There is another war being waged, even if it is currently out of the spotlight: that of the Bolsonaro government against the Amazon and the indigenous peoples. The latest data from the Institute of Space Research (INPE) leads to an inescapable conclusion: in the first quarter of 2022, deforestation has increased by 64% in relation to the same period in 2021, with the loss of another 941 square kilometers of rainforest. This figure is even more worrying if we take into account that these are the rainiest months of the year.
But this has been a constant during the past three years, with Bolsonaro in charge: there has been no respite for the Amazon, with an increase in deforestation of 56.6% and the destruction of 32,740 square kilometers of native vegetation, all sacrificed on the altar of the interests of agribusiness and the mining and timber sectors. As if that wasn’t enough, the region is under even worse threat by the bill currently being debated in the House, which would exclude the state of Mato Grosso from the legal definition of the Amazon, which would mean that the mandatory percentage of forest preservation in the state would drop from 80% to 20%.
Of course, the indigenous peoples are the ones who will pay the price most of all. They have gathered in Brasilia, in the Esplanada dos Ministérios, to denounce the genocide in progress, as part of the 18th edition of the Acampamento Terra Livre, taking place between April 4 and 14: a mini-city inhabited by more than 6,000 indigenous people from over 170 different original peoples, who arrived in the capital after a journey of up to three days.
What they are demanding is the withdrawal of the “Destruction Package,” a set of bills, currently under discussion in the Senate, whose consequences on indigenous peoples and the ecosystems they inhabit would be incalculable. Among these, Bill No. 490 would introduce the so-called “temporal marker,” the notion, strongly advocated by Bolsonaro, according to which only those indigenous peoples who can prove their presence in the areas they are claiming on the date of promulgation of the Brazilian Constitution, October 5, 1988, would have rights to the land – as if the whole violent process of colonization had never taken place.
The effects of Bill No. 191 would be no less catastrophic, which authorizes mining activities and the construction of hydroelectric plants and other infrastructure in indigenous areas, even in those where there are uncontacted peoples, whose situation is becoming increasingly critical, as reported by Survival International.
The need to exploit the lands of the original peoples has been advocated by Bolsonaro ever since his election campaign, and now it is being revived with renewed vigor under the pretext of the war in Ukraine and the consequent need to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fertilizers from Russia. “Basically,” Bolsonaro said, “we are risking a shortage of potassium or an increase in its price.” And so – his argument goes – since the Rio Madeira region is rich in this precious mineral, why not start exploiting it there? Of course, the fact that the area is occupied by native peoples is not seen as an obstacle by the president, who believes that Brazil’s economic development has been sacrificed for far too long by the “drawing lines industry.”
Another move in the same direction is represented by the program launched by Bolsonaro in support of artisanal mining, known as “garimpo,” which is intended to expand gold extraction in the Amazon – again an impulse bolstered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has already led to an increase in the price of gold on the international markets.
The “Destruction Package” also includes Bill No. 6,299, known as the “Poison Package,” which aims to further loosen the already very relaxed regulations on the approval, importation, production and use of pesticides. Under the Bolsonaro government, as the Landless Movement has denounced, there has already been a record increase in the authorizations issued for chemicals, some of which are extremely toxic – more than 1,500 chemicals have been approved since the beginning of his administration, with 641 in 2021 alone – and with this new measure, the sector would be completely deregulated.
However, there is a small hope to reverse this trend, and it lies in the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in the trial known as “Pauta Verde” (the Green Agenda), which began on April 1: a set of seven appeals on environmental issues presented before the Court, which could lead to the Court striking down Jair Bolsonaro’s entire environmental policy.