Amazon in the XNUMXst Century – trajectories, dilemmas and perspectives

Nicholas Monro, Animals Running Through Fire, 1970


Commentary on the recently released collection, organized by Antônio Augusto R. Ioris and Rafael R. Ioris

Geographer Antônio Augusto R. Ioris (University of Cardiff, UK) and historian Rafael R. Ioris (University of Denver, USA) accomplished a feat along the 540 pages of Amazon in the XNUMXst century: trajectories, dilemmas and perspectives. Convinced that the region demands new approaches and questions, they brought together scholars from the region, from different locations, areas of research and action – indigenous leaders, filmmakers, geographers, environmentalists, researchers, university professors… – to think critically about the Amazon today and tomorrow.

Unknown to the vast majority of Brazilians, “the Amazon biome occupies about half of the South American continent, spreading across nine countries and inhabited by about 30 million people in countless ecosystems, urban areas and river basins. “What happens in the Amazon matters to the world, it is and it is, likewise, a great world to be collectively and critically questioned”, point out the work's organizers.

Despite being at “the center of contemporary global controversies about development, democracy, the rule of law and disagreement between the human and more-than-human – dimensions of nature”, the Amazon seems “not to fit in the official academy, much less in the offices of the bureaucracy and on the boards of directors of corporations, even though these are some of the main actors deciding on its future”.

A large part of the academic work on the region is based on “short-term studies, disinterested in political-ecological causes and responsibilities and often without the authors even having gone to the region”, making any relationship between the researcher and “everyday life, the space, the concrete needs of local populations (to be defined by themselves)”, they detail.

Amazon in the XNUMXst Century in this sense, it fills a gap, stimulating the production of knowledge and diagnoses and, also, pointing out paths that depart, inexorably, from the participation of the inhabitants of the Amazon in the government's decision-making processes regarding their territory. Interspersing articles and interviews, analyzes and testimonies, references and experiences, the book is also a testimony of how neoliberalism has been transforming the Amazonian ecosystems “for the immediate accumulation and transfer of capital”.


Amazon: a colony within a colony

In the preface to the work, Ennio Candotti, director of the Botanical Garden and the “living” Museum of Natural History of the Amazon (INPA-Manaus), addresses the question of the exclusion of indigenous peoples from federal decisions, pointing out that “the Amazon has continued for two hundred years a colony in its own country or, better, a colony in the colony”. He makes a strong demand for the presence of the State in the region, “with numerous institutes, research centers, universities, postgraduate courses and laboratories in each of the biomes and different mesoregions”, noting that today, in the Amazon, there are only two botanical gardens (in Belém and Manaus), “two postgraduate courses at the doctoral level in botany, none dedicated to the study of fungi and only one in linguistics, with 150 indigenous languages ​​still alive!”.

In addition to the abandonment of the State, there are others, equally or more devastating, such as deforestation and the (secular) genocide of indigenous peoples and quilombolas, perpetrated by the armed wing of the State at the service of the interests of capital, currently personified in agribusiness and in the international corporations that finance it, smuggling wood, minerals, animals..., drug trafficking (money laundering) and all sorts of criminal activities that profit from the predatory exploitation of the territory and its inhabitants.

Interests that lead to the phenomenon of deforestation, meticulously analyzed by the American biologist Philip Fearnside, a researcher at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) who brings a fundamental article for the systemic understanding of deforestation in the Amazon, over the years. Explaining the causes and pointing out paths, he analyzes the impacts of real estate speculation, commodities, government tax incentives, land tenure, money laundering, logging, mining, road construction and, above all, the soy and livestock in the region.

The data is impressive and tells about the governments in question. In 2004, the Amazon suffered deforestation of 27.772 km2/year. Eight years later, in 2012, the index plummeted to 4.571 km2/year. In 2019, it rose again, reaching 10.129 km2 (the equivalent of one hectare every 31 seconds). In 2020, it exceeded 10 thousand km2.

Next, anthropologist João Pacheco de Oliveira (UFRJ) and geographer Tomas Paoliello (UEMA) address national borders and the representation of the indigenous population since colonial times. “The establishment of 'frontiers' (…) made it possible to decree lands that were occupied by pre-existing communities as 'free', to consider existing social practices as 'rudimentary', to classify those who opposed them as 'criminals', to adopt and propagate arguments that justify the construction of an 'internal other', to which the rules that guide coexistence among other citizens are inapplicable”, they explain (p.132), allowing us to understand how the predatory exploitation of the territory and, above all, genocide are strengthened of the indigenous population.

