Beyond the burning of the Amazon Rainforest: the Bolsonaro regime’s centuries long genocide of indigenous peoples


Hanson Dai | Art Director

Hugo Fajardo, Senior Staff Writer

Loggers ventured illegally into the Amazon Rainforest in the northeastern state of Maranhão, Brazil earlier this month. For the people that live within this part of the Amazon Rainforest, the Guajajara tribe asked for the help of their protectors once again, the Guardians of the Forest. 

Areas within the Amazon Rainforest are being deforested illegally then set up to benefit agro-business corporations. This is the terrible reality for people like the Guajajara. As an example, in 2017 logging company AgroSB was found guilty of receiving the largest ever amount of fines for illegally deforesting land in the Amazon Rainforest, totaling $20 million U.S. dollars. Furthermore, there is evidence that AgroSB sells cattle grazed on illegally deforested land to Brazil’s main beef producer, JBS.

This was merely another day for the Guajajara, having to fight for their lives and repelling trespassers from coming onto their own land who are destroying the land then proceeding to murder the Guajajara themselves.

Before the Guardians of the Forest even had the chance to fight, loggers ambushed them, assassinating a leader of the Guardians and the Guajajara. Paulo Paulino Guajajara was only 26 years old when he sacrificed himself to protect the lives of his people, and he dedicated his entire life to seeking modern ways for the Guajajara to continue saving themselves from the many trespassers that break into their home every year.

For the Guajajara and the 305 other tribes that call the Amazon Rainforest home within the borders of Brazil, this slow and painful genocide has been ongoing since the year 1500, when the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral became the first European to set foot on the land that would become colonized and known as Brazil. 

In 2019, the erasure and complete denial of human rights to indigenous peoples remain supported by the Brazilian government. This year is the first of the presidency of far-right former military officer Jair Bolsonaro, whose election campaign caused a Trumpian effect within Brazil, spurring polarization among all Brazilians. 

Bolsonaro’s pro-corporation economic plan and strict police force agenda come at the cost of further marginalizing oppressed groups in Brazilian society. Among many examples, Bolsonaro has explicitly spoken his beliefs that homosexuality is a disease, how Black people are worthless to society, how some women are allowed to be raped and how he plans to get rid of all indigenous-protected land within the Amazon Rainforest for the benefit of Brazilian agro-business.

Junior Alec Devaprasad is currently on an exchange semester in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. 

“Invasion and destruction of indigenous land and violence against indigenous peoples for the sake of profit is a normalized part of Brazilian society,” Devaprasad said. “With indigenous leaders constantly being assassinated, the Amazon constantly being burned, and now a president actively promoting an anti-indigenous agenda I begin to understand this loss of hope.” 

The Amazon Rainforest is home to half of all animal, plant and insect species known to mankind. With an area of 2.7 million square miles, there are also many species yet to be discovered by humans as well. About 60% of the Amazon Rainforest lies within the borders of Brazil. 

This past Monday, Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Especiais reported that 3,769 square miles of the Amazon Rainforest, more than 12 times the size of New York City, burned down between July 2018 and July 2019. This figure represents the highest rate of deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest in over a decade and a 30% spike from the previous year, before Bolsonaro took office.

“On that day it was kinda like someone just turned the light switch off, because it got dark at 3 p.m., and as a result, none of the city’s light posts turned on,” junior Patrick Urbine, who is on exchange for the year in São Paulo, said. “Everything was pitch black throughout the city, and it was creepy, it was weird … it was just dark and black.” 

On Aug. 19, the skies above São Paulo became completely covered in smoke, and the city turned dark. What was actually the middle of the afternoon seemed like the middle of the night, as strong winds and a cold front carried tremendous smoke from forest fires, primarily originating from the Amazon basin, to the opposite corner of Brazil. São Paulo is located more than 2,000 miles away from the Amazon basin.

Hugo Fajardo | Senior Staff Photographer
Protesters rushed to Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s busiest street, on Aug. 23, 2019, after the Dark Day incident prompted civilians to protest against President Bolsonaro’s allowance of mass burnings in the Amazon Rainforest.

A month after the “Dark Day” in São Paulo and the beginning of mass media coverage of the burning of the Amazon, President Bolsonaro testified before the United Nations in New York City. “The Amazon is not being devastated, nor is it being consumed by fire, as the media misleadingly says,” Bolsonaro said.

What the media fails to cover as it needs to, however, is the death of the human beings who live within the Amazon Rainforest. The genocide of indigenous people around the world, whether in North America or Australia, is historically neglected and pushed aside.

According to Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council, for the first nine months of 2019 alone there have already been “160 cases of land invasion, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and damage to property in 153 indigenous territories.”

“Indigenous people aren’t treated the same as other people in Brazil,” undergraduate student Isabella Chiavone said. 

Chiavone is a Brazilian born and raised in São Paulo and attends local university Fundação Getúlio Vargas. 

“They are citizens of their own land and pledge allegiance to their own people, since they have protected land, and as a result the Brazilian government sees that as an excuse to just deny them rights. The government has this point of view that if they aren’t helping all of Brazil, they shouldn’t be there in the first place,” Chiavone said.

Another crucial fact that the mass media forgets to report when discussing what’s happening in the Amazon Rainforest is how the U.S. and all Americans are benefitting from the exploitation of indigenous land and the outright murder of human beings by Brazilian corporations and agro-business allowed by the Brazilian government.

Earlier this year in March, President Donald Trump and President Bolsonaro agreed to allow Brazil to restart exporting beef to the U.S. Prior to this, the U.S. established a cutoff of Brazilian beef imports in 2017 due to high volumes of Brazilian beef failing food safety standards and cattle being grazed in illegally deforested lands. This was especially true from the largest meat producing corporation not only in Brazil but the entire world, JBS.

An undeniable 80% of deforested land in Brazil is tied to livestock grazing. This comes on top of the fact that the U.S. holds the title of largest beef consuming nation in the world and Brazil as the largest meat exporting country in the world. Moving forward, Americans should be conscious of where their beef is coming from and urge politicians to reduce trade with corporations such as JBS.

In some parts of the U.S., this is already starting to happen.

City officials of the two largest cities in the country, New York City and Los Angeles, proposed legislations that would officially cut ties with corporations linked to the burning of the Amazon Rainforest. This  legislation would directly stop the two cities from engaging in commercial relationships with agro-businesses like JBS and demonstrate refusal to accept the deforestation and displacement of indigenous people in the Amazon Rainforest. In addition, city legislators also urged civilians to consider consuming less beef.

Hugo Fajardo | Senior Staff Photographer
Translation: “Bolsonaro, agro-business and G7: Take your hands off the Amazon.”

“Support begins by simply being aware of what is going on. Not just of the fact that the Amazon is burning at record rates but the capitalistic motives behind these fires, the impact this has on indigenous populations and the fact that the rhetoric of the current administration essentially supports this,” Devaprasad said.

“I think the biggest way to support indigenous resistance here in Brazil is to educate yourself about what’s going on, just knowing what’s happening because before I came to Brazil I didn’t fully understand the Amazon … that was really interesting,” Urbine said.

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