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supplied by Brazil Justice Net
Number 632, June 8, 2010


In this week's News from Brazil:

Studies Show Persecution of Afro-Brazilian Religions
by Leandro Uchoas

In the beginning of May, the Report on the Human Right to Education investigative team in Rio de Janeiro decided to examine one of the most veiled and complex problems of people of African descent in Brazil:  religious intolerance of Candomblé, Umbanda and other religions of African origin.  This study is part of a bigger research project entitled “Education and Racism in Brazil,” which began at the beginning of this year  and is being conducted in various Brazilian states.  With the support of the Commission for the Combat of Religious Intolerance (CCIR) of Rio de Janeiro, the team also plans to investigate what is being done in regard to education about quilombos (communities of descendents of runaway slaves). 

According to the researchers, one of the biggest problems regarding intolerance of Afro-Brazilian religions is that not many seem to even care that it is a problem.  However, the problem is worse where there is strong prejudices against these religions, especially where there are neo-Pentecostal churches (like Igreja Universal, Internacional da Graça, among others) which preach against them.  In such regions, the Afro-Brazilian religions are practically prohibited.  The increase of members of these neo-Pentecostal churches and their power over the media and government, together with ambiguous educational policies, are the principal causes of religious intolerance of these religions.  Marcio Gualberto of the Collective Black Entities of Rio de Janeiro commented on this prejudice [that members of Afro-Brazilian religions are closet devil-worshippers]:  “Religions from African origins have no way of hiding the devil, principally because this figure does not even exist in these religions.”

In January, the Institute of Comparative Studies in Institutional Administration of Conflicts (InEAC-UFF) released a report entitled “Religious Intolerance in Rio de Janeiro.”  The document analyzes conflicts related to differences in identity and ethnic-religious backgrounds in the state vis-à-vis how these differences are handled by public institutions.  “Religious intolerance is completely ignored by the State and even by social movements.  There is a false idea of racial democracy,” stated Fábio Reis Mota, social scientist of the InEAC-UFF.

Between 2008-2009, CCIR accompanied 17 specific cases of religious intolerance registered in police records.  One fact that was evident to the Commission was the difficulty that police have in seeing the importance of registering such cases.  Many times, the police convince the victims to not register the case, as though is was merely a small problem.  “The police say this type of problem is ‘not worth a can of beans,' something not important,” said Reis Mota.  Data reveal that the majority of the victims are older than 21, while those that commit the crime are usually around 40, which reveals intolerance among mid-lifers.  The majority of the cases occur in religious institutes or in the home of the victim.

Another criticism made by researchers involves the way the media treats the issue.  Afro-Brazilian religiosity is treated in a stereotypical fashion, reinforcing prejudices already existent in society.  However, Joel Zito Araújo, director of the documentary, “Negação do Brasil,” does not agree 100% with the researchers:  “Television media does not have a homogenous treatment for African religions.  Some accept religious diversity, and we can see a positive portrayal of characters.  However, this segment that tends to treat religions positively also treats religions of African origin as the exception and not the rule.  In certain cases, we can watch preachers giving sermons or television hosts making non-subtle remarks stereotyping members of African religions, emphatically portraying them as devil-worshippers, feeding prejudices, hate and ignorance.”

According to José Flávio Pessoa, professor of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), stated that there has always been persecution.  The only thing that has changed is the way it is done.  Priests of “calundus,” a religion practiced until the 19th century, were persecuted and assassinated.  “Until the 1950's, the Catholic Church encouraged persecution.  During this time, the police would enter the temples, destroy them, and take the goods.  Beginning in the 1970's, the neo-Pentecostal churches began to form and promoted a true ‘holy war' against African religiosity.  And today they have various ways of pressuring the State, such as prohibiting the sacrifice of animals and noisy religious services,” said Pessoa.

The Commission for the Combat of Religious Intolerance was formed in March of 2008, after an incident at Ilha do Governador [Governor's Island] in which members of neo-Pentecostal religions destroyed temples of Umbanda and Candumble religions.  Members of these African religions then united and protested in front of the Legislative Assembly in Rio.  They then formed the CCIR, which has as its principal objective the combat of religious prejudice.  The two main works of the Commission are the “March for the Defense of Religious Freedom,” and the “Forum for Inter-religious Dialogue.”  One of the main demands of the group is for the creation of a special police section to deal with crimes of ethnic-racial-religious discrimination.