A process told by the Amazonian novelist Márcio Souza, also a theater and opera director, who analyzes the forced integration and extermination of the indigenous population in the Amazon. “We are going to discover that the enemies of the indigenous peoples are the same as those of the workers”, highlights the author, citing them by name: “the Brazilian government itself, in its municipal, state and federal instances, the big financial capital, the landowners, the big timber companies, large agricultural farms, hydroelectric plants, mining companies and roads”. He even brings up cases of genocide committed by foreign researchers, such as the extermination of 20% of the Yanomami population when they were transformed into guinea pigs for James Neel's genetic experiments, in the 1960s, in Venezuela.

This first part of the book ends with an interview with the founder of Pindorama Filmes, Estevão Ciavatta, who directed, with Fernando Acquarone, the Amazonia SA series aired on Fantástico, by Globo. “The Amazon is where Brazil can still realize itself in all its cultural, spiritual, economic and environmental power. And, internationally, it is the only issue that gives us relevance on the global stage. That is why the Amazon is our past and inevitably our future”, he points out. This interview is complemented by a letter from Ciavatta and the note from the people Munduruku denouncing the fire in the village of Maria Leusa Kaba, leader of the Munduruku Wakoborun Women's Association, on May 26, 2021: “they shot at houses and people. Two houses were set on fire, the coordinator's house and that of her mother, the chief of the village. The information is that no one was injured, but everyone is in shock,” says the note.


A planet hostage to financial capital

The second part of the book features in-depth analyzes of the main bottlenecks to the development of the region. It opens with an analysis of agribusiness and its internationalization by professors Rafael R. Ioris (history) and Aaron Schneider (international relations), both from the University of Denver. Based on the case of JBS, which went from being a family slaughterhouse in Goiás to the main agribusiness multinational, they show how the sector was consolidated in the country, problematizing the modern and brutally retrograde aspects of its internationalization, within the scope of a “conservative, exclusionary” modernization. and unsustainable”. A process of internationalization, they assess, which perpetuates “an eminently fragile and unsustainable historical dynamic, given their continued dependence on production and market factors over which they do not have full control, and associated with processes of destruction of natural production resources”.

A breath-taking reflection on agriculture follows the results of field research carried out by Professor Cristiano Desconsi (Zootechnics and rural development - UFSC), who investigated the process of agricultural expansion in the Legal Amazon, promoted by small rural producers in the region, between 2013 and 2017, studying the development expectations of these farmers, in general, owners of rice, soybean and corn crops in territories from 70 to 300 hectares. He also analyzes vectors of acceleration of this process, such as changes in environmental legislation and the discourse of the revision of the demarcation of indigenous lands of the Bolsonaro misgovernment.

Next, Professor Matilde de Souza (International Relations – PUC Minas) and researchers from the same institution, Jéssica R. Gonçalves, Victor de Matos Nascimento, Bárbara LP Pacheco and Lauana PD Alves address the impact promoted by the various changes in environmental policies of the Bolsonaro government, regarding the water and food security of the local population, before and after Covid-19. During the pandemic, what is observed is the deepening of the condition of vulnerability of the poorest population. Of the total deaths from the new coronavirus in the country, the Amazonian states account for 9,10% of fatal cases. Quite a high rate when considering the number of people living in the region: 8% of the Brazilian population. The heartbreaking scenes caused by the lack of oxygen in Manaus hospitals, which took place in March 2021, are still fresh in memory.

One of the most controversial topics in the Amazon is the issue of hydroelectric dams, presented from a historical perspective by post-doctoral student Nathalia Capellini (Institute of Political Studies of Paris). Addressing the motivations and construction process of the first dams in the country, during the military dictatorship – Coaracy Nunes in 1975, Curuá-Una in 1977; Tucuruí between 1975 and 1984 –, she points out that in the implementation of these plants, “hydroelectricity was conceived as a raw material”, therefore, an “asset” “subject to the same predatory logic that dictated the exploitation of other resources in the region since the period colonial". They were even made possible together with other large-scale mining projects or energy-intensive industrial projects, aiming at benefits that go beyond local dimensions, points out the author. Today, there are 44 hydroelectric dams and 137 small hydroelectric plants in operation in the Amazon.

One of the most controversial was the construction of the Tucuruí Power Plant, on the Tocantins River (PA), during the military dictatorship. The feat, which would lead to change in the national and international debate on hydroelectric dams, is analyzed by researcher Frederik Schulze (history – University of Münster), “both in terms of economic integration in the world market, and in terms of environmental protection and imaginaries about the Amazon region”. The analysis shows how these hydroelectric plants were designed to meet interests that are alien to those of the region, presenting the global debate, on the contrary, as a catalytic instrument of political action, in favor of local rights and interests.

