The October presidential elections will be the most important in Brazilian history. They will be even more important than the 1989 elections, the first following the demise of the business-military dictatorship that oppressed Brazil for 21 years. Through 2014, we had the chance to choose from among democrats, some better, some worse, some more honest, some less, some better prepared, some not so much. What is riding on 2022 takes us to a whole new dimension. When we stand at our electronic voting machines—a system proven to be efficient and reliable—we Brazilians will actually be choosing between democracy and the authoritarianism represented by Jair Bolsonaro. More than this. We will be choosing between life and the death represented by Jair Bolsonaro.
SUMAÚMA chooses democracy; SUMAÚMA chooses life.
After nearly four years with Bolsonaro in power, the Amazon rainforest has come perilously close to the point of no return, thirty-three million Brazilians are going hungry, and three in five children are at risk of contracting polio because the national vaccination program fell behind. One of the countries hardest hit by covid-19, Brazil has lost nearly 700,000 lives —comparable to wiping out the entire population of a state capital like Aracaju (or a city like San Francisco) in less than three years. The lives and dreams of these women and men were erased, leaving a void in Brazil and in the hearts of those who loved them, along with a legion of orphaned children whose lives will be marred forever. Some of these individuals were the last elders of a people, the case of the Juma ethnic group. As has been shown, a great many of these deaths could have been avoided if Bolsonaro and his administration hadn’t delayed vaccination and also combatted prevention measures. Not to mention the chain effects of his government’s overt corruption, with strong indications that various members of his family are involved.
Page after page could be written about the death policies enforced by Bolsonaro and his administration, and this is what history books will do. Here we will limit our focus to the reality shaped by Brazil’s worst president ever in the planet’s largest tropical rainforest, a biome vital to our species’ survival: acts of arson have set the forest ablaze, deforestation is at a decade-long high, entire families of small-hold farmers have gone into hiding to avoid being killed, the homes of forest defenders and schools have been burned, and gunmen have even included young children among their hostages.
The case of the Yanomami people —the subject of the feature article in Sumaúma’s first issue— illustrates the horror being experienced in the Amazon right now. On what should be protected Indigenous land, groups of miners are raping Yanomami girls. In a period of less than three months, nine children died of easily treatable diseases, two of them from worms. Malaria is spreading, and Bolsonaro’s crimes have added a second layer of horror here: chloroquine —deceitfully touted by Bolsonaro as an early treatment for covid-19— is currently in short supply for treating malaria, its real job. And Indigenous people are dying as a result.
If Brazil is subjected to four more years of death policies, how many more will die? What will happen to the planet if the Amazon rainforest reaches the point of no return? What kind of future awaits our children, now threatened by diseases once eliminated? How much destruction and hatred can people stand?
Here at SUMAÚMA, the answer screams out at us: we cannot stand one more day beyond December 31. Through constitutional measures, Bolsonaro should have been stopped long ago from ruling if he was leading a coup. He was not. It is up to us to oust him now by making use of democracy’s most symbolic tool: the vote. If possible —because this would save all of us a few more weeks of anguish— during the first round of elections.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the Workers Party (PT), is leading the polls. At SUMAÚMA, we disagree with how his administration and that of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, treated the Amazon and its forest-peoples and other enclaves of nature. We also disagree with some of their other policies. While we lament the PT’s proven corruption during their time in power, we also recognize the advances their administrations made in several areas, such as racial equality policy, the democratization of higher education, and the minimum wage hike. But differences of opinion are part of reasonable politics. We have disagreements, and the best space for them is democratic debate. To disagree, you need democracy too. Sumaúma chooses democracy.
In the framework of the October 2 elections, Lula represents the best chance for democracy to win. In a context of normalcy, journalists don’t declare their vote. But this isn’t a context of normalcy. Life in Brazil, the life of every Brazilian family, hangs in the balance. Each and every one of us must do our utmost both to defeat Bolsonaro at the voting machines he has attacked so ferociously and to convince those around us to do the same. Nullifying your vote or leaving your ballot blank is the same as voting for Bolsonaro. Right now, every act of omission is an action. Voting for a candidate with no chance of winning a presidential election is a legitimate option, but at this crucial moment, this option has consequences that seem risky to us. Right now, every choice is vital, literally. This horror must end. The sooner, the better. We in the Amazon, living under constant threat, know how much blood and fire each additional day costs.
SUMAÚMA is choosing life. SUMAÚMA is voting Lula.
In this second seed-newsletter, SUMAÚMA is spreading the best news about these elections, something truly new: Brazil has a record number of Indigenous candidates, including a significant number of women, today the leading figures in the fight to conserve the Amazon rainforest and all other enclaves of nature where original peoples resist. Under the slogan “Indigenize politics,” Indigenous candidates are bringing the very heart of democracy back to Brazilian politics: representation of the collective. Like the candidate Maial Payakan, in Pará, a state swarming with landgrabbers, illegal loggers, and gunmen. The reporter Catarina Barbosa, also from Pará, spent weeks accompanying Maial on her travels around the state. It doesn’t make any difference if the candidate is Maial or one of her Kayapó sisters, because only the white people’s game demands individualism. She, Maial, is a collective body. Her people speak through her, or she will not be heard.
When Indigenous people propose to Indigenize politics, they are restoring the best spirit of Brazil’s battered democracy. This same womb gave birth to the candidacy of Chirley Pankará, in São Paulo, a story narrated in this issue by Carla Jimenez, SUMAÚMA editor-in-chief. Sonia Guajajara, one of the planet’s most respected Indigenous leaders and a candidate for federal deputy, is our guest columnist. Sonia writes while the Amazon burns and while at least seven Indigenous people in different parts of Brazil were killed in September, demonstrating in blood and fire what is at stake in these elections.
SUMAÚMA is voting Indigenous. SUMAÚMA is voting for women.
Find out more in our newsletter, our collective effort to contribute to more conscious voting and a near future in which life—of human and more-than-human people—is the greatest value.
On October 2, we will be voting in times of war against nature. This is the context, and this is the weight of everyone’s responsibility at the ballot box.
Vote for life. Vote to live.
Translated by Diane Whitty