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Scientists are hitting the panic button over the recent election of new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, because it means around two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest are now under the control of a far-right anti-environmental regime.

The Amazon rainforest is often called “the lungs of the planet” due to its crucial role in sequestering carbon, producing oxygen and facilitating rainfall patterns.

It is also a massive reservoir of biodiversity – much of it still undiscovered.

“Bolsonaro’s victory represents a profound setback for human rights and ecological preservation in the world’s fourth largest democracy, with particularly drastic implications for the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous and traditional communities,” Amazon Watch program director Christian Poirier says in a media statement.

“His reckless plans to industrialise the Amazon in concert with Brazilian and international agribusiness and mining sectors will bring untold destruction to the planet’s largest rainforest and the communities who call it home and spell disaster for the global climate.”

Green groups could be banned

Business Insider reports that Bolsonoro has already suggested he will ban environmental groups including Greenpeace and WWF from the country. He has also put expansion of logging and mining on the agenda and is proposing a new highway through the rainforest to facilitate resource exploitation.

The nation’s Department of the Environment is also apparently on the chopping block.

Brazil was already a dangerous place to be an environmental defender, and Indigenous groups seeking to protect their traditional land are facing an even tougher battle, as Bolsonaro has made statements around privatising Tribal land holdings. He has also expressed deeply racist opinions on Indigenous people, as well as African Brazilians.

“Indigenous groups have good reason to be scared,” Carlos Salvador Zepeda Castillo, Research Associate in Development Studies, University of Portsmouth, writes in The Conversation.

“Over the past decade, Brazil has been the most dangerous country in the world to be a land or environmental defender and 57 of these people were murdered last year alone.

“According to the NGO Global Witness, this kind of violence stems from sections of the agribusiness sector, in particular parts of the Amazon’s cattle industry which is the largest single cause of deforestation globally. The Amazon and its indigenous residents may now be persecuted with even more ferocity, as Bolsonaro promises a new alliance between the security state, agricultural interests and far-right political power.”

The nation’s university sector is also concerned. Even before the election, military police had invaded campuses and seized materials relating to Bolsonaro’s key opponent for the presidential role.

According to Marion Lloyd, research professor at the Institute for the Study of the University and Education, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Police also banned a planned lecture entitled “Fighting Fascism” at the Federal University of Grande Dourados.

At the Federal University of Campina Grande they seized copies of a declaration by a professors’ association in defence of public universities and freedom of expression.

This led to some universities cancelling some classes out of fear of retribution from Bolsonaro supporters or police detention.

Lloyd says there is more to come, with the president’s supporters introducing a bill into Congress that would establish a new curriculum that incorporates a ban on sex education and the re-introduction of courses from the nation’s dictatorship era on “moral and civic education.”

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