Land use, neoliberalism and the pandemic in Brazil

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By LUIZ EDUARDO NEVES DOS SANTOS*

The current pandemic and what is to come, as a new explosive content in the territory, is the potentialization of fear, anxieties, depression, violence, structural racism

“What is the explosive new territory content today?”[1], this was the question asked by Milton Santos in his last book published with Maria Laura Silveira in 2001, the year of his death. It was done in the context of deepening territorial inequalities in Brazil due to the consolidation of the neoliberal normative system. This question will guide this reflection, which has a geographic vision.

The current ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the socio-spatial dynamics of many territories in the world, especially those where their rulers refuse to face its gravity head on, like Donald Trump, who even defended the end of confinement in your country[2] already in April and President Jair Bolsonaro, who in the Ides of March said that the economy could not stop[3]. Not by chance, the United States and Brazil lead, in absolute terms, the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus in the world. The two countries together account for 41,3% of infections and 36,4% of deaths across the planet[4].

The statements by Trump and Bolsonaro – which find support among tens of millions of people – reveal their main objectives in the position they hold: the health of the financial market must be above everything else, even the health of people. This is fundamental data for understanding neoliberal power today, understood in the words of Dardot and Laval[5] as a "rationality, which tends to structure not only the action of the rulers, but even the conduct of the ruled”. Such rationality manifests itself as biopower through the surveillance of bodies, and as psychopower through the control and capture of mentalities.

Neoliberalism was a project devised in the late 1940s by intellectuals such as Karl Popper, Walter Lippmann, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman who attacked the welfare state “claiming that this type of state destroyed citizens’ freedom and competition, without which there is no prosperity[6]. Such a project was put into practice at the end of the 1970s by Margareth Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Augusto Pinochet, translated as a set of discourses, practices and devices typical of a dominant ideology, disguised by a rhetoric that praises individual freedom, autonomy, meritocracy, entrepreneurship, the free market and that invades “the State apparatuses, which have the function of elaborating, proclaiming and reproducing this ideology, a fact that is important in the constitution and reproduction of the social division of work, of social classes and of class dominance[7]. The expansion of inequalities and the intense concentration of wealth in the world indicate that the neoliberal project has achieved success.

Neoliberalism in Brazil has its roots with the election of Collor in 1990, but it finds its deepening in the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002), and since then it has been a reality. In terms of the most recent facts, the troubled Brazilian political and economic situation since the demonstrations in June 2013, passing through the fierce and polarized presidential election in 2014 and the impeachment of Dilma Roussef in 2016 – in the midst of a strong economic recession in the country – allowed, in a more visible and open way, the establishment of neoliberal and antisocial policies led by Michel Temer and his allies in parliament until culminating with the election of Bolsonaro in 2018 and his reformist economic program subservient to imperialist interests.

The Bolsonaro government was elected without any country project, without propositions, however it was based on a superficial rhetoric of downsizing the State, with exalted speech against corruption, in favor of the release of firearms for the population, defending meritocracy, family, morals, good customs, Christian values ​​and heavily using social networks to spread false news, misinformation and attacks against political opponents.

But how has the territory in Brazil been affected by neoliberal policies? Before answering this question, it is necessary to understand the notion of “used territory”[8], which reveals a set of techniques that are the material basis of social life and it is their use that generates recognition and gives value to space. The territory used first of all is shelter, the place of experiences, but it can also be resource, and this depends, in the first place, on the interests of large corporations and the power of capital and the State.

The State, “whose main function today is to bend society to the demands of the world market”[9], under Bolsonaro’s command, has acted in a way that further overvalues ​​the power of capital and the ruling classes, while disdaining Human Rights, attacking the survival of traditional peoples by trying to loosen environmental controls[10] in protection areas, by insisting on legalizing prospecting and releasing mining on indigenous lands[11] and encourage deforestation in the Amazon, by also allowing the excessive release of hundreds of pesticides[12], many of which are banned in dozens of countries. Not even the pandemic prevented such government actions.

The neoliberal normative system in the country has in Paulo Guedes, Minister of Finance in the Bolsonaro government, its biggest and strongest defender. The minister is a banker who once served the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and has worked incessantly on the depredation and subdivision of the Brazilian State in favor of private corporate interests, with the consequent emptying of the public fund and of assistance and social security policies, a latent obsession with the privatization of strategic and valuable state-owned companies.

By opening up a whole series of possibilities for the installation of companies and hegemonic global capitalist actors, the Brazilian State allows the territory to be a “space of rationality”[13], which in certain places receive technical and political adaptations, allowing big capital to increase productivity and earn profits and rents. Privatizations over the last twenty-five years in Brazil, with rare exceptions, have been consolidated as big business for foreign companies, which created a certain technical density in the territory via modernization (highways, ports, telematics, satellite transmission towers, wind energy turbines, etc.) but they charge a lot for their services, which are not always offered in a qualified manner.

Returning to Milton Santos and Maria Laura Silveira’s question at the beginning of the text, it can be said that Brazil today, under the command of the neoliberal extreme right and in the midst of a pandemic, presents itself as a territory that tends increasingly to being unequal, selective and unfair, mediated by authoritarian and fascist decisions, of a financialized life, in which use value is a slave to exchange value.

