The fire emergency, public opinion and the responses of the international community point the finger at Brazil’s president. It is all too easy. Will Macron’s France be consistent with what it preached in Biarritz when it comes to decide on mining concessions in French Guyana? At stake, there is not an opposition to a single leader but an unfair and unsustainable development model.
"The Amazon has never been as threatened as today". Pope Francis said it on January 2018 in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. This is why he called the Synod for the Amazon, which will open on Sunday 6th October in the Vatican. Now all of a sudden – accomplices being the images of the fires that have become viral on social networks - the international public opinion and (in tow) the politicians also become aware of it. Finally.
Looking at the narrative in which this emergency is told, however, some doubts arise. Because the real question is, are we really willing to understand what is happening around the big green lung? In fact, the first step to take care of the Amazon is to go beyond simplifications. It is all too easy to point the finger at Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil who, since he took office in January, has not missed an opportunity of stating publicly his intention to remove all the constraints on the economic exploitation of the great forest.
It is not just a matter of words. Not only fires but also many other indicators confirm his intentions. Data on deforestation, complaints about the increase of garimpeiros incursions into indigenous reserves, the recent attempts of the Bancada Ruralista - the lobby in the Brazilian parliament of the great agricultural entrepreneurs - to disrupt the protections provided by the 1988 constitution for indigenous communities on the legislative level, tell a lot as well. Bolsonaro’s reaction itself to the fire emergency – accusing conspiracy even from the organizations fighting for the defense of the forest, before announcing an improbable zero tolerance to be carried out by deploying the army - raises deep concerns.
However, identifying threats to the Amazon with Bolsonaro’s presidency only can work for some posts on social networks, but it does not tackle at its root the problem of safeguarding this region. The attacks on the forest and on the populations living in it did not start with Bolsonaro. Fr. Sisto Magro, a PIME missionary, for a longtime in the forefront of battles over the defense of the land in the Amapà against agribusiness, told it frankly, for example, a few weeks ago in his interview. "From 2003 to 2016, when Lula took office until Dilma Rousseff’s fall from power, in Amapá they built two mega-hydro plants, soya agribusiness arrived and Eike Batista installed its mining activities. The government was always in the hands of the Workers' Party. Bolsonaro won the elections precisely because of the disappointment of the people. This is why we are now touching the bottom."
The point, then, is to go beyond the easy target to look at the overall scenario, at the dynamics feeding not only the dry season fires, but also the daily aggression to the forest. In these hours, for example, very little is said about the fact that the largest August fire of the Amazon did not develop in Brazil but in Evo Morales’ Bolivia. The same Bolivia that - as recalled in his interview Mons. Eugenio Coter, the bishop of Pando apostolic vicariate and referent for Bolivia in the Pan-Amazonian ecclesial network - has just signed a mega-contract with China to supply beef in such a quantity that requires the country to double its farms. Can it be a simple coincidence while fire is the fastest way to open the way to new pastures? Does this have nothing to do with global logics of exploitation?
Bolsonaro is not the 21st century Nero. It is the result of what the world asks of Brazil before hypocritically putting it in the dock. Writing a hashtag is easy; but beginning to inquire, for instance, from where does the iron used in Italy to produce steel used by our hands would help the Amazon much more. As well as understanding that - for example - in the forests of the Congo river basin in Africa or in those around the Mekong in Asia the same reality is happening, even though with other actors and with much less spotlight turned on.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Brazil to face its responsibilities and brought the Amazon theme to the G7 in Biarritz. Good. It would have been interesting, however, that - as a result - he took the opportunity to announce the turning point the environmentalist world and the indigenous peoples ask him about management of mineral resources in French Guyana, which is part of the Amazon.
He could announce, for example, the blocking of the Montagne d’Or mega-project, a huge open-air gold mine that he would never dare to build in France and no one can see why it could be feasible in the heart of Amazonia. The same is true for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: he could explain what responsibilities he intends to assume in regard of Canadian mining corporations that are among the giants of the mining industry in the Amazon as in so many other parts of the world. What answer is he willing to give to local indigenous peoples who protest against these mega-plants that irreparably alter the balance of the forest as much as all the fires? Some of the fires in the Amazon, by the way, do not pave the way only for soybean plantations but for the coca leaves of the large criminal groups. What kind of action is the international community prepared to take in order to curb the coca demand and really fight this scourge in a coordinated manner? These are just some examples of a list that could obviously be much longer.
"Everything is connected" is the key word of the Synod Instrumentum Laboris ready to open in just a few days in the Vatican. The perspective of an integral ecology suggested by Pope Francis is the only realistic answer to the Amazonia profound crisis. The idea of defending the environment without tackling injustice towards the local populations - who are not intruders but the guardians of the forest – is unacceptable. The roads to sustainable development exist also in the Amazon, but are feasible only at the price of a profound lifestyle conversion that must take place even thousands of kilometers from Manaus. The first step is a true interest for the future of this world’s great lung, not any easy emotions spread via social media.
Bolsonaro is not the one who needs to build an alternative. It is the model of development based on injustice towards our brothers and the creation, that Bolsonaro is certainly not the only one who embodies. The Synod of October comes providentially to remind us all. As believers, will we be able to take the opportunity and really open our eyes?