Cultivating alternatives to authoritarian populism in Amazonia

17 March 2018

Exploring the efforts of a group of smallholder farmers who are contesting the attempts of powerful landholder to construct an equivalence between them and the Brazilian “people.”

Since 2016 an unelected government has controlled Brazil’s federal administration and pursued an agenda that directs resources away from broadly popular social programs and toward agro-industrial development projects that benefit powerful landholders (who are often referred to as “producers” or produtores). Amazonian landholders defend these policies as necessary to promote agro-industrial growth, which purportedly benefits Brazil as a whole. Herein we see the authoritarian-populist logic in operation that excludes a majority of people in the name of benefiting a minority that is said to represent all “the people.”

To devise and implement alternatives to such a situation, the grassroots non-governmental organization Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV) advances agro-ecological programs in support of “agricultores ”: people who collectively recompose damaged ecologies to create conditions hospitable to a wide range of humans and nonhumans. Recent scholarship on authoritarian populism tends to focus on the performances and declarations by which those excluded from official figurations of “the people” make for themselves a way into spaces of political discussion. IOV programs remind us that, in Amazonia, the construction of “a people” never takes place in an ecological vacuum. Beyond declarations and performances, agricultores become a people by creating ecological conditions in which their claims may flourish.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"