23 May, 2022

The Humanitarian Collective

Be a global citizen. Become a humanitarian.

Why NGOs Are Critical to Democracy: Everything an Anti-Democratic Government Doesn’t Want You to Know

As portrayed in the 2019 miniseries Aruanas, directed by Estela Renner, working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Brazil requires one to become a defender of upholding democratic values. The TV series, distributed by GloboPlay, follows three activists as they investigate environmental crimes committed by big corporations. The TV show depicts the work of NGOs in Brazil. While some may argue that Brazilian non-governmental organizations have a knack for fraudulent operations, by analysing their work, one finds that they play a major role in holding politicians accountable and bridging the gap between the government and the people.

Human rights NGOs have played a key role in keeping a close eye on politicians implicated by a recent scandal in Brazil’s Parliamentary Inquiry Committee regarding the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. In response, the NGO Amnesty International wrote an open letter to Attorney General Augusto Aras and launched a petition (which garnered nearly 20 thousand signatures as of now) calling for investigations into the government’s alleged concealment of information related to the supply of the Indian vaccine Covaxin during the pandemic to continue as planned. When governments fail to be transparent, NGOs take the lead in keeping the people aware of political turmoil in their country as it unfolds, ultimately allowing them a say in some major decisions via petitions, just as they could under a democratic government.

NGOs are more capable of reaching out to the public to truly understand what they want and need, allowing them to further bridge the gap between the government and its people and work towards implementing popular change. Greenpeace Brazil did a masterful job at aiding the people in contacting the government. For one, with the support of religious leaders, artists, and other non-governmental organizations, the NGO proposed a bill to the Congress calling for the reduction of erosion in national forests. That had to be done due to the fact that Jair Bolsonaro has been showing continuous negligence toward said logging issue, as shown by the fact he cut more than R$ 60 million from anti-deforestation funds. By working with and for the people to affect the change they want to see, Greenpeace Brazil has proven to be incredibly effective in protecting Brazil’s natural landscapes. 

As Bolsonaro consolidates power, the future of NGOs are at risk. For one, Jair Bolsonaro accused non-governmental organizations of burning down the Amazon Rainforest in a Facebook Live video. When asked about his evidence to support his claims, the President responded he had “no written plan” of the accused NGOs. Moreover, the president has called environmental NGOs a “cancer”, further proving the point that Bolsonaro constantly chooses to blame his political failures on baseless conspiracies.

At the same time, the Brazilian government actively tries to distort the truth and criminalise the actions of NGOs. Consider the 2019 police raid of an Amazonian NGO and the arrest of four firefighters who were accused of setting fire to the forest. At first, it seemed to be only baseless claims made by a president with a knack for jeopardizing non-governmental organizations focused on the environment, however, now it seems the problem has worsened to “new tactics of repression”, says Camila Marques (from the free-speech movement Article 19 during a webinar). “We are facing a scenario of arbitrary imprisonments,” she concludes.

NGOs fight to advance a variety of missions—from ensuring human rights to protecting the environment—yet their primary function is simply (and effectively) growing democracy from the bottom up. One can see in the miniseries Aruanas that accomplishing such a feat is no easy task, however, their goals are certainly ones worth fighting for. NGOs in developing countries like Brazil have shown their true value by aiding the people in the process of creating a safe democratic environment we can all live in—whether by jump-starting movements for reform with petitions or introducing popular bills to Congress. In short, we should all appreciate the work of NGOs and try our best to save them in those trying times. That is if we truly want to live in a democratic system.


Conheça um pouco da história de Aruanas, nova série da Globo Play

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Projeto de lei do Desmatamento Zero é entregue no Congresso

COVID-19 Vaccine Scandal Could Be the Final Straw for Bolsonaro Supporters 

Bolsonaro corta verbas para ações contra desmatamento e queimadas 

Bolsonaro slams ‘cancer’ of environmental NGOs 

Igniting global outrage, Brazil’s Bolsonaro baselessly blames NGOs for Amazon fires

Police raid office of Brazil NGO linked to brigade that helped battle Amazon fires  

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