Curtain Raiser

The Amazon’s Losing Game, Colltalers

There are many Brazilians who either couldn’t care less about the World Cup, or don’t even like soccer or sports in general. And then there’s Nilcilene Miguel de Lima who’s neither; marked to die by the enemies of her Amazon activism, she’s simply too busy trying to survive.
Earlier threats had failed to faze her. But she was finally forced to go into hiding, after her home was burned down, her dog killed, guards sent by the Brazilian government to protect her ran away frightened, and at least three of her fellow campaigners got shot in cold blood.
Even for someone who’s been wearing a bulletproof vest for over two years, and whose almost Quixotic quest – to prevent loggers and ranchers from seizing land from small holders, subsistence communities and indigenous tribes – takes place thousands of miles away from the cheers and attention Brazil is attracting from the world, there has to be limits. You may say grimly that hers is already a dying breed.
And unless Brazilians dedicate equal passion to the preservation of the Amazon as they do to football, her lifetime work, as that of her forebears like Chico Mendes, will remain unfulfilled, a gargantuan task that seems at odds with the country’s rush towards development at all costs.
The connection to Chico, the rubber tapper leader who was murdered in 1988 for his activism defending the world’s biggest Rainforest, has a lot of resonance to Nilcilene, as her father worked alongside him in their native Xapuri, Acre, and she saw firsthand the toll such activism can exact.
Just as the Amazon is vast, so is its complexity and the variety of initiatives designed to protect it, or at least, preserve it so to safeguard it to the future. And for each new project that advances just such a notion, there’s a multitude of powerful interests running against it, from big landowners, including Brazilian and international corporations, to growing demand for its natural resources, and an increasingly political expediency at play.
Also, the forest being shared by eight other nations with their own needs for expansion and development, the task of coordinating an effective preservationist strategy is virtually unfeasible and the one-size-fits-all approach has been soundly defeated every time it’s been applied.
Besides logging (timber from the Amazon region, extracted illegally, can be traced all over the world), predatory deforestation to clear land and the general massacre of indigenous peoples’ lifestyle and subsistence, an expected oil boom and even fracking projects have now become immediate threats to the survival of the forest.
While Ecuador, last month, all but gave up on its intention to protect a large swath of the Amazon within its territory, Brazil’s own oil giant, Petrobras, has quietly started a large scale project near the Tapauá river which threatens not just the forest but a few still uncontacted tribes in the area.
Brazil, which was quick to join the chorus of criticism of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s decision to allow oil exploration in Yasuni, which the U.N. had declared a ‘biosphere reserve,’ has been otherwise tight-lipped about its state-run company’s ill-advised incursion into the jungle.
Which is appalling since, as the holder of 60% of the total Amazon, it should set a better example to its neighbors. Once and again, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has declared her support to conservationist efforts, and for the record, some progress has been made under her watch.
But the easy way a new Forest Code, which tilts disproportionally to big landowners, has recently become law with the tacit approval of her administration, reveals another picture. And in her reelection year, she seems more concerned about squeezing what political dividends the World Cup will grant her, if all ends well, rather than risking her capital on the apparently intractable issue of the Amazon. Which is depressing.
But despite it all, there are hundreds of effective or at least, well intentioned, projects and organizations, fighting to protect the forest and its creatures, a collective push which is what’s behind recent reports documenting a significative reduction in the rate of deforestation.
Speaking of the cup, for instance, sales at an Xapuri-based condom factory have skyrocketed during the tournament, a not so unexpected result but good news nonetheless, since the manufacturer is providing hundreds of sustainable jobs for local rubber tappers collecting latex from trees, and at the same time, promoting safe sex through close collaborations with the Brazilian government’s own public health efforts.
Also recently, Arpa, a coalition of 22 organizations, has pledged to pursue a long-term agenda to protect 150 million acres of jungle, which ads to a never too crowded field of independent initiatives, that includes, of course, the indigenous peoples of the forest themselves.
Under that perspective, even a project such as supplying high-flying balloons to carry and spread out the Internet signal throughout the forest are welcome, as they provide crucial logistics and real-time information among the many environmental groups operating in the region.
It’s too bad that such resources were not available when Chico, as well as, Adelino Ramos, Raimundo Nonato Chalub, and Dinhaha Nink, to mention only the latest victims, were all gunned down, after denouncing illegal logging within the officially protected land.
Even if it’s arguable that capturing footage of the tragic moment of their assassinations could even be possible, one of the few weapons against paramilitary groups hired by big landowners in the Amazon is exactly communications, the power of public opinion, the world watching over it.
So as the Brazilian national team walks on the field today, and you may see players and supporters singing the national anthem with fervor, Nilcilene and others like her will have little cause to cheer, their personal freedom curtailed and legacy squandered by greed and politics.
Fortunately, most Brazilians know that, more than soccer, it’s their handling of one of Earth’s greatest natural resources that will mark their legacy to future generations. And that if the Amazon were a team, it’d be already losing and the game’d be approaching the end of the second half.
People like Nilcilene didn’t have a choice to be in the predicament she’s in now; she just saw it as the only possible way that she could be Brazilian and proud. She shouldn’t be alone on her quest, or her four children shouldn’t be at risk of losing their mother.
Have a great one and good luck today, Brazil. WC


2 thoughts on “Curtain Raiser

  1. It is the end-users of the trees logged in the Amazon that are as much to blame as the Brazillian government. Of course, it’s not just logging companies, but also mining, fracking and farming companies, who are moving in while pushing out the indigenous peoples of the world’s lungs.

    Nature itself is under threat with hundreds, if not thousands, of species animals and plant life being wiped out forever.

    It seems as if the world has forgotten the importance of the Amazon to the entire planet’s survival in the race to consume as much if not more than one’s neighbours.

    At one end, Canadian mining companies are one of the worst offenders, at the other, they are amongs the leaders in realising the importance of planting forests on the roofs of buildings.

    It’s good to bring it to people’s attention again, Wesley, and cannot be done often enough.


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