I was really excited to start the first lecture of the summer school yesterday, a talk by Patrícia Campos Mellos on “Fake News and Digital Violence in Brazil”. It was enlightening to find out that in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has verbally abused journalists and opposition media, even telling one journalist to “shut up”. The situation is especially difficult for female journalists, and Patrícia herself has been subject to misogynistic offences, catalysed by Bolsanaro. She enlightened us to the fact that Bolsonaro discredits journalists without fact-checking or credibility as a way to drown out opposition media – The Ministry of Health even tried to change the way that COVID-19 statistics were calculated to make it appear as though there has been less deaths. In the future and now, it is necessary to take control of this fake news, especially on social media. However, it more effective not to legislate against actual content, but instead the individuals or institutions who produce fake content, and the funding of these.
Today was a talk from Professor Rafael Scopacasa, on ‘Brazilian History’. Rafael gave a brief overview of Brazilian history, starting from the pre-colonial era and up to the present day, covering colonialism, slavery and the independence of Brazil in 1822. We learnt about the main indigenous tribes – the Tupi and Jê, and how they were eventually assimilated into colonial Catholicism culture, led by Jesuit Priests. We can see evidence of the indigenous languages and subsequent pidgins in Brazilian Portuguese today, with words such as maracuyá “passion fruit”. I was also surprised to discover that Brazil imported the largest number of African slaves, between the 16 and 19th centuries, and how this has contributed to the “3 race mixture”, a concept that is used in academia and politics to describe the multicultural population of Brazil and how it is formed from Europeans, Indigenous people and African slaves.
Today, the talk was given by Professor Júnia Ferreria Furtado on ‘Brazilian Culture’. Of course, this is a very large topic, and so the focus for this lecture was 18th Century culture. This built on many themes from the previous lecture on ‘Brazilian History’, as we learnt more about the colonial period and how this affected the way that celebrations were organised. At the time, society was extremely hierarchical, and festivities organised by the church were primarily for the purpose of publicly displaying the status of individuals, as well as releasing tension. For example, higher-ranking individuals (mostly Portuguese decedents) were to sit at the front benches of the church, whilst the lower-ranking in society (mostly enslaved individuals) sat at the back, or even outside. Some examples of so-called colonial ‘cities’ (they were actually the size of a town/village) include Mariana, Vila Rica and Sabará. Most of the celebrations were held in the main square of the city, which the majority of colonial towns had. This is where the municipal chamber and the main city church would also be. There were also different churches for different sections of society. Júnia pointed out that there are still many remnants of the hierarchical ideology today in Brazil, and society is very much split up according to rich/poor.
Professor Tiago Amância Novo led the lecture today on a crash course in ‘Brazilian Geography’. Although I knew Brazil was big, I was surprised to find out that you can fit all of Europe into it! It was very clear from this presentation that Brazil is extremely diverse in terms of its landscape, something that is hard to imagine when living in the temperate climate we have in the UK. The terrain ranges from rainforest, to mountain ranges and beautiful beaches. There is even a small desert on the northeastern coast! Brazil used to be attached to Africa (and North America if we go further back), but the Atlantic opening around 140 million years ago shaped the continents we now know. This presentation showed the devastating effects that humans can have on this natural beauty e.g. the dam collapses through iron mining, and deforestation, stressing the urgent need for environmental policy reform in Brazil.
Day 5 was a talk by Professor Patrícia Nasser de Carvalho on Brazilian economy. It was so interesting to discover that Brazil is highly ranked for imports and exports in an extremely diverse range of areas. For example, it is not only the world’s largest producer of biofuels, but also coffee, orange juice and soybeans. Interestingly, although Brazil shares almost 10% of the global cosmetics market, unexpectedly, Brazilians spent even more on cosmetics during the COVID-19 lockdown! Another surprise to learn was the fact the small and micro business make up 94% of Brazilian businesses.
Today we were given a talk by Professor Corinne Davis Rodrigues, who spoke about Brazilian Society. Although this is a complicated and large topic area, it was interesting to note that demographically, the population of Brazil is ageing every year. This was a surprise to me as I had always thought of Brazil as having a large youth population, however this is not so much the case today. This is due to many factos such as the widespread access to birth control, the expanse in the education system (meaning more women waiting longer to have children) and increased life expectancy due to an improved healthcare system. However, Brazil is still starkly segregated, and there is a very large wealth disparity across the country. Also, the recent killing of George Floyd has led to introspection as to what Brazil could do better in terms of ethnic inequality – as statistics reveal that as a non-white individual in Brazil, you are 2.7 times more likely to be murdered.
Today, Professor Bruno Pinheiro Wanderley Reis gave a talk on Brazilian Politics. Although this was confusing to follow, without any previous academic teaching in politics, I found the lecture very interesting. Brazil has a comparatively short political timeline, if we compare it to European countries for example, although it is very complicated. The most distinct characteristic of the Brazilian political system is the vast number of political parties which are represented at National Congress, which currently stands at 30 parties. This is in stark contrast to the US political system, and Reis makes interesting comparisons between these two countries throughout. Notably, Trump and Bolsonaro are seen as figureheads for populism, and scary examples of what political leaders can get away with saying publicly – which is seemingly, almost anything. Professor Reis highlights that a common problem which leads to corruption in Brazil, and is seen all over the world, is campaign finance. Before new laws that were introduced in 2015, large organisation used to fund political particles or individual, leading to an extremely biased representation of views. It is similar now, but the new laws meant that only individuals can fund campaigns as a percentage of their personal income. It will take many many years to change this flawed system unfortunately, and Reis predicts that for now, corruption is here to stay.
Today, Lucas Carlos Lima gave a talk on Brazilian Law. He first revealed some of the functions that law can have in a country: to guarantee security, to allocate political power, to regulate social and family values and to guarantee and limit freedom among other things. We were briefly introduced to colonial law and the military dictatorship, where the latter was a period of repression and restriction of rights that lasted for 21 years. We learnt about the main principles that are written into the most recent, 1988 constitution and saw the similarities that this bears with the US constitution. Brazil, like other countries, also has it’s fair share of unusual laws: in Divinópolis, Minas Gerais, it is forbidden to carry chickens upside down. In Pouso Alegre, also in Minas, those who use banners that include grammatical errors can be fined. To conclude, we engaged in a discussion about how constitutional rights can be infringed, even by the President. Recently, President Jair Bolsonaro has been involved in some controversy for trying to introduce laws which disfavour indigenous peoples.
For the final lecture we had Professor Cristiano dos Santos Rodrigues who talked fantastically about ‘Race in Brazil’. The focus was on the underrepresentation of Black people in Brazilian politics but he also touched on race and national identity, as well as class, research throughout the years and social mobility. If we only so much as glance at the statistics, we would see that underrepresentation of non-white people and racism in Brazil is still a huge problem. However, this is not only perpetuated by White people, but also Black people and Mixed-race (or so-called Brown) people. Race and ethnicity is more of a fluid concept in Brazil that in other countries, people may label and see themselves as many different things, and this often depends on their social status but also the region they live in. Rodrigues finished with talking about how racism towards non-white people needs to be addressed in politics, and some of the groups that are working towards this goal – e.g. Gabinetona, Juntas and Bancada Ativista. Equal representation in politics is one way that we can guarantee the creation of policies that benefit all people, not just white people in Brazil.