By Zé Luís Costa
The Amazon is being reduced to ashes. This is what statistics show and is also affirmed by local residents, militants, and above all, indigenous leaders and militants linked to the People’s Sovereignty Over Mining (MAM), and the Rural Landless Workers’ Movements (MST).
The Amazon can be seen as Earth’s “lungs”. It’s a global notion and a way of saying that the Amazon helps everyone on the planet breathe better. Thus, it encompasses all countries. However, being ignorant and grotesque, Jair Bolsonaro does not recognize this fact and says out loud: “The Amazon rain forest belongs to Brazil”
The motivation behind such discourse is to defend against the interference of others heads of State, when they rightly and honestly demand that the ecosystem be protected. Furthermore, he does it in order to disqualify the work being done by serious NGO’s.
During the worst wildfire crisis in Brazil’s history, which occurred in 2019, Bolsonaro often got into verbal spats with other world leaders, including French president Emmanuel Macron. This year things are no different since the Amazon is once again on fire, the Brazilian government is still hiding data, native populations in the region are once more under threat, and the world still risks loosing its “lungs”.
Information gathered for this article on the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) website, came up with very little information about the reality of the forest amid the spreading wildfires. INPE is aided by high quality satellites and is a wing of Ministry of Sciences and Technology, thus, is obligated to provide solid information to the Brazilian people relating to the reports of deforestation and wildfires in those parts of the country.
Analyzing charts, maps and the data INPE has made available, we notice that in the months of July and August the number of wildfires is much bigger than in the same period last year. The situation is even worse when statistics are looked at by individual biomes.
For example, the Amazonian ecosystem is experiencing a very high number of wildfires, as many as 33.049 on August 18th. This reality is created by: invasions by land-grabbers with greed and profit in mind. Real estate price speculation of lands in the Amazon is growing, for the most part among lumber companies that clear the forest. Large scale agriculture moves in after them, with pastures and other forms of predatory plantations, soy, rice, corn and even eucalyptus mono-crops. There are also instances of real estate expansion.
According to activist Isabel Silva, who is a member of MAM and the Free Tapajós Movement, the growth of these large real estate projects is turning things upside down. “Previoiusly, MST wasn’t present in the city because there were no landless residents. Today, this what we see the most: people with no land on the outskirts of the town of Santarém, in western Pará state”, she tells us. The Free Tapajós Movement fights to protect the Tapajós river, the traditionalist cultures that exist in its surroundings, and against the building of hydroelectric dams.
Silva further tells us that this is the season where a lot of logging occurs in preparation for the cultivation of many crops, that begin with the ensuing rains. However, before all this, the deliberate burning of the forest is undertaken, starting in September. This is all done both by small and large scale farmers, many of them land invaders.
For geographer and professor at the Pará State University (Uepa), Fabiano Bringel, who is also one of the People’s Sovereignty Over Mining (MAM) coordinators, the process of degradation of the Amazon intensified in 2019 under the Bolsonaro administration. This is being spearheaded by large scale land owners in the region, who feel vindicated by the Federal government’s support of predatory development in the area.
He adds that last year was the worst when it comes to wildfires, above all when many large estate owners, purposely set coordinated fires on what came to be known as the “day of fire”. On the occasion, the criminals set ablaze various regions of Pará and Amazonas states between the 9th and 10th of August.
Our news team contacted the Public Ministry of Pará state, where local prosecutor Igor Espíndola, investigated the “day of fire” case, and reports that civil and military police facilitated and protected those accused of the crimes. Militants and local media all confirm that there has been a loosening of oversight and that those responsible for the attack have not been punished.
The reality in the Amazon is so grave that according to Bringel, it is likely that these land owners will try to force the country’s institutions to remove the states of Maranhão and Mato Grosso from what is known as the “legal Amazon” (area of preservation), making it easier for other agricultural segments, mainly sugar cane production, to establish a foothold in the region.
“What we see with the deforestation, with the invasions of native and traditionalist lands, is that there is intent behind it all, the intention to install much bigger projects in the area. It’s the expansion of large scale projects inside the Amazon. We are seeing sugar cane farming creeping into the region since last year, something that till then was prohibited under the “Legal Amazon’ code”, he affirms.
Ayala Ferreira, who is part of the MST’s Pará state directorate and a member of the organization’s Human Rights board, reinforces what has been said by those contacted for this piece, by indigenous militants and MAM. She reiterates that after the election of the current president, deforestation and attacks against the Amazon and biodiversity have only gotten worse. Furthermore, she highlights how the “day of fire” is shameful for Brazil on the world stage.
“The people that did that to the Amazon have expressed their support for the government’s words and actions, making it abundantly clear that they believe it is now their turn to rule. While a candidate, Bolsonaro stated before the whole country that the is against land reform, he is against indigenous peoples, against traditionalist communities. When he takes power, he blocks legislation aimed at supporting these groups, all the while passing bills that enable large scale agriculture”, she points out.
24 year old indigenous community member Walter de Oliveira, is a militant and defender of his peoples’ struggle, and denounces that big companies – big farming business interests – claim that “agriculture is for the people” or that “agriculture is life”, with advertisements in mainstream media. However, the truth is that for his people, agriculture is a symbol of death. The young man belongs to the Pedra Branca community, which is located in the Tapajós-Arapiuns reserve, an area that stretches for 647.610 hectares in the Santarém municipality of the state of Pará.
He is one of the founders of the “Young Tapajônico Collective”. “I helped create the collective to be able to act within communities so they understand that the reality is different for some of us, so that I can raise awareness and defend our own territory, which is our home”, he recounts.
Waltinho, as he is known in the groups and movements he is a part of, amid efforts and dreams, also participates in entities that protect the Amazon from predatory actions, like the brigades who fought the blazes on the “day of fire”. The young man belongs to the Kumaruara people and has shown himself to be full of ideas, in search of a better world, above all, a world with the Amazon standing strong. The Kumaruaras are a tribe which consists of roughly 100 families spread over the states Pará and Amazonas.
When our news team contacted the young man, he had recently come back from a working trip and was gearing up for another one even further away. He makes it crystal clear that the role these organizations play for indigenous peoples, is one of rebuilding, reaffirming and empowering these populations in the fight against loggers and those who are invading the Amazon rain forest.
“It is common for native tribes to witness barge after barge full of cut down trees on the Tapajós river. The saddest thing is that they know these trees were illegally removed from indigenous lands”, he sadly tells us.
With all the information gathered for this article, from statistics to charts, research about the wildfires and deforestation in northern Brazil and the “legal Amazon”, it is easy to notice a commitment on the part of the Bolsonaro government to destroy what remains of the forest in favor of predatory development. His defense of the reopening of gold mining and the expansion of industrial level agriculture, spurred by his need to appease his allies, makes it obvious that his intention is to destroy.
In this sense, it’s worth it to say that this administration is in fact, complicit in these attacks on nature, and that whatever may come to pass within this ecosystem, which still acts as the Earth’s “lungs”, is entirely his fault.
*Edited by: Luciana G. Console
**Translated by: Ítalo Piva