Next, the multiple challenges of mining governance in the Amazon region of the Guiana Shield, between Brazil, French Guiana and Suriname, are discussed by researcher Miguel PP Dhenin (geography – UFRJ). In this chapter, he analyzes the impact of small-scale mining, which varies according to the international demand for gold, explaining the complex situation of garimpeiros in the region, who “circle along the banks of rivers and laws, [crossing] territories with different cultural dynamics, without recognizing borders as formal limits”, in a “space structured in organized networks that seek to circumvent blockades and military operations”.

Next, professor Edviges M. Ioris (anthropology – UFSC) presents a historical overview of the emergence of environmental reserves in the Amazon, during the dictatorship, demonstrating the central role they played in the project of economic acceleration and modernization in the military region, which intended for “large extractive mining and logging enterprises, a network of roads and ports, incentives to the migration of people, urban centers, telecommunications, hydroelectric projects”, among others. During this period, she points out, 69 federal reserves were created, such as the Amazon National Park (Parna Amazônia) and the Tapajós National Forest (Flona Tapajós), analyzed by the author, who observes in this process the most complete absence of participation of the peoples locations in the election or definition of reserves. In both cases, the families were displaced from these territories with the expropriation process already underway.

At the end of this second part, there are three interviews. The first, with Jorge Bodansky and Nuno Godolphim, respectively director and screenwriter of the series Transamazônica – A Road to the Past. Bondansky, who visited the region in 1974, during the filming of Iracema: an Amazonian fuck, recounts this experience. In his assessment, the Amazon has been portrayed with emphasis “on what has the most impact, what is most visible, what people already know. What is fundamentally missing is listening to the people who live there, the natives and others who moved there”. Voices, adds Nuno Godolphim, who leave the situation of invisibility to print their denouncement through new technologies. Now, local populations are starting to file their own communities. “It's still very fragmented, but they are interesting experiences, like those that happen among the Munduruku, Kuikuro, Terena and many other peoples”, he says.

The second interview is with the lawyer for the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), Luiz Henrique Eloy Amado, postdoctoral fellow at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in Paris. A member of the Terenas peoples, he tells us, in detail, what the Covid-19 pandemic was like for indigenous peoples under the Bolsonaro government, which “not only neglected but tried to sabotage” hundreds of health barriers created by indigenous communities themselves. A grassroots action, he points out, which, in view of the abandonment of public power, proved to be fundamental to mitigating the virus in indigenous communities. Today, details Amado, there are more than 900 indigenous people, 305 peoples, 274 languages ​​spoken and, even, 114 isolated groups or groups of recent contact in Brazil. A population threatened by direct or indirect government attacks, and since before the pandemic.

This second block ends with an interview with Ulisses Manacas, state leader of the MST, held in 2018, the year of his death from cancer. In it, Manacas analyzes the forces that rule the planet, noting that the great Brazilian biomes are articulated with big capital. In his words: “we are experiencing, in a global context, an increasingly growing process of oligopolization of agricultural production. The entire planet became a hostage, in fact, of financial capital. So agriculture became much more a market element, and agricultural production is no longer defined by micro-regions, but rather by the international market and even by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund. In this new international division of labor, Brazil had the task of being a major producer of commodities for central capitalism. The country has retreated”.


“The most accurate shot comes from the federal government”

Opening the third and final part of the work, Paul E. Little, emeritus professor at the University of Brasília (UnB), analyzes the formulation, enactment and implementation of the National Policy for Territorial and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI), during the Dilma government , in mid-2012. Analyzing how “the ethnic mobilization of Brazilian indigenous peoples and their allies managed to incorporate their ethnic struggle within the framework of the State’s territorial ordering policies”, as an active participant in this process, he comments on the main clashes between the demands of indigenous territoriality and environmental and development policies for the region, and how they were resolved.

Next, we have a chapter dedicated to international socio-environmental cooperation in the Amazon, by Professor Cristina YA Inoue (International Relations – UnB) and researchers Paula F. Moreira and Marília Bonfim Silva, from the same institution. Analyzing international cooperation, which began with redemocratization, they bring an overview of this process, including listing agreements such as the Pilot Program for the Protection of Tropical Forests in Brazil (PPG7) (1992-2012), the Protected Areas of the Amazon Program (ARPA) (2002-present), Amazon Protected Areas Program (ARPA) (2002-present) Amazon Fund (2008-present); and cooperation with various countries, such as Germany and the United States.

