A Hard Time Seeing
Forest for the Trees
Five months after the brutal assassination of yet another defender of the Amazon forest, Brazil still struggles to control its destruction.
Last week, the country’s Environmental Ministry actually revised upwards the area lost to illegal burning and logging: 2,703 square miles were destroyed between August 2009 and July 2010.
In yet another piece of bad news, researchers of the Prodes Project, which monitors the forest via satellite, said that new conservation units and indigenous reserves have not been enough to contain deforestation.
ANOTHER UNSOLVED CRIME
What seems to be obvious to everyone but to the Brazilian government is that the simply creation of new reserves without the necessary enforcement of the law is bound to fail.
Specially when activists and community leaders, such as internationally known José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, are systematically murdered by their efforts to prevent exactly the destruction of the forest.
Silva and his wife Maria were ambushed and killed, execution-style, on May 24, just a few months after a speech at the TED conference, when he all but predicted his own death.
Neither his killers nor his right ear have been found yet. As with the murder of legendary environmentalist Chico Mendes, in 1988, justice will take a long time to find its way to court, and punish those responsible for their deaths.
EMPTY PROMISES, WEAK LAWS
Despite Brazil’s avowed commitment before the world to preserve the Amazon forest, without its defenders, who are either murdered or scared to death, its destruction has increased at a staggering rate.
While 96,500 square miles have been added to conservation units and 38,600 square miles have become indigenous reserves since 2004, deforestation in some units has jumped 127 percent in the past decade.
More, Brazil has so far ignored widespread criticism to the construction of Belo Monte, the world’s third-largest hydroelectric dam, which is projected to have a devastating environmental impact on the region.
Such insensitivity, along with recent industry-friendly changes to its Forest Code, do not reassure anyone that Brazilian officials have the best interests of the Amazon and its indigenous people at heart.
IF A TREE FALLS IN THE FOREST…
But its the lawlessness, criminality and impunity that allowed the assassination of Silva and of many others like him that are cause for great concern and heartbreak.
The tragedy of those killed by the guns of landowners’ private armies, and for daring to stand in the way of powerful interests, is that it robs the forest people of their hope for a future.
When Brazil systematically fails to come to their rescue to protect them as it should, they’re bound to perish along with the forest they call home, without anyone to witness their fate.
Politicians in Brasilia may spend all their time writing new laws and posing for photo ops, signing new extensions of land for the country’s native peoples.
But it’s down on the ground and under the canopy of ancient trees that the future is being written. It’s a brief and very sad story about a country who’s turning its back to its greatest natural treasure.