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Bolsonaro’s shaky beginning: LAB Newsletter May 2019

29 May 2019

Dear LAB Supporter and Friend,


Not all is plain sailing for Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, and the pro-regime demonstrations on 25 May were distinctly underwhelming. Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, asks LAB’s São Paulo correspondent Jan Rocha? Bolsonaro’s coalition is fractious; allegations of corruption and criminal association dog his sons; and the government’s agenda is marred by u-turns and public relations gaffes. Bolsonaro has staked all on getting his new pension legislation passed and threatens chaos if it fails. Some are starting to wonder whether he is inviting chaos in order to invoke authoritarian measures, perhaps with direct military involvement. (Read more…)

For those at the sharp end, however, especially indigenous leaders, journalists and environmental campaigners, Bolsonaro’s rhetoric is giving carte blanche to their opponents. The Sateré-Mawé people are preparing to fight in defence of their land, as Thais Borges and LAB’s Sue Branford discovered. (Read more…). At the same time, the same authors report, eight former environment ministers issued a stark warning to the new president that his policy of emasculating the indigenous and environment ministries threatens to harm Brazil’s economy, undermine its future and cause rifts with key trading partners such as the EU. (Read more…).

Less than 6 months ago the Brumadinho mining dam collapse caused the death of up to 270 mine workers and local residents. Now the communities around Barão de Cocais, barely 40 miles away, are threatened by the slipping of an embankment at another recently abandoned mine, Gongo Soco, owned by the same company, Vale. If, as is widely expected, the embankment collapses, it may trigger a breach in the ore tailings dam, flooding downstream communities, polluting rivers, destroying rural livelihoods and perhaps costing many lives. (Read more…)


In his new book The Cull of Personality – Ayahuasca, Colonialism, and the Death of a Healer, Kevin Tucker reports on how the hunt for ayahuasca is not just about ayahuasca. This true story should not be seen as an isolated event but one of many and a continuation of the colonialism and exploitation of indigenous peoples. Read the review by Nette Wermeld Enström.


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Ending the conflict is not enough to protect Colombia’s forests and biodiversity, argues Melissa MacEwen. The government must increase its presence in the ex-FARC territories, to prevent power grabs by other armed groups.  What is needed is environmental governance at national and sub-national levels that is transparent and accountable to support truly sustainable rural reform activities which protect and enhance the environment. (Read more…)

Photographer Malcolm Linton has created a beautiful portfolio of photographs of FARC guerrillas as they demobilize and seek to reintegrate into civil society. These are collected in his book Metamorphosis: Guerrilleros en Busca de la Paz/Guerrillas In Search Of Peace. For details, and a preview of some of his images, Read more

Other news

Voices of Latin America: The US edition, co-published with Monthly Review Press, was launched in Brooklyn, New York on 16 May at the Verso loft, under the shadow of the historic Brooklyn Bridge. The meeting was chaired via Skype by Marcos Orellana, Director of Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch (see Voices Chapter 1). Voices editor Tom Gatehouse spoke at the event, together with Casey Box, Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Camila Valle and Gabriel Hetland (Read more…)

If you know of possibilities in your area: a festival, event or bookshop where Voices and other LAB books could be presented and discussed, please let us know. Write to

Forthcoming LAB publications

The Past is an Imperfect Tense: As well as our three planned publications, Colombia Inside Out, Crossed off the Map: Bolivia and the World, and Community Resistance to Mining in Latin America, LAB has another novel/memoir forthcoming in early 2020 by Brazilian writer Bernardo Kucinski. Very different from his previous novel K (published by LAB in 2013), this book (in Portuguese Pretérito Imperfeito) tells the story of a relationship between father and son that begins intense and loving and ends in wreckage. The struggle begins in the boy’s adolescence, marked by involvement with marijuana, crack and amphetamines, a process described by the narrator as a frantic search for an artificial paradise. Three factors are intertwined in this life story: adoption, drug dependency and racism. The narrator-father asks himself: ‘Could it have been possible at some point to alter the course of this story? Or was it all destined to be?’ LAB has received grants from Fundação Biblioteca Nacional and English PEN to complete the translation.

Best wishes,

The LAB Team


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