Note from BW of Brazil: By now everyone has seen at least a few images coming from the fires raging across Brazil’s Amazon region. Since last week, images divulged by the international media have caused concerns of everyday citizens as well as celebrities. And as can be expected, along with the reports and images have come the endless questions. What’s causing the fires? What effects will they have on the environment? What is President Bolsonaro doing about it?
And along with questions has also come a lot of confusion.
Why is Bolsonaro telling the global community to stay out of this? Why is the international community raising such a fuss about all of this now when these types of fires were also common under the administration of President Lula da Silva? Are the Amazon forests really the “lungs of the world? Are the photos all over the internet images of the recent fires or just random shots from other fires in previous years in Brazil or from other parts of the world, for that matter?
The questions go on and on. Are the fires politically motivated? Is there any connection between the Amazon fires and those from California that we all saw earlier this year? Is the smoke blazing from the Amazon region really responsible for the darkness that descended upon the city of São Paulo one day last week? I can tell you, at 3:30pm last Monday, August 19th, it looked like it was about 6:30pm. It was creepy. I was there.
Of course, Brazilians have long feared that the Amazon region is being sold off to international capitalist interests and the policies of the new president Jair Bolsonaro have not endeared him to environmental activists. Back in January, The Guardian reported it like this:
“Hours after taking office, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.
The move sparked outcry from indigenous leaders, who said it threatened their reserves, which make up about 13% of Brazilian territory, and marked a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.”
I’ll be honest with you. My intention with today’s post is not to attempt to answer all of these questions as the international media is already on the job. What I will focus on is how these fires may be affecting quilombola and indigenous peoples who call these lands home.
The burning in the Amazon Rainforest is the same as the burning in the indigenous and quilombola lands, says activist
Courtesy of Alma Preta
The fires that gained international repercussion last week not only affect nature, but also the socially vulnerable groups in the north of the country, such as indigenous and quilombola peoples.
The burning that has struck the Amazon rainforest in recent days has alerted Brazil to a problem that the northern population has faced for years.
Fire damage is not limited to the destruction of the fauna and flora of one of the ecosystems responsible for the balance of planet earth. The residents of the Amazon region suffer from air pollution, the loss of their land and the neglect of the authorities.
In an interview with the Alma Preta website, Jussara Vasconcelos, a law student at the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), one of the articulators of the “Todos Pela Amazônia” (“All For the Amazon”) act, recalls that most of the black and indigenous population cannot afford to deal with respiratory diseases caused by burning.
“Imagine the health of those who are exposed to this smoke. Indigenous and quilombola people live in the forest and setting it on fire is like setting fire to their existence,” she says.
According to data from the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (National Institute for Space Research) (Inpe), from January to August 18, the number of fires in the country increased 83% compared to the same period of 2018.
NASA, the US space agency, has even published satellite imagery showing the flames concentrated in the northern part of the country.
Jussara Vasconcelos says that burning is common in the region at this time of year, known as Amazon spring. “Farmers take the opportunity to set fire because it is a time when the flames spread more easily,” she explains.
According to her, the problem is that this year the government cut the budget for forest fire prevention programs. “As a result, the fire took on larger proportions. There were no fires of the same intensity five years ago”, she reports.
Check out the full interview below
AP: What were the main impacts of the fires in recent days on the life of the local population?
Jussara: When we talk about burning, we have to remember that its effects do not choose the color of the people who will be affected. The difference is that most of the black and indigenous population cannot afford to adequately treat respiratory diseases.
São Paulo got dark this week and suddenly everyone knew about our situation, which is not new. Imagine the health of those who are exposed to this amount of smoke for a period of about two months every year. We have indigenous people and quilombolas who live in the forest and burn it down is the same as setting fire to their existence.
AP: What would be behind all this fire? Has this happened before with the same intensity?
Jussara: With this intensity, it’s the first time in five years. We’re in the Amazonian summer, so farmers take the opportunity to set fire because it spreads more easily. The difference is that this year we had a decrease in the transfer of budgets of forest fire prevention programs and as a consequence the fire took on bigger proportions.
AP: How can people mobilize against farmers’ fires?
Jussara: We have several environmental protection groups formed by civil society and we decided to join forces when we realized that they had no protests scheduled for this particular situation. This is where the act “Todos Pela Amazônia” (Everyone for the Amazon) came about. Initially, the idea was just to protest, but now we are setting up a calendar with other events of awareness, distribution of seedlings, among other actions. And we don’t have the support of political parties.
AP: What does the general population say about the fires?
Jussara: The flames didn’t come to Manaus (capital of the Amazon)with intensity, so a lot of people don’t understand the gravity of the situation. People think it’s natural. There is a lot of conflicting information and the mere mention of the problem is already associated with a criticism of the current government. That is also true, but it is good to remember that this problem already existed when we were in other governments.
AP: From your point of view, how can the black movement help in this situation?
Jussara: With disclosure about our situation. We want to be remembered and we want the black movement protests to include our goals. I worry about our invisibility. I feel small when I think of going around planting trees knowing that agribusiness will always be able to deforest millions of times more.
But at the same time it makes me feel great to see young people like those of the “All for the Amazon” gathering and giving up their daily time in the name of the cause. We are in the Amazon and we are part of the Amazon. If it is destroyed, life as we know it will be.
AP: How do you as a black northerner feel about this?
Jussara: I don’t have many black friends and the racial agendas here in Manaus are still little discussed. I always have a feeling that I have to explain the basics of the basics. I don’t know if the other blacks here feel like me, but I feel like I’m drowning alone