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In Bolsonaro’s burning Brazilian Amazon, all our futures are being consumed


Elaine Brum writes: Believing the Amazon is far away, on the periphery, when the only chance of controlling climate change is to keep it alive, reflects ignorance of continental proportions. Our eyes have been contaminated, distorted, colonised. The forest is at the very core of all we have. This is the real home of humanity.

Eliane Brum, The Guardian

The Amazon is the centre of the world. Right now, as our planet experiences climate collapse, there is nowhere more important. If we don’t grasp this, there is no way to meet that challenge.

For 500 years, this has been a place of ruins. First with the European invasion, which brought a particularly destructive form of civilisation, the death of hundreds of thousands of indigenous men and women and the extinction of dozens of peoples. More recently, with the clearance of vast swaths of the forest and all life within it. Right now, in 2019, we are witnessing the beginning of a new, disastrous chapter. The area of trees being cleared has surged this year. In July, the deforestation rate was an area the size of Manhattan every day, a Greater London every three weeks. This month, fires are incinerating the Amazon at a record rate, almost certainly part of a scorched-earth strategy to clear territory. Why is this happening now? Because of a change in power.

A predatory form of politics called Bolsonarism has assumed nearly total, and totalitarian, power in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro’s chief project is to create more ruins in the Amazon forest, methodically and swiftly. This is why, for the first time since Brazil became a democracy again, it effectively has a minister against the environment.

For more than 30 years no environment minister has enjoyed the same autonomy as Ricardo Salles. He is a gofer for agribusiness, which is responsible for the majority of the deaths in the fields and forests, and Brazil’s greatest destructive force. The landowners lobby has always been part of Brazil’s government, formally or not. But today, this has reached a new level. They are not just in the government, they are the government.

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Bolsonarism’s number one power project is to turn public lands that serve everyone – because they guarantee the preservation of natural biomes, the life of native peoples and regulate the climate – into private lands that profit a few. These lands, most of which lie in the Amazon forest, include the public lands to which indigenous peoples have the constitutional right to use, the public lands settled by ribeirinhos (people who have for over a century made their living by fishing, tapping rubber, and sustainably gathering Brazil nuts and other forest products), and the collective-use lands of quilombolas(descendants of rebel slaves who won their right to territories occupied by their ancestors).

Infighting is constant in the government, in part because the Bolsonaro administration employs the strategy of simulating its own opposition so it can occupy every possible space. Yet there is a consensus about opening up indigenous peoples’ protected lands and conservation areas. When it comes to transforming the planet’s largest tropical forest into a place for raising cattle, growing soybeans, and mining ore, there is no fighting at all. A few somewhat dissonant voices have already been deleted from the government.

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