Professor Bruno Carvalho writes how the rainforest and its Indigenous groups face existential threats in a recent op-ed.
By Bruno Carvalho, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Harvard University
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — When the dry season returns, the Amazon forest will burn again, as it does every year. But this time promises to be different. Last year's international headlines caught Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his allies by surprise. We can expect their response to the next fire season to contain more smoke and mirrors. It is crucial to focus on their actions.
Deforestation is increasing at an alarming pace. It has grown by 94 percent since August 2019, compared with the previous year's rate, which had been the highest in a decade. Unlike drier areas in Australia or California, the rainforest can't catch on fire unless humans cut trees down. The Amazon is being devastated on an industrial scale, and for what? Criminal groups are targeting public lands for low-productivity cattle ranching and mining. Illegal land-grabbing schemes destroy biodiversity and the potentials of bioeconomies, enriching well-connected individuals. Mr. Bolsonaro and his administration encourage it.
Many in Brazil's elites accepted a Faustian bargain: So long as the government's economic agenda remains friendly, they look the other way. Now, with all eyes on the pandemic crises, the Amazon and its Indigenous groups face existential threats, while criminals act as if they have permission to plunder.
Oversight and fines for infractions have declined substantially. Last month, Ricardo Salles, the environment minister, fired a director in an enforcement role after he carried out an operation to dismantle illegal mining. The federal government has kept key positions vacant and proposed huge budget cuts to environmental agencies, undermining fire prevention, monitoring and control. The president and his allies support a bill that provides further incentives to deforestation, allowing land grabbers to gain ownership of public lands, including Indigenous territories.