Brazil’s far right president Jair Bolsonaro is waging war on the Amazon rainforest. His victory in elections last year, after attacking minorities and oppressed groups, marked a dangerous shift.
Bolsonaro is a threat to poor people—and the planet.
He wants to open up protected indigenous reserves in the Amazon to mining, farming and logging—and give firms free rein to make money.
“The Amazon is ours,” Bolsonaro declared last month.
Preliminary findings from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) show that a staggering 2,254 square kilometres of rainforest was cleared in July.
INPE director Ricardo Galvao was sacked after Bolsonaro said its figures “do not relate to the reality”.
Galvao told the Guardian newspaper that deforestation is “a question of brutal, fast economic exploitation”.
He said Bolsonaro’s administration believes “that by exploiting the Amazon they will achieve much faster economic development of the region”.
The Amazon provides a fifth of the world’s oxygen and is the largest natural carbon storage system after the ocean.
The loss of a fifth more of the basin is expected to take place within a generation. This could lead to dieback—the drying out and consequent burning of the remaining plant life.
The Amazon helps to prevent warming of the planet, and any deforestation leads to the immediate release of greenhouse gases.
It is also one of the biggest resources of minerals in the world, and deforested land has given way to illegal mines and crop land.
The outcry over deforestation has caused some tensions. German chancellor Angela Merkel has removed German aid for Amazon protection projects if Brazil does not remain committed to preserving the rainforest.
Yet Merkel is no friend of the environment. All states put the businesses they represent before tackling climate change. And capital is linked across borders—including the German capital Merkel represents. Volkswagen manufactures a majority of the cars produced in Brazil.
Bolsonaro has also faced resistance from below. Activists from Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion (XR) are among those protesting to demand an end to deforestation.
Four XR activists were arrested last week for throwing red paint at the Brazilian embassy in London. Coordinated demonstrations targeted Brazilian embassies in Chile, Portugal, France, Switzerland and Spain.
They were timed to take place in solidarity with indigenous women marching in Brazil (see below).
One XR protester said, “If we close our eyes to the criminal destruction taking place, our children will pay the price.”
Protests fuse climate action with wider demands
The number of environmental activists who have been murdered doubled between 2001 and 2017, according to a Global Witness report published this month.
The NGO also said there is a larger trend that particularly threatens indigenous people in Brazil.
Co-author of the report Frances Lambrick said, “Bolsonaro has taken power with the promise that indigenous people must adapt to the majority or disappear.
“He is putting exploitation of the environment first.”
Gold miners walked into a protected reserve in Amapa, a region in the north of Brazil, last month and stabbed Emrya Wajapi to death.
He was the leader of the indigenous Wajapi community.
The murder is a result of Bolsonaro’s racism, and it will not be the last.
Indigenous activists have resisted Bolsonaro’s racist policies and women have led the movement.
Some 300 indigenous women protested on Monday of last week. They carried banners reading, “Resist to exist” and marched towards congress in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia.
Last Wednesday, they joined 20,000 women for a demonstration dubbed the “March of the Magridas”.
The demonstrations also targeted the declining standard of healthcare, education cuts and Bolsonaro’s misogyny and homophobia.
The protests show how the issue of deforestation can be taken up alongside wider demands.
Top job for cop reject
Bolsonaro wants to overhaul Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI).
FUNAI is traditionally responsible for protecting rights.
BBC Brazil revealed that FUNAI’s new president—appointed by Bolsonaro—had been rejected from the federal police force.
Marcelo Augusto da Silva (pictured) was considered too aggressive and impulsive for the job.
He took office last month.
Protests and strikes against education cuts
In May, Bolsonaro imposed 30 percent funding cuts to all Brazil’s state-owned universities.
Scholarships for masters and doctorates have been scrapped.
In July, further cuts hit teaching materials.
Education unions called for strikes on Tuesday of last week.
Thousands of students and teachers took to the streets.