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Fiddling while the Amazon burns



Deforestation in the Amazon has reached record rates in the first six months of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency. Data released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows an increase of 88 per cent deforestation in June this year over June 2018. In the systematic process of illegal deforestation, native trees are cut down, then fires clear pasture, and lastly the lands are sold to wealthy farmers and investors.

Brazil President Bolsonaro (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)The outbreak of fires in the world's largest rainforest is not new, despite the high levels registered this year. What has taken the burning rainforest to front pages across the world is the attitude of the president of Brazil towards the crisis.

When the alarming increase in deforestation rates was brought out, Bolsonaro's first action was to discredit INPE's numbers, and sack the director of the agency, Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, who was blamed for 'being a service to an international NGO'. The agency is respected worldwide for its historical data on deforestation. 'Bolsonaro makes false accusations to the highest level of scientists involved in this process, as if he had any qualifications to analyse data,' said Galvão to O Globo.

INPE releases monthly reports from its satellite system on the Amazon deforestation since 2005. At least this was the rule until July 2019. Not surprisingly, deforestation statistics for 2019 have been removed from the INPE website, and now no data from this year is publicly available.

Confronted by the press, Bolsonaro spreads disinformation as he pleases. He dared to point at NGOs that have been working for decades to protect the forest. Proud of having cut federal funding to NGOs, he suggested, without evidence, that they set the fire to revenge him. While he keeps journalists busy with nonsense declarations, no actions are taken to stop the fires. And there is a particular reason for it: Bolsonaro has no interest in stopping the fires. As a declared anti-environment leader, he sees the largest rainforest of the world as a huge potential for investment. He promised to open the region to the development of agribusiness, so the fires consuming the Amazon are just part of the deal.

He also promised to seek 'partnerships with democratic countries like the USA to allow extraction of mineral resources in the Amazon'. And he did. Investigative journalism by The Intercept revealed documents showing American Republican lobbyists in conversations with the Brazilian government to promote corporate investment in the Amazon. Curiously enough, when French President Emmanuel Macron decided to address the environmental crisis in Brazil at the G7 summit in August, Bolsonaro condemned the interference of other nations in Brazil. He even rejected an offer from G7 countries of $20 millon to help fight fires in the Amazon, aiming to preserve the forest and its biodiversity.

Brazil's indigenous are also being threatened as they try to fight the fire to save their homes. The Brazilian constitution acknowledges the rights of native people to live in territories demarcated by the state. Most demarcated indigenous territories are in the Amazon rainforest area. The 2010 census registered almost 850,000 indigenous people in Brazil.


"The Amazon needs help, and it won't come from the wealthier."


Journalists reporting the tragedy in loco have spoken with indigenous leaders, who raised their concerned about uncontacted tribes, which are the most vulnerable. The National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) has identified more than 100 uncontacted tribes in the Amazon. FUNAI was created to protect the indigenous Brazilians and to promote their rights. Under Bolsonaro's administration, however, it is unclear if its mission will last. This administration's head of the indigenous agency is a police officer with strong connections to agribusiness.

In his presidential election campaign last year, the far-right candidate guaranteed that, if elected, he would fight the demarcation of indigenous territories. On 27 August 2019, in an emergency meeting with state premiers to make decisions on the Amazon crisis, Bolsonaro decided to bring the topic completely out of context.

He proudly assured that all studies started in previous governments on demarcation of indigenous territories are now frozen by his administration. Then, he shouted: 'With this many indigenous territories, our agribusinesses will become inviable. And if the agribusiness ends, our economy ends.' This is an example of his reasoning, and only confirms the motivation behind his actions.

A new movement trying to save the Amazon calls for international help. A group of Brazilian solicitors are preparing a petition to submit to the International Criminal Court against the president of Brazil for environmental crime against humanity. They are grounding their argument on the delay of the government in taking action to stop the fires in the Amazon, and on Bolsonaro's policies supporting the deforestation of protected areas in the name of 'development'. The Amazon needs help, and it won't come from the wealthier.



Denise FrizzoDr Denise Frizzo is a journalist and tutor at RMIT School of Media and Communications.

Main image: Brazil President Bolsonaro (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Denise Frizzo, Amazon, climate change, deforestation, Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro



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Existing comments

Just which swamp do these deplorable people breed in. It’s disgusting. They have no heart no soul. Make out they Re Christian’s. Such hypocrisy

Irena | 04 September 2019  

Also let’s not forget the serious deforestation in neighbouring countries like PNG and elsewhere. China is the world’s largest timber importer, but because it has banned commercial logging, it seeks out timber in other countries, especially in Russia. Last year 16.3 million acres of Russian forest were lost compared to 9.1 million acres of Amazon forest.

Ross Howard | 04 September 2019  

Bolsonaro , like Trump, has absolutely no regard for humanity. Like Trump and other Far Right ideologue's, they decry science as being flawed or "fake news" .Their only interest seems to be feathering their own nests and those of their equally corrupt cronies . Unfortunately he is putting a wrecking ball to the very environment that sustains us all. The Amazon Rainforest, the Congo and the forests of Borneo are the earth's lungs. Once destroyed,they will not recover for thousands of years. The Amazon soils are very leached, infertile laterite. Once the forest is removed the recycling of nutriments from the forest to the soil ceases .The soil becomes rock hard, erodes readily and becomes only capable of supporting a low nutriment grass. The release of Carbon Dioxide to the Atmosphere is enormous , while the Oxygen producing forest, we need to breathe, is removed. Methane from the grazing cattle will only add more Methane to the atmosphere ultimately accelerating Climate Change. This is actually a Crime against Humanity.

Gavin A. O'Brien | 04 September 2019  

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