The Amazon and the Military

Image: ColeraAlegria


In the view of the military, the forest is an empty territory

The safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment has just been recognized, by resolution of the Medical Counsel United Nations Human Rights, as a fundamental human right. It is a relief to know that Brazil is among the 43 countries that approved the resolution. But, as a report by Jamil Chad, Brazilian diplomacy saw its initiative to introduce a clause in the text that “reaffirms the need to respect the national sovereignty of each state over its natural resources” frustrated. The rejection of this clause is a decisive advance: the safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment ceased to be, with the advance of the climate crisis, a subject of strictly local or national interest and became a global issue.

Emitting greenhouse gases from coal-fired thermal power plants, for example, contributes to melting Arctic glaciers, to the heat wave in the Northern Hemisphere and to the droughts that hit the Amazon. Therefore, however much respect should be given to national sovereign decisions, it is impossible not to take into account that, in an increasingly intense way, they affect the biosphere as a whole.

But it doesn't cross anyone's mind that the destructive impacts of coal-fired thermal power plants could lead to the loss of sovereignty over the territories where these devices operate. It is through economic mechanisms (attributing a price to carbon and taxing exports of products made from emitting technologies), through cooperation and scientific and technological advances, and through prohibitive national legislation, that the use of coal will decline.

If that is so, then how can one explain the Brazilian attempt to submit the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment to the sovereignty of each State over its natural resources? Is this sovereignty threatened?

In the view of the military segments with greater influence in the current government, this answer is clearly affirmative. It is a belief that displaces the current and palpable attack on “natural resources” (coming from criminal organizations that, with strong local and federal support, invade indigenous territories, promote illegal gold mining, grab public areas and attack forest peoples and their most important defenders) to an imaginary external enemy that would seek allies in the country to compromise our sovereignty over the forest. Two recent examples illustrate this posture, whose influence, evidently, goes far beyond its circulation in the military corps.

The first comes from General Hamilton Mourão, Vice President of the Republic. It was on August 25, 2021, fifteen days after the launch of 6th Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and less than one hundred days before the 26tha Climate Conference, which Mourão opened a seminar at the General Villas-Boas Institute, in which only climate deniers were heard and to which none of the various Brazilian scientists who participated in the preparation of the IPCC report were invited. It should be noted that among the supposed specialists present at the seminar, none of them published in quality international journals.

In this opening, Mourão don't be shy about saying that “in this 21st century, one of the biggest issues threatening sovereignty is sustainability. In this way, the question of the development of the Amazon, where several non-state actors limit our sovereignty, is something that has to be embraced by the Nation as a whole… under penalty of suffering severe consequences. And when we talk about severe consequences, we talk about intervention”. From this point of view, the greatest threat facing the Amazon lies in the “non-state actors” who act in defense of the standing forest and the people who are suffering the aggressions linked to the current advance of deforestation.

The second example is the conference by General Luiz Eduardo Rocha Paiva, at the Defense & Security Institute. What he called the “population void” of the Amazon was presented as a risk to Brazilian sovereignty over the territory. The vulnerability of the supposed population gap was aggravated, according to the general, with “globalist and indigenist discourses”, which led “submissive governments” to demarcate indigenous lands, which compromise national sovereignty, particularly in border areas, and to endorse the “ Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

These are just two examples of a vision regarding the Amazon and the peoples of the forest that, since January 2019, has inspired the Brazilian federal government's policies for the region. The demonization of the democratic conquest represented by the demarcation of indigenous and quilombola territories, the emphasis on the idea of ​​natural riches coveted by foreign interests and the explicit declarations that the best use that can be made of the biome is represented by its conventional forms of exploitation (mining , logging, livestock and soy) become cultural vectors of the destructive practices that have intensified in the Amazon since the beginning of 2019.

In this view, if the Amazon is an empty territory in which indigenous peoples are easily manipulated by foreign powers and interests, their occupation becomes a premise for the exercise of sovereignty. And the most effective and quick way to promote occupation is by encouraging conventional activities in mining, logging, livestock and grain agriculture. Therefore, transforming non-demarcated public lands and protected areas into a base for this type of economy becomes a strategic objective that involves the permanent attempt to legalize what until now is a crime and the support of the various actors that seek to obtain this legalization.

The influence of this narrative on local actors in the Amazon is enormous, even more so when one takes into account that, for most of them, the forest is, as the reports by João Moreira Salles in Piauí magazine clearly show, an obstacle to the realization of the dream. as a result of which they migrated to the region and which is materialized in cattle raising and grain agriculture, fundamentally.

One of the most important and difficult tasks of democratic reconstruction, when fundamentalist fanaticism is removed from power, will be to oppose this hallucinatory and destructive narrative to the idea that the riches of the forest can be the basis of prosperity, as long as they are respected, human rights, science, the material and immaterial culture of the peoples of the forest and the Brazilian pride in having a heritage that will help humanity to face its greatest global challenge.

Ricardo Abramovay is a senior professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at USP. Author, among other books, of Amazon: towards an economy based on the knowledge of nature (Elephant/Third Way).


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