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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Magid moderates panel on Brazil’s development

Published: March 7, 2013
Section: News, Top Stories

The Brandeis International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life partnered with the International Business School’s Perlmutter Institute for Global Business Leadership to organize “Brazil’s Balancing Act,” on Tuesday, a discussion of the varying demands of Brazil’s development.

Dean Bruce Magid of the International Business School moderated the event, led by five panelists. The panelists represented diverse, expert backgrounds on intersecting relationships between the interests of the economy, the environment and the indigenous people of Brazil, the world’s sixth largest economy today.

Dr. Daniel Gleizer of Banco Itau BBA explained that the foundation of political stability is driving growth.

“In a nutshell, the Brazilian success story stands on the emergence of a broad political acceptance of pragmatic market-oriented economic policy focused on social improvement.”

The panelists, however, agreed that the government can take more action in including indigenous people in such development.

Dr. Bion Maybury-Lewis, executive director of the Cambridge Institute for Brazilian Studies, argued that the Brazilian government needs to “exercise enlightened leadership.”

“No doubt important gains come from development … almost a religious quest for modernity and modernization is development’s twin. Brazil’s made gigantic strides in this direction on both fronts,” Maybury-Lewis said. “However … dislocations, often violent conflicts [arise] over resources and the fruits of development, and a poor government record of compensation for those that lose houses, land and/or livelihoods.”

Professor Moises Lino e Silva (ANTH), spoke similarly from an anthropologist’s point of view on the status of indigenous people. He criticized the Brazilian government, saying that stereotypes cannot be used as guidelines to determine what makes a person indigenous. “It is a spirit,” he says, “not evolutionary.”

“Intellectuals need to be more available to communicate to a larger representation of people, especially members of society that haven’t had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at school,” Lino e Silva said.

The mistreatment of these native peoples became a main theme in the talk. Harvard Law School lecturer Fernando Delgado, told the audience a story of “official insensitivity” toward the indigenous people. In 2000, to celebrate the anniversary of Brazil’s freedom from Portugal, ships from the former mother country landed to sign a friendship pact with Brazil. Many natives, however, arrived to protest the event, as they still felt colonized in the way that they were being treated. Three thousand people protested, and were then attacked by the police and forced to disperse within minutes.

This “official insensitivity” is just one example of injustice toward them, according to Delgado. “Indigenous rights are baselines after which you start to balance, not before,” he argued.

Professor Cristina Espinosa (HS) also observed hostility toward the natives. “The Amazon is seen as an empty space to be developed by ‘Brazilians,’ ignoring the territorial rights of the indigenous people.”

Much of the panelist discussion as well as the question and answer section of the event focused on the conflict arising over the Amazon and the building of the Belo Monte Dam. Critics of the dam are concerned for the environmental impacts as well as the effect it may have on the natives. The creation of one dam could lead to future dams on the river and would also seriously affect the lives of those indigenous Brazilians that live in the Amazon.

Construction of the dam has been stopped numerous times. According to Human Rights Law, building should not occur until the government can provide the people with three safeguards: free prior informed consultation, benefits sharing and prior independent assessment of scientific and environmental impact. Yet, construction has continued, despite these prerequisites. Construction often comes to a halt due to protests both internal and international.

Maybury-Lewis claims that international attention on this issue is crucial.

“Human rights are rarely served without international observers,” he stated in response to a question about international interference in the decisions being made about the dam.

And human rights are the biggest issue in the case. Protection of their land is imperative for the indigenous people’s livelihood. “Most of the indigenous movements are looking for autonomy,” according to Espinosa.

Many audience members were students of Lino e Silva’s class, “Rise of Brazil,” but there was also a variety of others from the school and community.