Gualberto reported that in Rio de Janeiro, in 2009, a woman wearing African religious garb was spat upon by a group of neo-Pentecostal church members.  In the same year, a Umbanda house was attacked by religious fanatics.  To counteract such violence, Gualberto's group is planning for 2011 the National Conference for Religious Freedom, to be held by the federal government.  “There are more cases of religious intolerance than we imagine.  The perpetrators are from various segments of society, and the cases are not only acts of omission--sometimes the State itself is an active perpetrator,” said Gualberto.

Source:  Brasil de Fato, May 27-June 6, 2010


supplied by Brazil Justice Net
Number 631, May 26, 2010


In this week's News from Brazil:


Agriculture Chemicals Create Problems for Public Health and Environment
By Igor Felippe Santos

Brazil broke a record in its use of herbicides and pesticides last year.  More that one billion liters of chemicals were sprayed on fields, according to statistics from the National Union of Industrial Agricultural Products.  The country is in first place among countries that use these chemical products.

With their overuse in Brazilian fields, chemicals are no longer a concern just for agricultural production, but have become a public health concern as well.  “The negative impacts are felt by the worker who applies them, by the family who lives on the soy plantations, and the periphery of the city, as the spraying is very close to housing.  There is an environmental impact too with the contamination of waters,” said Wanderlei Antonio Pignati, a medical doctor and professor at the Federal University of Mato Grosso.  Pignati was been researching health and environment, and has been tracing the impact of these chemical in Mato Grosso.  He ceded the following interview to the MST (Movement of rural workers Without Land).

MST:  In 2009, Brazil used over 1 billion liters of agricultural chemicals.  Why with each harvest does the quantity of  sprayed chemicals increase?

Pignati:  The use of agricultural chemicals has doubled in the last ten years.  We have become their greatest user in the world.  In Mato Grosso, 105 million liters were used in last year's harvest, averaging 10 liters per hectare of soy or corn, and 20 liters per hectare of cotton.  There are various municipalities that use up to 7 million liters in one harvest.  This has a great impact for health and the environment.  Their use has increased because six or seven industries in the world, including those in Brazil, are dominating the seed industry.  These seeds are chosen because they use pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.  This increases productivity and profits for agribusinesses.  At the same time, deforestation increases when new areas are planted,  which increase the demand for such products.  In Mato Grosso, last year alone saw an increase from 4 million to 10 million planted hectares.  Deforestation is the first step of agribusiness.  The wood industry enters, ranching, agriculture, transportation and warehouses.  Finally, the real agro-industry enters, with is production of oils, flours, sugar, alcohol, cotton and biofuels.  This is developing a great deal as our dependency on exportation grows.  All of this increases the use of agricultural chemicals in Brazil.

MST:  So the more agribusiness advances, the greater the use of these chemicals?

Pignati:  Yes.  The seeds of these industries depend on the chemicals.  The industries do not make seeds that can live without them.  They do not create seeds resistant to diseases without the use of chemicals.  They do not do this because they produce both seeds and chemicals.  With transgenics, the situation is even worse.  In the case of soy, the production is resistant to the herbicide, gliphosate, known as Roundup, patented by Monsanto.  In this case, use of  Roundup on soy is two or three times greater.

MST:  But CTNBio [the government's biosecurity agency] granted licensing of various varieties of transgenics with the argument that it would diminish the need of chemicals…

Pignati:  You only have to look at the example of transgenic soy, which is resistant to not one disease, to see the lies.  We have to unmask it at the national and international level.  Transgenic soy is only resistant to gliphosate.  It is the biggest user of chemicals.  They use it before planting, and during the first, second and third months.  It uses three times the amount of herbicide.  Now we have transgenic corn, which is also resistant to gliphosate.  This will only increase the use of chemicals.  In general, transgenics which are resistant to disease and pests are of the minority.

MST:  What are the effects of agricultural chemicals on health and the environment?

Pignati:  The negative impacts are felt by the worker who applies them, by the family who lives on the soy plantations, and the periphery of the city as the spraying is very close to housing.  There is an environmental impact too with the contamination of waters.  There are chemical residues in drinking wells, in creeks, rivers, rainwater and in the air.  With this, the population ends up absorbing these chemicals.

MST:  What are the consequences?

Pignati:  The problems for health are acute and chronic:  malformed fetuses, neoplasty (which causes cancer), endocrine disturbances, neurological disturbances, and respiratory problems.  In lakes and ponds, extinction begins to happen among various species, like fish, amphibians and reptiles because of the modification of their environments causes by the chemicals.  And the chemicals are washed away by the rains into creeks and rivers…

MST:  How can you prove these [health problems]?

