The Amazon rainforest is responsible for 25% of the world’s oxygen and home to indigenous tribes, however, the portion of the forest that lie in Brazil is under targeted attacks by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president.
WHO IS JAIR BOLSONARO
Jair Bolsonaro was a former captain under Brazil’s military dictatorship and was elected president in October 2018. Many are touting his election as a continuance of the rightward authoritarian shift in global politics. Bolsonaro is a climate skeptic whose environmental policy, consisting of opening up the Amazon for development and agribusiness, has drawn international condemnation.
Historically, Brazil has been a successful leader in combating the climate crisis. According to the New York Times, between 2004 and 2012, Brazil created new conservation areas, increased monitoring of the forest, and took away government credits from rural workers caught razing protected areas. These efforts brought deforestation to the lowest levels since record keeping began.
These practices, however, are nowhere to be seen in Bolsonaro’s administration. Bolsonaro has said that “Brazil is like a virgin that every pervert from the outside lusts for,” and claims that criticism of his environmental policy is an attempt to restrict Brazil’s growth. Bolsonaro believes that opening up the Amazon to commercial exploitation--including mining and agribusiness--is the key to the development of Brazil’s economic potential. He has pulled back on enforcement measures like fines, warnings, and the seizure of illegal deforestation equipment. He has systematically slashed the environmental agency’s budget and recently claimed that his own government’s satellite found evidence that claims of dangerous deforestation are “lies.” According to the Associated Press, Brazil’s portion of the Amazon has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest since Bolsonaro took office in October of last year. The Amazon produces 25% of the Earth’s oxygen, is the most biodiverse spot on the planet, and is currently losing the equivalent of three football fields of tree cover a minute. The rainforest is also incredibly vital in absorbing and sorting carbon dioxide through a natural process which slows down global warming. However, when trees are cut down, bulldozed, or burned the Carbon Dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. An independent research study aimed at cataloguing the impact of Amazon destruction on global warming conducted by the Associated Press found that in the last 50 years, one fifth of the Amazon has been cut and burned to make way for logging, mining, and ranching. Scientists are afraid that should the current trend continue, the Amazon could potentially degrade into a savannah and would no longer be capable of its natural processes that aid in combating climate change. Oppositely, Bolsonaro believes that the key to Brazil’s economic future lies in opening up the Amazon for commercial exploitation and has dubbed any criticisms of his policies as a concerted attempt at stifling Brazil’s economic growth, despite proof from human rights activists that commercial exploitation greatly endangers the Amazon’s hundreds of indigenous tribes.
The majority of the world’s 100 or so uncontacted tribes live in the Amazon in Brazil, and their protection is inscribed in Brazil’s constitution. Indigenous tribes are guaranteed under law the preservation of their rights and cultures, which have been persecuted for centuries. Bolsonaro has forgone those enshrined promises and instead campaigned on hard cuts to government funding for indigenous peoples and has frozen the expansion of federally protected reserves. In response to concerns about what opening up the Amazon to mining could do to indigenous populations, Bolsonaro stated that “indigenous people want to work, they want to produce and they can’t,” despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in more than 400 tribes live, and rely on, the Amazon.
Survival International, an organization dedicated to protecting indigenous people and their tribes, has called for increased police protection for tribes in the Amazon. However, due to violence from illegal loggers and ranchers, Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department FUNAI, has been prevented from working in the area. Despite these concerns, Bolsonaro continues to defend his economic agenda and, according to a Guardian article which likened his forgoing of indigenous rights to genocide, stated that, “(t)here is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin, and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.” Human rights activists have called the situation an emergency, stating that the remote Awa tribe live in such fear that they “teach children not to cry so no one can know where they are.” Additionally, a plethora of gold miners have invaded the Yanomami territory bringing disease and death to its people. Facing international outrage and cries to stop his commercial exploitation Bolsonaro offered a resounding and final response; “the Amazon is ours, not yours.”
-By Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern