Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Brazil Using Pandemic as Smokescreen for New Attacks on the Amazon, Activists Warn

Politics
Brazil Using Pandemic as Smokescreen for New Attacks on the Amazon, Activists Warn
Deforestation and river pollution in the Amazon rainforest near Menkragnoti Indigenous Land, Pará, Brazil. Marcio Isensee e Sa / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Activists warn that the far-right government in Brazil is using the coronavirus pandemic as a smokescreen to undermine protections for the Amazon rainforest.


With the world sheltered in place, the government assembled a "historic assault" on the Amazon and the indigenous tribes who live there, entities it is meant to protect, reported ABC news. The controversial legislation regarding indigenous lands potentially compounds tribes' vulnerability to invasion and infection, the news report said.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters are sacking key environmental officials and quickly and discreetly dismantling rules shielding protected reserves of rainforest, reported The Guardian. The moves are the latest in the regime's development-friendly policy changes that have accelerated deforestation in the world's largest rainforest.

Preliminary satellite data shows that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose more than 50 percent in the first three months of 2020, compared to the same three-month period last year, reported ABC news.

"Our territory keeps being invaded by loggers and hunters," Laercio Guajajara, a member of the Guajajara tribe, told ABC News. Despite the global health crisis, there were "still a lot of invasions," he said.

Bolsonaro is "notorious" for racist remarks against indigenous people, distrust of environmentalists and nationalist justifications for developing the Amazon, reported The Guardian.

Bolsonaro told foreign journalists, "The Amazon is ours, not yours," reported The New York Times.

This approach makes him popular with farmers, wildcat miners, loggers and land-grabbers and dangerous for environmentalists and indigenous tribes, The Guardian noted.

"The government has a project and it is advancing over the forest, over indigenous peoples, to benefit those who want the forest cut down," said Mariana Mota, a public policy specialist at Greenpeace Brazil, the news report said.

The mass deforestation that has increased under Bolsonaro has likely pushed the Amazon beyond the point of no return, scientists said. The entire ecosystem could collapse within 50 years, and that critical tipping point could be reached as early as next year, researchers said. If and when that happens, the rainforest would become a carbon source rather than a global sink, exacerbating the effects of climate change.

The situation has only worsened since the coronavirus outbreak, with the covert passage of new rules that further undermine the Amazon and the tribes that live there.

At the disease's outbreak, The Guardian reported that Brazil's environmental agency scaled back enforcement measures, leaving indigenous tribes and the lands they protect more vulnerable to loggers' attacks. In April, Bolsonaro's indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, passed a new rule that prevents certain long-held indigenous lands awaiting official designation from being labeled and protected as "indigenous" under the law while they wait, ABC News said.

The seemingly-obscure rule IN 09 could open up nearly one third of indigenous lands currently awaiting designation to illegal occupation and deforestation, the news report said.

Bolsonaro first announced another controversial presidential decree, Provisional Measure (MP) 910, in December 2019. The rule is now being fast-tracked towards becoming permanent law, ABC News said. MP 910 allows people who illegally logged or squatted on protected federal lands before December 2018 to purchase such lands at reduced prices.

This effectively legalizes "land-grabbing" in protected forests and indigenous reserves, The Guardian noted. Farmers illegally squatting could each purchase up to 2,500 hectares of rainforest for cheap. According to the news report, land grabbing, a common practice in the Amazon, involves deforesting, burning the dead trees and putting cattle on the cleared lands to consolidate possession.

Imazon, a non-profit environmentalist group, found that the measure could lead to deforestation of an additional 16,000 square kilometers of rainforest by 2027, ABC News added.

In a rare move, 49 federal prosecutors across Brazil called for the rule to be annulled for its "unconstitutionality, unconventionality and illegality," The Guardian said, agreeing it would lead to a land-grab.

The decree has until May 19 to be approved by Congress, but lawmakers from the agricultural lobby are pushing for an immediate virtual vote in the midst of the pandemic and without standard scrutiny, reported both ABC News and The Guardian.

Farmers supporting the rule argue it will regularize the Amazon's chaotic land ownership and allow them to hold title to land where they've squatted. This, they argue, will provide access to credit, improve productivity and therefore reduce the need to further expand into the forest, reported The Guardian.

Reducing protections encourages land invasions, which bring violence and disease. Indigenous leaders and activists fear that history will repeat itself.

"Five centuries ago, these ethnic groups were decimated by diseases brought by European colonisers … Now, with this new scourge spreading rapidly across Brazil … [they] may disappear completely since they have no means of combating Covid-19," an open letter to Bolsonaro warned, reported The Guardian.

"We are on the eve of a genocide," said Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, who organized the petition and who has spent nearly four decades documenting the Amazon and its inhabitants, The Guardian reported.

Alessandra Munduruku, an indigenous leader from Pará state, told The Guardian, "The indigenous peoples are alone and we have to fight against the virus, the loggers and the wildcat miners. We don't know which is worse."

Since the rollbacks, indigenous tribes have also reported increased logging and violent attacks. Seven indigenous leaders, many who were outspoken against illegal logging, have been murdered in the past six months, reported The Guardian.

"The invaders think they can enter the indigenous reserve because of the government agenda," said Ivaneide Bandeira, of the non-profit group Kanindé, reported The Guardian. "Covid is the cover and the excuse."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less