Bolsonaro’s last trick is not exactly what you’d think


Luis Gustavo Arruda

Conservation Fellow

Luis Gustavo is a Brazilian PhD student in the Biosciences Institute at Universidade de Sao Paulo (IB-USP), focused on environmental education policies, particularly concerning the protected natural areas. He is one of the organizers of the E-book “Sustainabilities, public administration and school gardens: perspectives on the socioenvironmental crisis” (2020), member of the Technical Committee on Food Security of the Associação Paulista de Gestores Ambientais (APGAM), coordinator of the Commission on Activities’ Evaluation at the Brazilian Planetary Health Club and a Planetary Health Ambassador by the Studies Group in Planetary Health, based in the Advanced Studies Institute at Universidade de Sao Paulo (IEA-USP). He is also the Communication and Content Coordinator at the Extensão Natural online portal (, focused in disseminating scientific knowledge on environmental education policies.

Learn more about Luis Gustavo Arruda

February 27, 2023

Bolsonaro’s last trick is not exactly what you’d think


In spite of Lula da Silva’s victory in the latest presidential rally, the last month of Bolsonaro’s maladministration might impact Brazil for decades

Picture yourself: you finally got the funds to accomplish the project you’ve been dreaming for the past decade. It is December, so you are searching for the best gifts for your nephews, planning a quick trip to see your family during Christmas or New Year’s Eve. So you need the money you’ve been promised; but, when your paycheck should come, it simply does not. 

Guarani protester during a demonstration at Ubatuba, Brazil. The yellow sign is written as “without food, kitchen gas and employment, Bolsonaro, it is your fault !”. Photo and caption by Luis Gustavo Arruda.

This is what happened to tens of thousands of graduate students in Brazil in November 2022. Amidst the excitement of the World Cup, Jair Bolsonaro ratified a decree that suspended the funding for science and education ministries for his last month as president. Since he arranged a public budget to buy support from the congress to grant his reelection, over 200 thousand early-career scientists won’t be able to pay rent nor be present for their families during the holidays; the same scientists responsible for nearly 90% of peer-reviewed publications in the country. 

Brazilian Caucasian attorneys in a meeting at the praying house, supporting the Guaranis in the process of selling carbon credits. Since one must have an undergraduate degree to be a lawyer, it is uncommon to find Indigenous attorneys supporting their relatives. Photo and caption by Luis Gustavo Arruda

Starting a career in science in Brazil is pretty harsh; even though there are well-known public universities offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees for free, not everyone has access to this path. These universities’ application exams, usually taken right after high school, demand youth to have an excellent basic education, more often provided to people had a private education. Furthermore, people who are not seen as Caucasian in Brazil are disproportionately absent in elite private schools, explaining their absolute underrepresentation in public universities. 

During late 2016, social aid programs started to demand quotas for non-Caucasians to access undergraduate courses in public universities. Since these universities are focused on scientific research, a predictable outcome was a rise in the demand for graduate courses; and herein lies the main issue. There is not a similar social program for non-Caucasian students to enter Masters or PhD programs, nor special scholarships should they actually be admitted

The fake peace. Foreground: a monument representing the “Peace of Yperoig”, which depicts the alleged moment when the portuguese settlers and the Guarani people ratified a peace treaty. Background: Guarani youth in a demonstration asking for the recognition of the ownership of their sacred lands. Photo and caption by: Luis Gustavo Arruda

Given the vast traditional ecological knowledge present in the nearly 250 Indigenous cultures in Brazil, excluding these peoples’ access to a scientific career is a whole new layer of ethnocide. As a defunded PhD candidate myself, it is not enough to require the immediate payment for December’s income; the Brazilian government must demand equitable access to graduate coursework, provide inflation adjustment (accumulated at 60%, since it has not been readjusted since 2013) and expand the extent of scholarship programs. 

Beyond Bolsonaro’s maladministration and Lula da Silva’s campaign promises, planetary commitments, such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, foster the provision of financial resources to underdeveloped countries (target 13.a). Way closer to awaiting presidential decisions, this could be directly implemented as bilateral cooperation agreements between academics.

If you are not at a university but feel passionate about this topic, you could donate directly to crowdfunding projects, such as the Food Detectives: an educational project focused on teaching through citizen science, providing ongoing monitoring of the nutritional safety status in public schools’ neighborhoods. With a small donation of US$4.00 we can hand education materials to one child in any place in Brazil.

As we suffer fake peace through the deep colonialist inheritage in Brazil, our solidarity is what has always transformed the world, and will continue to build a society that fits everyone’s unique worlds.


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