On Saturday, November 5, the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, announced the proposal for a South American summit in defense of the Amazon rainforest. Upon his arrival in Egypt to participate in the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), President Maduro said that he discussed the issue with his Colombian counterpart, Gustavo Petro, and the president-elect of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. “We have proposed to Petro and Lula to soon hold a South American summit in defense of the Amazon and to reactivate the Defense Treaty Organization to make concrete proposals so that humanity and governments commit to finance the recovery of that region,” he explained.
NATO recently expanded to Sweden and Finland, has been de facto incorporated in Ukraine, and may extend to Georgia. Now, NATO’s entry into the Amazon is in the works under the aegis of newly elected President Gustavo Petro of Colombia. NATO is a primary instrument of US imperial dominion. It is Washington’s praetorian guard projected on a global scale. Earlier this month, President Petro invited US and NATO military forces into the Amazon on the pretext that the imperial war machine could be repurposed as “police” aimed at protecting the environment instead of the old ruse of the war on drugs. He proposed deployment of US Black Hawk helicopters to put out fires. Previous to the environmental alibi, the pretext for militarization of the jungle was narcotics interdiction. Petro described his “conversation with NATO” as “strange,” but hastened to add “that’s where we are.”
Brazil went to the polls yesterday under unusual political circumstances: Lula, the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate and champion of the poor, confronted an extreme right-winger, racist, misogynist, homophobic, and pro-dictatorship ex-army captain Jair Bolsonaro. Lula won the first round with 48.42% of the vote and looks set to win in the second round. But Bolsonaro, defying polls’ predictions, performed better than expected, scoring 43.2%. The background is important here. Brazil’s elite managed both to impeach PT president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 on false charges of fiscal improprieties (now fully exonerated) and to jail former president Lula, thus eliminating him from the 2018 presidential race. This emboldened Brazil’s establishment, who turned these successes into a push to ostracise the PT.
In the Brazilian Amazon, as deforestation reaches record levels and rivers are increasingly polluted, the illegal gold mining contributing to these problems continues largely unabated. The response of the government has been to increase military action to curb environmental crimes in Brazil. Far from achieving this purpose, however, the military intervention has only led to tragedies in the region, directly or indirectly. A source from the Brazilian Amazon wrote to us at Revista Opera two years ago to warn us about something strange that was going on there: illegally mined gold was being sold at the same price as legally mined gold. “If the nugget is a big one,” said the source, “they give the miner extra [money].”
29 years ago, in 1993, Steven Donziger, a New York lawyer, visited Ecuador and saw communities who lived their lives with their bare feet and hands permanently covered in oil sludge and other pollutants, whose agriculture was ruined and who suffered high levels of mortality and birth defects. He started a class action against Texaco in the United States, representing over 30,000 local people. Texaco, confident that they had control of Ecuador, requested the US court to rule that jurisdiction lay in Ecuador. It also set about obtaining the agreement from the Government of Ecuador to cancel any liability. In 2002 the New York court finally agreed with Texaco (now Chevron) that is had no jurisdiction and the case moved to Ecuador, much to Chevron’s delight.
From August 22 to 28, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and its regional organizations will carry out a national mobilization to defend their ancestral territories. On Sunday, the Indigenous peoples established a camp in Brasilia where the headquarters of the State functions are located. Throughout the week, they will carry out demonstrations to reject President Jair Bolsonaro and prevent the Supreme Court of Brazil (STF) from approving the "Time Frame", which is a norm related to the demarcation of their ancestral lands. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Francisco Cali Tzay asked the Supreme Court to reject a legal proposal promoted by private companies, which are only interested in exploiting the natural resources found within the Indigenous territories.
Over the last several years researchers have said that the Amazon is on the verge of transforming from a crucial storehouse for heat-trapping gasses to a source of them, a dangerous shift that could destabilize the atmosphere of the planet. Now, after years of painstaking and inventive research, they have definitively measured that shift. In a study published Wednesday in Nature, a team of researchers led by scientists from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, reported results from measuring carbon concentrations in columns of air above the Amazon. They found that the massive continental-size swath of tropical forest is releasing more carbon dioxide than it accumulates or stores, thanks to deforestation and fires. “There is no doubt that the Amazon is a source,” said Luciana Gatti, the lead author of the study.
The Bolsonaro government is committed to handing over Amazonian land to Brazilian and foreign capitalists. As their exploitation continues, violent conflict over land and water in the Amazon has escalated — increasing 8% in 2020, to the highest levels in the 35 year history that this reporting has been conducted. Many of these attacks are from the state itself.
Texaco was the first oil company to drill in the Amazon. To maximize profits, and because they thought they could get away with it, they did not take any steps to protect local communities or the environment from their toxic waste. For a long time, they did get away with it. Then a group of lawyers and organizations worked with locals to sue Chevron, which bought Texaco, and won a $9.5 billion judgment. Chevron refuses to pay and instead has gone after the lawyer, Steven Donziger, in unprecedented ways with a vengeance. We speak with Donziger and Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch.
This year, I was on the judging panel for the Royal Statistical Society’s International Statistic of the Decade. Much like Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” competition, the international statistic is meant to capture the zeitgeist of this decade. The judging panel accepted nominations from the statistical community and the public at large for a statistic that shines a light on the decade’s most pressing issues. On Dec. 23, we announced the winner: the 8.4 million soccer fields of land deforested in the Amazon over the past decade. That’s 24,000 square miles, or about 10.3 million American football fields.
While the world watches in horror as fires rage on in the Amazon, activists are shining a light on the big businesses destroying what’s popularly known as the “lungs of the Earth.” On September 5, people around the globe stood in solidarity with the rainforest’s indigenous communities by partaking in the Global Day of Action for the Amazon, staging protests and singling out the bad actors profiting off deforestation. In Washington, D.C. protesters chanted “Put out the flames, we name your names — politicians, corporate vultures, you’re the ones we blame,” as they marched from the White House to the Brazilian Consulate.
Both domestic and international demand for beef and leather has fueled the rapid expansion of the cattle industry into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200% reaching 60 million head of cattle. While deforestation for cattle had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action, the new wave of deforestation this year shows that the large international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.
The burning of the forest immediately gave way to an aggressive campaign in social networks and media against President Evo Morales, attributing the fires to Decree 3973 and Law 741 that supposedly allow deforestation and controlled burning for activities oriented to agriculture and cattle ranching. “Las leyes de quema y desmonte” (The laws of burning and clearing) was the qualification that the opposition daily El Tiempo used for both legislations, omitting that one of them was approved by opponents and government officials in Congress, according to the president of the Senate, Adriana Salvatierra.
With fires set by landowners raging throughout the Amazon for nearly a month, a group of Western-backed information warriors has begun working to redirect outrage from the far-right Brazilian government toward a more convenient target. After a flurry of media pinned the blame on everyone from poor people eating meat to China, a new target has come into focus: the leftist Bolivian government of President Evo Morales. Originally content to merely accuse Bolivians of not responding fast enough...
Watching the Amazon burn, it is hard not to feel despair. But we have to remind ourselves that social transformations can take off as rapidly as a forest fire. The climate and ecosystems all have tipping points. For instance, it is estimated that 20 percent tree loss in the Amazon will change rainfall conditions, and push the forest into irreversible decline. And as temperatures rise, the thawing permafrost will enter a positive feedback loop in which melting releases the greenhouse gas methane, heating the atmosphere and accelerating the disappearance of the permafrost.