Pignati:  To prove these, it is necessary to compare epidemiological data of diseases from regions which use a great deal of chemicals to others that use little.  For example, in the three regions of Mato Grosso which produce soy, corn and cotton, the indices of acute intoxication by chemicals is three times higher than the other 12 regions which produce less, and use less chemicals.  Analyzing by region the system of notification of acute intoxication by the municipal and state secretaries and by the Ministry of Health, we see that where there is greater production, there are more cases of intoxication, like diarrhea, vomiting, fainting, death, heart and respiratory problems, besides sub-chronic diseases which appear one or two months after exposure, neurological and psychiatric problems, like depression.  There are some chemicals which cause visual and auditory irritations….Besides this, the regions which produce more soy, corn and cotton present two and three times greater instances of cancer in children and adults and malformations in newborns when compared to the other regions which produce less and use less chemicals.  This is because they are using various types of chemicals which are carcinogenic.

MST:  What are the dangers for consumers of these foods?  What initiatives is Anvisa [the government food safety agency] taking?

Pignati:  Anvisa is reviewing 16 chemical products.  Fourteen of these products have been prohibited in the European Union, the United States and Canada, being recognized as carcinogenic, causing neurological and endocrinal problems.  But these products are sold freely here, even with the knowledge that there are chronic effects.  Anvisa has a program of analysis of  chemical residues on 20 food products that it has been doing since 2002.  In these studies, they have found residues on foods above the maximum limit permitted.  Endosulfan, for example, is a carcinogenic insecticide that has been prohibited for 20 years in Europe, the United States and Canada.  It is not prohibited in Brazil, and is often used in soy and corn production.  The maximum limit of residue on food is questionable because sensitivity to the chemical is highly individualized.  For one person, the maximum limit is 10mg per day before developing a disease; for another, it is only 1mg per day.  This is not counting the contamination already in the water, in the air, and in the rain, which really we should consider.

MST:  How would you evaluate Brazilian law regarding agricultural chemicals and the work of Anvisa?

Pignati:  From the point of view of legislation, Anvisa is doing good work.  However, every day large producers break the law.  Not only the national laws governing chemicals, but also the Forest Code, Norms from the Work Ministry (which oblige farm owners to properly outfit the workers), and norms from the Ministry of Agriculture (which impede spraying less than 250 meters from springs, rivers, creeks, lakes, and from places where animals and humans reside).  In Mato Grosso, planes spray all kinds of chemicals and do not respect these norms.

MST:  The large landowners say they use the chemicals correctly, that there is no danger.

Pignati:  But there are problems.  Even if the workers were to dress like an astronaut, using all the necessary equipment for protection,  they may not harm there own health, but what about the environment?  All chemicals are toxic, from Class 1 to Class 4.  And where are the residues from these chemicals going?  The rains come are wash everything to the rivers, creeks, then it evaporates into the air and falls with the rain.  There is no secure and correct use of chemicals for the environment.  We have to say that  the use of chemicals is intentional.  The so-called pests and weeds--I don't call them that--be it an insect, and weed or a fungus, grows in the middle of the crops.  Then the farmer intentionally pollutes the environment to destroy these.  There is no way he can specifically take them out, put them in a jar, and then apply the chemicals.  So, he intentionally pollutes the crops, the environment, the worker and production.  Some of these chemicals remains on the food.

MST:  Agribusiness argues that it is necessary to use large quantities of chemicals because Brazil is a tropical country, with great climatic diversity.  Is that true?

Pignati:  There is no necessity…They have to use chemicals because the seed depends on them.  There are ways to do large scale production without seed that is dependent on chemicals and artificial fertilizers.  There are various examples of this in the world and in Brazil.  More than 99% of our total agricultural production depends on seeds from industries which do not choose seeds which can grow without chemicals.

MST:  Given this scenario, what can we expect in the future?

The tendency is to increase the use of chemicals.  Thus, more stringent government policies will need to be in place, as well as pressure from ecology groups and consumers, who more and more are consuming this chemicals.  It is necessary to combat the agricultural production that is here now.  With transgenic corn, they are going to use more gliphosate.  There is a cycle which will increase the use of chemicals without end.  If you analyze resistance of the weeds/diseases, there are some already resistant to gliphosate.  At first, you have to increase the dose to kill them.  Instead of five liters you use seven.  Then you have to use a stronger chemical; they become resistant to that, and there is then no end.  There are already large areas of weeds that are resistant in the United States, Argentina, and are now coming to Brazil in Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná and Mato Grosso.  It is an unsustainable model.

Source:  Movimento Sem Terra Website:  www.mst.org.br  Accessed May 21, 2010