Brazil’s new President, Jair Bolsonaro, has given his government new powers to monitor and supervise non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the country.
The temporary decree was signed on Tuesday, Reuters reported, the same day that Bolsonaro was inaugurated. It mandates that the office of the Government Secretary “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany that activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory.”
“More than 15 percent of national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and Quilombolas [former runaway slave communities]. Fewer than one million people live in these isolated places of real Brazil,” Bolsonaro tweeted on Tuesday. “[They are] exploited and manipulated by NGOs. We will live together and integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”
The office in question is headed by General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who is one of seven former military personnel to sit on Bolsonaro’s cabinet. Bolsonaro, himself a former Army captain, has consistently praised the Brazilian military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985.
The temporary decree will expire after 120 days if it is not ratified by the Brazilian Congress. While it could hypothetically be used to foster closer cooperation between the Brazilian government and NGOs, the language used in both the decree and in Bolsonaro’s tweet that claimed Brazilians are “exploited and manipulated by NGOs” suggests a deep level of suspicion and mistrust, an attitude which has also been seen in other authoritarian countries, specifically Hungary and Russia.
In June 2018, Hungary passed a bill dubbed the “Stop Soros” law, which effectively criminalized any individual or organization from supporting refugees or undocumented migrants and allowed the interior ministry to ban NGOs deemed a “national security risk.” It also forced NGOs receiving more than 24,000 Euros (currently equivalent to $27,000) in funding from abroad to register themselves as “civic organization funded from abroad.”
Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has consistently used billionaire philanthropist George Soros as an international bogeyman, claiming that he’s funding a network of NGOs dedicated to the destruction of national borders. It’s a strategy which the American far-right has also adopted.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has uttered an axiom of history and of humanity. Western Civilization is the target of George Soros and the Left. https://t.co/ZuwtUOw6XC
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) November 22, 2017
A similar, and even more stringent law was put in place in Russia in 2012, which required NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any funding from abroad and are engaged in political activity. If they fail to comply courts can levy massive fines against them, and over 30 groups have been forced to shut down. Conveniently, the definition of “political activity” is broad enough to allow any group engaged in human rights activity in Russia to meet the criteria.
Bolsonaro hasn’t just been cracking down on NGOs in his first few days in office. He’s also handed over control of land where indigenous people and slave descendants live to the Agricultural Ministry, which is in the pocket of Brazil’s powerful farm lobby. Bolsonaro has also signed an executive order removing the LGBTQ community from groups protected by a new human rights ministry.
None of this, however, seems to worry the U.S. government much. Both President Trump and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley congratulated Bolsonaro on Twitter, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Brazil to attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration. In a statement with his Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Araujo on Wednesday, Pompeo promised to deepen cooperation with Brazil and work to restore democracy in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.