The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated an already unsustainable situation on the periphery of capitalism, namely poverty and misery, represented by the shortage of food, housing, drinking water and access to income for the most vulnerable. And the post-pandemic in Brazil is even darker, since there will be no emergency aid[14], nor offers of decent employment. What awaits us is an unprecedented crisis, the failure of the State with what remains of it to promote inclusive public policies in health, education, culture and leisure.

The current pandemic and what is to come, as new explosive content in the territory, is the potentialization of fear, anxieties, depression, violence, structural racism, whether in the countryside or in the city, these are real threats before our eyes , from the empiricized time of now, when Brazil reaches 100 deaths from COVID-19, this due to the absolute disbelief and irresponsibility of a government that refuses to take scientific research, medical and health authorities and the recommendations of international agencies seriously health specialists about the coronavirus.

May we not be contaminated by new viruses, such as apathy, indifference, conformism, silence and acceptance of political and economic domination and status quo. The conditions for the realization of a revolution are in place, a revolution of the world commons as proclaimed by Dardot and Laval[15], establishing permanent cooperation networks between peoples from different territories of the world, in order to combat the perverse neoliberal normative system, and this can only be done based on the praxis: in the tireless meetings, debates, dialogues, mobilizations, uprisings and protests, on the most diverse scales.

And, as we know, changes will not come from above. The pandemic reminds us of the Miltonian utopia[16], the possibility of humanity constituting itself as a large and strong revolutionary bloc, capable of producing a new history, with a philosophical mutation of peoples, capable of attributing a new meaning to existence on the planet.

* Luiz Eduardo Neves dos Santos is a Geographer, Master in Economics (UFMA), PhD student in Geography (UFC) and Adjunct Professor I of the Degree in Human Sciences at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA).

Notes


[1] SANTOS, Milton; SILVEIRA, Maria Laura. Brazil: Territory and Society at the beginning of the 4st century. 2002. ed. São Paulo: Record, 303. pg. XNUMX.

[2] TRUMP calls for an end to the US coronavirus lockdown. This IS Money (Portal Terra), São Paulo, March 25, 2020. Available at: https://www.istoedinheiro.com.br/trump-pede-o-fim-do-confinamento-por-coronavirus-nos-eua/. Accessed on Aug. 6.

[3] ECONOMY cannot stop for coronavirus, says Bolsonaro to businessmen. Exam Magazine, São Paulo, March 20, 2020. Available at: https://exame.com/economia/economia-nao-pode-parar-por-coronavirus-diz-bolsonaro-a-empresarios/. Accessed on Aug. 6

[4] As of figures provided by Johns Hopkins University as of August 6, 2020. Available at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/. Accessed on Aug 6, 2020.

[5] DARDOT, Pierre; LAVAL, Christian. The New Reason of the World: essay on neoliberal society. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2016. pg. 17. (State of Site Collection).

[6] CHAUÍ, Marilena. Ideology of Competence. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica/ São Paulo: Fundação Perseu Abramo, 2016. pg. 85. (Writings by Marilena Chauí, 3 – Organization by André Rocha).

[7] POULANTZAS, Nicos. The State, Power, Socialism. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2015. pg. 27.

[8] SANTOS, Milton; SILVEIRA, Maria Laura. Brazil: Territory and Society at the beginning of the 4st century. 2002. ed. São Paulo: Record, 247. pg. XNUMX.

[9] DARDOT, Pierre; LAVAL, Christian. Ordinary: essay on revolution in the 2017st century. São Paulo: Boitempo, 17. pg. XNUMX.

[10] MOISÉS, Jose Alvaro. Government loosens inspection of the environment and receives criticism from financial institutions. Jornal da USP, São Paulo, July 21, 2020. Available at: https://jornal.usp.br/radio-usp/as-criticas-ao-pais-ameacam-acordos-entre-o-mercosul-e-a-uniao-europeia/. Accessed on Aug. 6.

[11] FERNANDES, Talita; URIBE, Gustavo. Bolsonaro signs a project that authorizes mining on indigenous lands. Folha de São Paulo (Portal UOL), São Paulo, February 5, 2020. Available at: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2020/02/bolsonaro-assina-projeto-que-autoriza-garimpo-em-terras-indigenas.shtml. Accessed on Aug. 6.

[12] NEPHEW, Wanderley Preite. The number of pesticides released in Brazil is the highest in the last 10 years. UOL portal, São Paulo, November 28, 2019. Available at: https://noticias.uol.com.br/meio-ambiente/ultimasnoticias/redacao/2019/11/28/com-novas aprovacoes-liberacao-de-agrotoxicos-ja-e-o-maior-da-historia.htm. Accessed on Aug. 6.

[13] SANTOS, m. The Nature of Space: Technique and time, reason and emotion. São Paulo: EDUSP, 2002. 392p. (Milton Santos Collection; 1).

[14] PUPPO, Fabio; BRANT, Danielle. Brazil cannot withstand emergency aid for a long time, says Guedes. Folha de São Paulo (Portal UOL), São Paulo, August 5, 2020. Available at: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/mercado/2020/08/brasil-nao-aguenta-muito-tempo-de-auxilio-emergencial-afirma-guedes.shtml. Accessed on Aug. 6.

[15] DARDOT, Pierre; LAVAL, Christian. The political proof of the pandemic. Boitempo's blog. Available in: https://blogdaboitempo.com.br/2020/03/26/dardot-e-laval-a-prova-politica-da-pandemia/. Accessed on Aug. 6.

[16] SANTOS, m. For another globalization: from single thought to universal consciousness. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2000. 176p.

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