In the Brazilian Amazon, attacks on environmental protectors are on the rise
While President Temer tries to sell the world a Brazil without crisis at the G20, violence and destruction are rising in the Amazon as the result of land disputes.
At dawn on Thursday, eight Ibama (Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) trucks were attacked and burned in the municipality of Altamira, Pará state. And there is no wonder why. This was retaliation. Ibama enforces laws protecting the Amazon rainforest, and the region where the crime occurred has been a constant target of its inspections against deforestation and illegal mining. In response to the attack, Ibama ordered the blockade of all sawmills in the region of Novo Progresso, the main city in the southwestern part of the state. But it is unclear how Ibama’s response will quell this rising violence.
Later on the same Thursday as the truck attack, the Brazilian activist Ademir de Souza Pereira was shot dead in Porto Velho, Rondônia state. Ademir was a member of the Liga dos Camponeses Pobres de Rondônia (League of Poor Peasants of Rondônia) and was visiting the city to participate in a meeting about agricultural land rights reform, together with his wife.
Both these crimes occurred as the country is setting new records of violence in the rural areas. According to a rural worker’s NGO, the first five months of 2017 recorded 37 deaths in the countryside — it has been the most violent first half of a year this century. 2016 already set its own sad record last year, with 61 murders.
Violence grows exponentially along with deforestation, which rose 29% in 2016 — the highest rate in the last eight years.
All across the Amazon, crimes against local communities and the environment are spiraling out of control. The people who call the forest home, and the forest itself, have always been victims of a lack of governance, but the current government is making the situation much worse. The violence we are seeing is a direct consequence of the policies sponsored by Temer and the agribusiness lobby. They have violence and deforestation on their hands.
The attacks on the social and environmental agenda are not recent, but the weakening of the environmental and human rights protection systems has been growing rapidly since Michel Temer took over the presidency and, as the agribusiness lobby group gained power in Brazil.
Temer and the agribusiness lobby have made sure that Congress has cut the budget for the Ministry of the Environment and Funai (National Indian Foundation); passed a proposal that benefits land grabbers; passed a bill that can change environmental licensing rules for infrastructure, agricultural and industrial projects; and may release large areas of Brazilian land for sale to foreigners.
As attacks against both government workers and activists continue, the specter of violence looms large over all those working to protect the Brazilian Amazon. We must stand with forest communities and those working to defend the forest, and we must push back against the thoughtless and even dangerous policies of Temer and his cronies that have led to this rise in bloodshed.
Marcio Astrini is the coordinator of Public Policy at Greenpeace Brazil