Lais Menezes, Writer
Even though awareness about climate change started to be an important topic in the past few years, the world did not seem prepared for the impact of uncontrolled fires in its largest Tropical Rainforest located in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru. The tall trees of this biome cover about 6% of the earth, containing more species of plants and animals than anywhere else and receiving the title of “lungs of the planet”, because of its ability to work as a filter of carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
The fires first started in January of this year, during the Southern Hemisphere Summer. The “Slash-and-Burn” method is an illegal practice used to make way for livestock, agriculture, mining, etc. that quickly leads to deforestation. Due to a lack of enforcement of environmental protection and corruption schemes, this system has been seen as a common practice by locals. Nevertheless, only in July and August international attention was finally drawn to NASA and INPE’s (Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research) research that pointed an increased rate of fires visible from satellite imagery. At 2 pm, the city of São Paulo in Southeastern Brazil was darkened by smoke despite being 2686km away from the area.
The fact that 60% of the Amazon is in Brazilian territory made other authorities question president Jair Bolsonaro’s decisions. Three weeks after severe burning season sparked an international storm, the far-right government had launched a global campaign to convince the world everything is under control. Several international governments and environmental groups raised concerns at Bolsonaro’s stance on the rainforest and the lack of attempts by his government to slow the wildfires. Among the most vocal was the French president Emmanuel Macron, calling the wildfires an “international crisis”. Bolsonaro later stated that:
“[The EU] still hasn’t realized that Brazil is under new direction. That there’s now a president who is loyal to [the] people, who says the Amazon is ours, who says bad Brazilians can’t release lying numbers and campaign against the country”.
But after INPE announced an 88% increase of wildfires in July 2019, Bolsonaro claimed “the numbers were fake” and fired the INPE director. He claimed that the data was being used to lead an “anti-Brazil campaign,” affirming that fires had been deliberately started by environmental NGOs, although he provided no evidence to back up the accusation. NGOs such as WWF Brasil, Greenpeace, and the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection countered Bolsonaro’s claims.
A former army captain, Jair Bolsonaro has made many racist and offensive remarks about indigenous peoples over a long period of time. Between many of his sayings, he declared that:
“Not a centimeter will be demarcated either as an indigenous reserve or as a quilombola [territory for descendents of African slave communities]”.
In addition to environmental harm, the slash-and-burn actions leading to the wildfires have threatened the approximately 306,000 indigenous people in Brazil who reside near or within the rainforest. Bolsonaro had spoken out against the need to respect the demarcation of lands for indigenous people established in the 1988 Constitution. Representatives of the indigenous people have stated that farmers, loggers, and miners, emboldened by the government’s policies, have forced these people out of their lands, sometimes through violent means, and equated their methods with genocide. Some of these tribes have vowed to fight back against those engaged in deforestation to protect their lands.