Professor of International Relations at the San Tiago Dantas program (UNESP, Unicamp, PUC-SP) Suzeley Kalil and researchers from the same program, Ana Penido and Lisa Barbosa, analyze militarization in the Amazon, based on five assumptions: an inadequate sovereignist view , the outdated geopolitical perception, the belief that only the military are committed to the defense of the Amazon, the distrust of neighboring countries, and the idea of ​​integrating the Amazon in a subordinate way to the rest of the country. To this end, they critically analyze the intensive physical presence of the military in the region, with the Welcome and Control operations, authorized by Michel Temer in 2018 and still in force; and Verde Brasil I and II,12 by Jair Bolsonaro, demonstrating the anachronistic and anti-national vision of our current military for the region.

In his analysis of the causes and reactions to poverty on the Amazonian borders, between Bolivia and Brazil, geographer Antônio Augusto Rossotto Ioris (Cardiff University) points out that “the development and perpetuation of poverty in the Amazon region do not happen around or outside the Amazon region. forest, but in and in relation to it”. He discusses two driving factors of poverty: the anti-ecological basis of developmentalism, and the exercise of hegemony over social nature, attributing the failure to promote equity in land and forest management to the “separation of social and natural elements that actually make up the same system” socioenvironmental”. This is the case, for example, of several developmental initiatives that neglected “the different temporalities of poverty and the seasonality of lifestyles”, reducing survival opportunities, including due to “lack of knowledge of the impacts of environmental management interventions on different scales”.

The future of the Amazon and indigenous peoples, in turn, is a topic addressed by Professor Clarice Cohn (Anthropology – UFSCar) and by researchers from the same institution Lucas Rodrigues Sena and Jucimara Araújo Cavalcante Souza who analyze the impact of the 1988 Constitution on indigenous peoples indigenous peoples, bringing important information about the rights of these populations and also environmental rights in the country. Analyzing the case of the Xikrin from the Trincheira-Bacajá Indigenous Land and the legal flaws in the environmental licensing of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant, they emphasize: “the indigenous experiences and proposals for the management and sustainable management of their lands are not taken into account in state projects and of development in the Amazon, despite specific efforts, such as the National Policy for Territorial and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI)”.

Next, ecologist and visual artist Marilene Cardoso Ribeiro brings an innovative reflection on how artistic practices can commit to the search for socio-environmental justice in the Amazon, starting from and beyond the civil contract of photography. Based on her own experience, she analyzes the Água Morta photographic project that she carried out with the population affected by the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, on the Xingu River (PA). Between 2011 and 2019, she photographed 94 riverside people affected by dams, including those from other parts of Brazil. “During the photo session (in which I operated the camera), the participant (who was also the person portrayed) developed his own ideas for his portrait, chose a relevant location for the photograph and an object that could represent the his feeling(s) in relation to the hydroelectric plant”, he details. The idea was to “rebuild the sentimental landscapes of the losses caused by the hydroelectric plant” by creating a photographer-photographed hybrid perspective.

Finally, the work ends with an interview by the indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara, coordinator of the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), who brings a strong denunciation against the government of Jair Bolsonaro. “Today the feeling we have is that we are in the middle of a war. It's a very dangerous scenario, everyone looking for a refuge, but it's not easy to find. Shooting from all sides, from illegal mining, deforestation, diseases, the pandemic, and the most accurate shot comes from the federal government ”.

In this interview, Guajajara talks about resistance, including the history of indigenous reaction, dividing it into three main phases: the articulation between indigenous leaders and the Constituent Assembly between 1986 and 1988; the mobilization and emergence of indigenous organizations, between 1989 and 2010; and the current one, in which the fight boils down to “not losing the rights won”. In his assessment, it is essential that people understand that in order to protect the Amazon, it is necessary to protect traditional cultures which, in their diversity, are central to the preservation of the region. And in this process, he assesses, “the academy has a fundamental role, especially in promoting this awareness”.

Amazon in the XNUMXst century It's quite a nod in that direction.

* Tatiana Carlotti, a journalist, holds a master's degree in contemporary literature (PUC-SP) and a doctorate in linguistics (USP).



Antônio Augusto R. Ioris & Rafael R. Ioris (orgs). Amazon in the XNUMXst century: trajectories, dilemmas and perspectives. São Paulo, Alameda, 2022, 540 pages.


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