happening in Brazil,' Natália Mori, manager of the Centre for Feminist Studies and Advisory Services, told Deutsche Welle (DW).
In the seminar on 'Democracy under Deconstruction', organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the House of Latin America, activists, journalists, academics and leaders of Brazilian minorities rang the alarm bells.
'In order to get a better understanding of what is happening, it must be compared with what is going on in Hungary,' explained Tatiana Roque, director of the Forum of Science and Culture of the University of Rio de Janeiro to DW.
'It’s not that we are facing a traditional dictatorship, rather a gradual dismantling of the democratic institutions. For example, in both Hungary and Brazil they try to control legislative power and dissolve anti-establishment movements. They also mirror this in their systematic attack on the media. Besides personal attacks on journalists through social media, they try to economically strangle traditional newspapers such as Folha de Sao Paulo, or they threaten to take away the licence from O Globo', adds Roque.
The rise of authoritarianism depends on some values and a certain morality, which support these antidemocratic practices, Natália Mori explains: 'In the field of education and values, we must keep making progress in this pro-human rights vision, which made headway in the 20th century,' she points out.
'For us, the feminist movement, for example, is experiencing a time of counter-attack,' she continues. In the 20th century women made progress, they were able to study and ended up being presidents, while one of the first measures of the Government of Brazil has been to get rid of all female secretaries of the Ministry of Education who had anything to do with human, gender and minority rights. That rang an alarm bell,' Mori notes.
On the other hand, Mori highlights that 'withdrawing money used for public policies implies women returning 'at home' to look after those who do not receive state assistance.' And she adds: 'We are experiencing an anti-right movement. But will women want to return to their kitchens and the LGBTI community to their closets?' A warning of the social explosion quaking in their country.
According to Roque, professor of Mathematics, the 'de-democratisation' is also observed in the gradual reduction of space for research and science: 'The dismissal of the director of space research for publishing data on deforestation of the Amazon is a good example', she indicates.
How is this viewed in Brussels? It’s not that they don’t know about it. However, according to European sources, it is better to be close to these types of governments, through agreements, in order to be able to exert pressure. The association agreement with countries of the Mercosur would create room for dialogue on politics and cooperation, which would allow delicate matters to be put on the table.
'It’s true that in the EU we have some good instruments at our disposal', states Anna Cavazzini, vice-chair for the delegation for relations with Brazil. 'However, they will be paper tigers while there are no sanctioning mechanisms', predicts the German member of the European Parliament.
'They must immediately start to doubt that these governments with authoritarian overtones are going to respect the democratic milestones. The fact that Bolsonaro didn't cancel the Paris Agreement does not mean that he’s going to do anything to lower emissions,' concludes Mori.
This article was first published by Deutsche Welle (DW).