Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Dorothy Stang, the 73-year-old American killed in the Amazon Basin in 2005, is remembered by a famous picture where she wore a shirt saying “the death of the forest is the end of our lives.” Chico Mendes, Brazil’s most famous environmentalist who fought for human rights and environmental protection in places far away from the public eye, was assassinated years earlier, in 1988.
Many other unknown activists have been killed since, and I am afraid to say many more deaths will follow. Dorothy was a missionary whose true work was based in helping people and communities plant small plots of land for subsistence agriculture in conjunction with forest product extraction, also known by non-timber forest products.
The assassins still have not been punished, with their court hearings postponed over the years, and unfortunately, if they are jailed they’ll probably serve only a few years before being released.
Brazil’s Wild West is for real. Brazil is still one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world and human rights issues extend to: slavery, child labor and freedom of expression.
About a month ago, the Brazilian Environmental Commission (CMA) approved sugarcane and plantation in the Amazon and the Cerrado regions, two of the last frontiers in biological diversity in the world. The areas where plantation was approved are not just idle farm land, but primary forests that provide that much needed water in the atmosphere for rains in other parts of the Brazilian territory, as seen with atmospheric rivers.
Blairo Maggi, the Brazilian senator who holds both the president chair of the Brazilian Environmental Commission and the Greenpeace Golden Chainsaw award, helped pass this law with a handful of other senators tied to the existing barons and large-scale land owners, including senator Flexa Ribeiro, who spearheaded the sugarcane bill.
Sugarcane production will not only put at risk the Pantanal biome, one of the largest and most diverse wetlands in the world, but will also help maintain Brazil’s infamous work conditions that disregard basic human rights as seen with slave and child labor. It is hard to fathom that the development and the economic boom in Brazil do not bring to light the medieval conditions in the countryside.
While people in the world are fighting to get Monsanto of the fields and off the food shelves, senators in Brazil are watering down the environmental laws in their favor to cut down forest that will never be the same. Once you cut it down, that’s it folks, you can’t replace virgin forests.
I’ve heard people complain about the environmental movement, pointing to it as a villain that prevents the economic growth of the country. As long as environmentalist and social advocates keep getting murdered by the coronels in the heart of the Brazilian jungle and large-scale land owners keep running the environmental commissions, the economy will be doomed to remain based on medieval practices that are not in tune with the social economic development of Twenty First Century politics.
Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.