By Jacinda Chan – Jul 31, 2020
COVID-19 has caused the Brazilian Amazon fires to hit all-time highs in thirteen years in June, increasing by 20% from last June’s already record highs in the past twenty years. Indigenous people who reside there have had outbreaks, preventing field officers assigned to protect the rainforest from doing their jobs because they must leave from lack of government protection of their health.
Again, Jair Bolsomaro’s environmental impunity policies have left the Amazon vulnerable to illegal deforestation to support the elitist, capitalist policies of the U.S. overriding socialist policies in Latin America supporting the indigenous and poor.
Before this regime, environmental laws heavily regulated agribusiness to protect the rainforest and its indigenous peoples because fazendeiros (large farms owned in the Amazon) illegally burn swaths of the rainforest. They hire criminal networks with the logistical means to clear the rainforest, invade public lands, and kill indigenous people. They cut down timber to sell abroad. Then, the fazendeiro owners grant members of these criminal networks illegal land titles for ownership or to sell to cattle ranchers at exuberant prices as pastures by burning the ground vegetation, causing the rainforest to dry up. These environmental laws were curbing the destruction of the Amazon.
However, since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, there has been an uptick in Amazon fires. In 2019, tree cover loss was 2.4 million hectares. The space research institute recorded more than 30,000 fires in August 2019 – a nine year high. These fires must have been manmade, not wild. The Amazon is tropical and has too much natural moisture to start fires on its own.
The president’s policies cutting funding to environmental agencies and protection for indigenous people who defend the rainforest have created a culture of impunity in favor of the elite that are causing this uptick. Human Rights Watch reports that police often do not investigate violence against and murders of indigenous people because they support the economic interests of the elite fazendeiros. Some are involved in these crimes, and some even hire criminals. This practice allows fazendeiros to get away with threatening and killing indigenous people so that they cannot protect the Amazon.
The current administration believes that undermining these protections will allow farmers to work in a free market to develop the economy. Bolsonaro has suggested that socialism like “forest protections [are] impediments to Brazil’s economic growth.” Instead, he intends to usher in capitalism in agribusiness so that the economy will develop because it is one of the largest industries.
Bolsonaro even declared his admiration for Trump’s capitalist policies, and Trump’s administration encouraged Brazil’s government in its fight against communism. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton called the Brazilian rightist government a key ally in the fight against leftist terrorists of communism.
However, farmers do not need these deregulations to make profits. Former Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira argues that the preservation of the Amazon has enough natural resources for farmers to profit. In fact, cattle ranchers need the Amazon’s natural rain system to maintain their pastures to fatten their cattle to sell as beef.
The organization, Sustainable Cattle Ranching in Amazon (PESCA) explains that cattle ranchers can cheaply fatten their cattle without burning down the Amazon for grazing. The Washington Post elaborates that burning the rainforest was only started in the 1970s as a quick and cheap method of inexperienced ranchers to maintain control over the Amazon. However, ranchers now stress that there are more sustainable methods that are more efficient.
Rather, as usual in a capitalist economy, these policies only support the elite, not the poor. If the Amazon continues to burn at its current rate, scientists predict that it will reach its tipping point in 20-30 years and become a savannah. The poor will not have enough water for their crops and livestock. Mosquitoes will move into urban areas to find food, increasing the cases of malaria and leishmaniasis in the poor, urban populations with inadequate health care.
Bolsonaro actually appears just to want to keep the poor and indigenous out of power so that the elite can stay in control. If his administration truly wants to help the Brazilian people as he claims, it will understand the value the Amazon has in this goal and sustain it. But the good of the Brazilian people is not really this leader’s purpose; it is his and the elite’s money.
Jacinda Chan has seven years of journalism experience covering everything from local California politics to international economics, human rights, and law in Turkey, the EU, and Latin America where her expertise lies. She believes that impartiality of all sides to discussing issues is the most important practice issues because biased writing takes the humanity from people
Featured image: by Przemek Pietrak / CC BY NC 2.0