"The colonizing interests that, legally and illegally, did - and still do - increase the logging and mining industry and that have been expelling and cornering indigenous, riverine and Afro-descendant peoples, provoke an outcry that hollers at the sky" (Dear Amazon, 9).
There is an ongoing frontal and articulated attack on indigenous peoples, on traditional Amazonian communities, on the integrity of the Amazon rainforest, on the water security of all Brazilians and on the stability of the planetary climate system, on which we all existentially depend as a society and as a species.
In the last two years, the Amazon rainforest has been handed over by the federal government to deforesters and arsonists. The primary effect of this incentive to crime is clear: a jump from 7,536 km2 in 2018 of clear-cut deforestation to 13,235 km2 between August 2020 and July 2021 (the historical average for the last ten years is 6,493.8 km2). Arson fires spread as never before and as of November 30, 2021, the Amazon biome accumulated 73,494 hot spots.
It is estimated that these fires have affected, in the 21st century alone, around 95% of the species of plants and vertebrate animals known in the Amazon, a biome that boasts around 10% of the planet's biodiversity, and have already affected the habitat of 85% of the population, endangered plant and vertebrate species in the region.
Pope Francis reminds us, in the exhortation after the Amazon Synod, that the Amazon is not “an enormous void that must be filled”, or “a wild vastness that needs to be tamed”. However, attacks on the Amazon, instead of decreasing, are intensifying!
Another front of this lightning war is illegal mining, an activity that occupies one of the centers of the government's agenda. Combined with drug trafficking and financed by unidentified groups, miners invade communities, kill and terrorize indigenous populations, destroy forests, pollute rivers and seriously poison organisms with mercury.
Human rights and socio-environmental safeguards - a democratic achievement of Brazilians-, were once again seriously threatened by the prior consent given to seven mining projects by General Augusto Heleno, minister of the Institutional Security Office and executive secretary of the National Defense Council of the Presidency of the Republic. Ministers of State and three commanders of the Armed Forces are now occupying these positions.
These mining permits often respond to requests from politicians and mine owners that destroy life and pollute the waters of several rivers in the Amazon, including recently those of the Madeira River, with suction dredgers. The areas now under threat extend over 12,700 hectares and at least two of them are Indigenous Territories. All are located in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the northwest of the state of Amazonas, one of the most preserved regions in the Amazon, home to 23 indigenous ethnic groups, including the Baniwa, the Wanano, the Tukano and the Yanomâmi. This is a frontal attack on indigenous rights, enshrined in the 1988 Constitution, and becomes symbolic attack, São Gabriel da Cachoeira being the municipality with the highest indigenous population in Brazil.
Another victim of this war against the indigenous people, directly or indirectly supported by the federal government, is the Parakanã ethnic group. Their chiefs filed two official letters to the Federal Supreme Court in which they claim to accept a "proposal" to hand over more than half of the Apyterewa Indigenous Territory (PA), to three farmers’ associations, covering 392,000 hectares, despite being this territory demarcated and homologated by the federal government since 2007. In practice, this territory no longer belonged to indigenous peoples; as it had been consistently invaded with impunity by forest devastators supported by local politicians and the City Council of São Félix do Xingu.
Indigenous peoples and forest peoples in general, the forest itself and, therefore, the peoples of South America as a whole are equally in the gun sights of other pressures and aggressions from land grabbers, miners, large mining companies and, above all, agribusiness, that are strongly supported by the National Congress. Three Bills are pending in Congress, aiming to complete the dismantling of the protective legislation for the country's ethnic, cultural and natural heritage.
The first of them is Law Project PL 191/2020, initiated by the Executive Branch, aiming, ultimately, at the liberation of mining, as well as the construction of hydroelectric plants on indigenous lands. In addition to being presented without prior consultation with the affected populations, this bill was considered unconstitutional by the VI Coordination and Review Chamber of the Public Ministry. Despite this, it continues to be analyzed for approval by the National Congress.
The second is PL 2159/21, which proposes the “flexibility” of environmental licensing. The term “flexibilization” means the unrestricted and automatic release of any projects not considered “of significant environmental impact”, which would benefit from a “license by adhesion commitment” merely self-declaratory.
The third is PL 510/21, which deals with the so-called land tenure regularization. It not only provides amnesty for illegal deforestation and land invasions carried out until 2014, but widely opens doors for the occupation of 37 million hectares, 24 million of which are forests located on Union land.
This PL 510/21 allows its applicability to areas already destined for agrarian reform settlements, that is, "the 66 million hectares occupied by rural settlements in the Legal Amazon states, allowing the entitling of medium and large properties, thus removing small traditional producers from these areas.”
We work in the Amazon and with its peoples, and are in solidarity with their cry. Kayapó Chief Raoni Metuktire teaches us: “If they knock down the entire forest, the weather will change, the sun will be very hot, and the winds will be very strong. I worry about everyone, because it is the forest that holds the world”.
Pope Francis recommends that native peoples, especially the most excluded, "are the main interlocutors, from whom we must first learn, whom we must listen to out of a duty of justice and whom we must ask for permission to be able to present our proposals."
* Dom Cláudio Hummes (Commission for the Amazon), Dom Sebastião Lima Duarte (Integral Ecology and Mining Commission), Dom Erwin Krautler (REPAM Brazil), Dom Roque Paloschi (Indigenous Missionary Council -CIMI), Dom José Ionilton Lisbon (Land Pastoral Commission - CPT), Daniel Seidel (Brazilian Commission for Justice and Peace (CBJP)