Brazil is internationally famous for its music, football, beautiful beaches, capoeira, and rain forest. The Amazon rain forest comprises an area of almost 5.5 million km² spreading across nine countries. Twenty-two “UKs” could fit in this area. Rain forests cover more than 50% of the Brazilian territory.
The Amazon hosts 15-20% of the world’s biodiversity. Approximately 700 new animal species are discovered in the Amazon each year, and this number does not include plants. But for many, the most important resource of the Amazon is the “People of the Forest” (“Povos da Floresta”, in Portuguese), as they are commonly known in the region. In 1500, when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, historians estimate that 6 million indigenous people inhabited the Amazon. Native societies flourished throughout the continent, not only in the Amazon but also in the coastal areas and Central Brazil. A genocide then took place, through guns, germs, and steel, as the biologist Jared Diamond demonstrated. Nowadays, approximately 200,000 indigenous people live in Brazil, a significant number of them in the Amazon. Some of them have not had any contact with the “white man”. The different societies still inhabiting the forest speak about 195 different languages.
The new Jair Bolsonaro government has declared war against native Brazilians. According to NGOs and FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), illegal gold-mining has escalated in the last months. Bolsonaro made a speech boasting about the fact that his parents were gold-miners. He said the future of Brazil belonged to them. The mercury used to purify the gold contaminates the rivers where the indigenous people fish and fetch water. Bolsonaro is not only turning a blind eye to gold-mining but also illegal logging and the expansion of the agricultural frontier towards the Amazon. Soybean farmers financed his campaign, establishing a privileged connection with the new government. Their lobby in the Parliament is potent.
The destruction of the Amazon will mean the extinction of those who better know and understand the forest. They have been living there for centuries and know how to coexist in harmony with nature. It will also mean an acceleration of climate change and a more hostile environment for all living beings on the surface of the earth. We have to do something about it. Now!!