Asphalting the Amazon
17. 2. 2020 / Fabiano Golgo
Bolsonaro's road to war against native Indians and to destroy of the rainforest
On Friday, 14th of February, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro inaugurated 51 km of an asphalted road that will have one thousand kilometers and will cross the the largest block of protected forests in the world, stretching from the Amazon river to the border with Suriname.
The BR-163 highway will cross a region called Calha Norte do Pará. Ultra right-wing populist Bolsonaro's project also includes the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Trombetas River. The project is led by army General Maynard Marques de Santa Rosa.
Bolsonaro, who was forced to leave the army in the late 1980s after being caught planning a bomb terrorist attack to protest against the low salaries of the lower ranks of the army, has recruited dozens of generals to work for his government. Last week, he got rid of all non-military personnel working with him at Palácio do Planalto, the headquarters of the federal government, in Brasília. The process of militarization of Brazil is in full speed, paradoxically copying the steps taken by the authoritarian Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, even though both belong to supposedly opposite ideologies (a fallacy, because authoritarian regimes act similarly, no matter which ideology they profess to defend).
Calha Norte is an area of 28 million hectares of virtually untouched forest, the size of the United Kingdom, which has 80% of the territory protected by the so-called Conservation Units, which are lands where only indigenous people can live. It is part of the so-called Guyana Shield, and 40% of the species of animals and plants that live in this area do not exist anywhere else in the world!
The route of the BR-163 will cut off four Conservation Units, six "quilombola" lands (reservations for descendants of African slaves, in areas where groups of fugitive slaves formed informal tribes or towns in the 18th and 19th centuries) and two indigenous tribal lands.
Amazon researcher Jakeline Pereira warns that the impacts to BR-163 on the north bank of the Amazon River go far beyond the thousands of people living in these traditional communities. She explains that in this soon to be invaded area, flying rivers are formed, water corridors that evaporate in the Amazon and become rains in the south of Brazil, all of which are essential for the balance in the weather of the country. Only from one of the four Conservation Units that will be cut by the road - the Trombetas State Forest - stores, according to its management plan, 2.3 billion tons of carbon, plus CO² that the entire Brazil emitted in th whole year of 2018 , according to the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimation System (Seeg).
However, Calha Norte piques the interest of mining companies. According to the São Paulo Pro-Indian Commission, in the municipality of Oriximiná alone there are 265 mining requests at the local judicial courts, asking to get permission to mine within 84 indigenous and "quilombola" lands. These companies are benefitting from the new law that releases mining on indigenous lands, filed on February 5 by President Jair Bolsonaro.
Another attraction of the Bolsonaro project for the mining sector is the proximity to the National Copper and Associates Reserve (Renca), an area the size of Denmark very rich in copper, gold, titanium, tantalum and tungsten.
The BR-163 highway has been promoted by the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, as a way to increase the competitiveness of Brazil and reduce the transportation time of soy to China. When army General Maynard Marques de Santa Rosa announced the project in January 2019, he said that taking the highway to Suriname would meet “the natural demands of the flow of soy from the Midwest (region of Brazil)”.
But this route is unnecessary, says Edeon Vaz Ferreira, consultant to the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers and executive director of the Pro-Logistics Movement of Soy Exporters. “It would not be beneficial, because it would increase the route extension. If the road stretch increases by any kilometer, it increases the cost for the transport of the harvest, not making it cheaper”, explaining that the best and cheapest way is already in use, so the excuse that the highway is being built for the benefit of soy exporters is a lie. He believes the real reasons behind it are the potential billions that mining magnates can pay, under the table, to corrupt the government. Or perhaps even the direct interest of people from the government in exploiting these lands. According to Ferreira, the existing ports on the Amazon River support well the flow of grain that goes through northern Brazil - and the soy business operates with surplus, he adds.
The Miritituba terminal in Pará can double its cargo handling without the need for expansion of any highway. The port of Santarém operates with a 25% clearance in its installed capacity: it exports 3.8 million tons, but has a capacity of 5 million.
Some of my Czech friends have argued that the native Indians from the Amazon should not be treated like animals in a zoo, or attractions for National Geographic documentaries, so that Bolsonaro is right in letting them develop and explore the riches of their lands. The problem is that they are badly informed: native Indians would not get their lands for themselves, they are actually being expelled from them. They are not owners of the reservations, the land belongs to the federal government. What they have is the right to live there. While non-indigenous are forbidden to live or explore those lands.
With Bosonaro's changes, natives become homeless. They receive up to 4% only of the official price of the land (not the real, actual value of sale, but an estimation by the government) and they are actually forbidden by law to explore any minerals (a measure to protect white invaders, because natives probably already know where the gold and other riches are).
Others argue that it will be good for the economy of Brazil. Also wrong. Because all the lands that are explored for agriculture or mining, in the Amazon, is not taxed, in some cases because they are actually officially non-existent, for they are illegal, in most cases because they have full tax amnesties every five years, a tradition kept by the last 19 governments... Basically, farmers and miners that go to the Amazon are rogues, criminals, often people without any expertise in the field, adventurers in search of unregulated wealth.
Also, it is relevant to point out that native Indians are not locked up in their reservations and nothing keeps their members to migrate into urban society, and hundreds of younger natives choose to do so every year. However, traditional communities, which hold valuable knowledge about the forest, are being threatened by the worldwide malaise of the 21st century: xenophobia, the politics of fear, lack of empathy and the rejection of diversity.
Native Indians may be seen by foreigners as typical Brazilians, but Brazilians in general see them as leftovers from the past, as foreigners living within our lands. Even though more than half of the population carries native Indian genes, they are perceived as exotic primitives. For as long as they stayed hidden in the forest and celebrated by foreigners, we were fine with them. But then came Bolsonaro saying they are sitting on very rich lands that can make a lot of people wealthy.
And just as easily as Czechs almost forgot Gypsies and Ukrainians, to focus on those fictitious hordes of Muslim terrorists that the European Union supposedly wants to throw into the continent, Brazilians forgot that we are the country with the biggest amount of murders in the world, that 6 women per hour are raped, our level of education is 64th in a list of 65 countries, following Botswana (!!), that Rio de Janeiro inhabitants have not been able to even shower for the past 2 months, thanks to water being contaminated in levels found in Egypt, that a sick person waits about 2 years for a doctor consultation, etc.
Instead, a huge portion of the nation, including the majority of the media, is praising the government for making native Indians become like the rest of the nation. Which is the Brazilian version of what is going on everywhere in the world: either you become like the majority, or you are discarded.