democraciaAbierta: Opinion

Brazil burns as we fight for life

The international community can help Brazilians by monitoring the unfolding of the environmental crisis and the imminent destruction of forests promoted by the Bolsonaro government.

Nilto Tatto
5 October 2020
A resident of the Capao neighborhood amid the wildfires in the city of Barao de Melgaco, in Mato Grosso, Brazil, on September 24, 2020
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Ernesto Carriço/NurPhoto/PA Images

The press echoed with concern the letter sent by eight European countries to Brazilian Vice President, Hamilton Mourão, warning about the increasing difficulty of buying products from our country due to the growing deforestation in Brazil.

Recently, members of the European parliament also sent a letter to the presidente of the Chambers of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia. The concern is not unreasonable. I have been warning about the environmental destruction project undertaken by President Jair Bolsonaro and his Environmental Minister, Ricardo Salles, in the tribunes to which I have access.

This is not about reaffirming my country's negative image. Quite the opposite. We are a peaceful nation, with a four-decade history of building environmental policies, with internationally awarded initiatives (including by the UN) and that has led historic moments in democratic governments, such as Eco-92 under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Rio + 20 under President Dilma Rousseff.

The Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda were built thanks to great international articulation, in which the leading role of Brazil was recognized. It is with the conscience not only as a parliamentarian, but as the global citizen I am, in the name of preserving human life on Earth, that I come here to say that the international community must continue to respect our sovereignty, but that it is necessary to unite minds and hearts in defense of Brazilian biomes.

Those interested in the destruction of the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado

It is no easy task to cut down areas in a forest as large, medley and humid as the Amazon is, so I will focus my efforts on it – the largest of the three biomes. One of the best known forms of deforestation occurs during the rainy season, when tractors that could star in a Transformers movie, armed with chains that weigh tons, cut down the century-old trees, which remain on the ground for some time until the arrival of the dry season. Amid the droughts, with the vegetation already dry and dead, people light the fires (there is no spontaneous combustion in the Amazon).

Deforestation in the Amazon was 10,129 km2 between August 2018 and July 2019, consolidating an increase of 34.4 % in relation to the period from August 2017 to July 2018

When the area is "clean", the same "grileiros", grabbers of public land (including indigenous territories), who previously felled the trees begin to plant soybeans and put the cattle to pasture in most cases. And new land conflicts arise.

Counting on the slowness of the process of illegal land occupation, the landowner establishes himself in the territory, quite well armed, literally. He and his supporters have rifles. The locals, at most, have bows and arrows.

Now, imagine all this happening in a scenario of growing dismantling of federal agencies' structures for environmental crime inspection, the criminalization of public environmental officials, the extinction of institutional spaces for formulating climate policies and the deliberate articulation of diplomatic incidents to make the Amazon Fund unfeasible, whose contribution of nearly €320 million was essential to help us fight deforestation. As if that were not enough, Brazil is working to legalize land grabbing, or "grilagem" as we call it in Brazil.

Who rules Brazil today?

One of Bolsonaro's first actions upon being elected, even before his inauguration, was to affirm that Brazil would not host the COP-25 conference, which took place in Madrid in 2019. Shortly afterwards, he announced he would extinguish the Ministry of the Environment, created in 1992.

Faced with negative repercussions, he withdrew the proposal. However, several responsibilities of this ministry were transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. For the reader's clarity, it must be said that Brazil is one of the countries with the highest concentration of land in the world. The predatory and archaic agribusiness model has remained in the hands of the same families for centuries.

Theft of public land is still a serious problem in Brazil. Bolsonaro, who was fined for environmental crimes when he was still a congressman, represents the far right that is the enemy of democracy, whose traits are well known across the globe. We are talking here about a government that legalized about 600 pesticides in just over a year, that dismissed career civil servants and that placed the demarcation of indigenous lands in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture, led today by those who intend to legalize the invasion of public lands, mining on indigenous lands and severely punishes scientists, academics and popular leaders who denounce environmental crimes.

What the data points to

In August 2020, deforestation alerts rose 68% compared to the same month of 2019, the worst month in the last 10 years, according to data from Imazon, a Brazilian NGO with 30 years of experience and more than 700 scientific articles for conservation and sustainable development in the Amazon.

Brazil is not Bolsonaro, but the country that always welcomed the world with open arms, who was unaware of xenophobia, who was ashamed of racism, and who fought for women and indigenous people

According to the Brazilian Institute for Spacial Research (INPE), a government agency that constantly suffers unfounded attacks on its credibility by Bolsonaro and Mourão, the Amazon lost 10,129 km2 to deforestation between August 2018 and July 2019, an increase of 34.4 % compared to the period between August 2017 and July 2018.

The government purposely lost control of deforestation in the Amazon. The sending of military personnel to the Amazon as part of “Operation Green Brazil 2” has not had the necessary effect. Of course it has not.

The situation is also dire when it comes to forest fires: the outbreaks between May and July 2020 were up 22% compared to the same months last year, without the presence of the military. Meanwhile, government action is closer to theatrical measures than to concrete actions.

By July 31, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) has spent only 20.6% of the yearly €10,6 million allocated for environmental inspection actions – € 2,2 million, the lowest amount since 2016.

This is a very serious fact and may constitute administrative impropriety by Minister Salles, since the solution exists and is not being applied. Not to mention the loss of human lives resulting from land conflicts: the number of indigenous and landless leaders killed in the country is increasing alarmingly.

What are we doing?

With the objective of establishing a frank dialogue between government authorities and civil society, we have presented a law proposal that establishes the moratorium on deforestation in the Amazon for five years, strengthening the debate about what we want for our environment and the protection of the forest.

I am also articulating a delegation of about 30 members of Congress, including senators and federal deputies, who will be visiting the areas most affected by the fires in the Pantanal to hear representatives of affected communities, environmental organizations and movements, scientists and members of the Fire Department, who have been asking for help in the face of the lack of resources and structure to act. We hope to build mechanisms that make up for the inaction of Bolsonaro, Mourão and Salles.

The international community can help Brazilians by monitoring the unfolding of the environmental crisis in the country and by being on high alert regarding the imminent destruction of forests with support from the Bolsonaro government.

Our country is shocked by the images of animals killed in the Pantanal and news that the fire has already consumed 20% ​​of one of Brazil's most important biomes. This gentleman, who currently occupies the largest office in the country, was not elected by the majority of Brazilian, but by the majority of those who decided to vote – a result of the same strategy designed to elect other far-right leaders around the world. Brazil is not Bolsonaro, but a country that has always welcomed the world with open arms, that did not know xenophobia, that was ashamed of racism, and that fought for the rights of women and indigenous people.

We will continue to fight for the sovereignty of our country and for diplomacy between countries, with the awareness that we have a central role to play in the climate emergency plaguing us. For those who still deny the consequences of environmental imbalance and that all the peoples of the world are united by the Earth, the coronavirus has sent its message.

We've got the message. And Bolsonaro will not prevent us from continuing with our commitment to the planet and to the Brazilian people.

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