This blog has lain dormant for a little while now, much to my regret. On the personal front, things have been busy. In the past year, I attended my first conference (to talk about this project), was approached with the opportunity to publish my first article, started a new degree, and have made plans for an impending return to Brazil. All this seems rather tame, however, compared to the massive upheavals in Brazil. I have been watching closely but have been hesitant to actually offer my two cents. However, given the developments since Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in January 1st, I can hold my tongue no longer. I am reviving this blog, with the noble intention of publishing something every other week. My goal is to keep eyes on Brazil, and to keep record of the political developments which will impact the Calha Norte region and Amazonia more widely. I hope that if anyone stumbles across this humble little blog, it might provide some multi-lingual news resources to help those concerned keep abreast of recent developments, political and environmental.
Today I will keep this little revival post relatively short, but I'd like to do a brief recap of some of the events that have taken place since January 1st of this year. As the international press covered in some detail, within moments of being sworn into office, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's new president, kneecapped the Ministry of the Environment by splintering some of its major administrative organs and assigning them to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Regional Development. In an equally swift brush of a pen, Bolsonaro also folded the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI) into two separate ministries. The demarcation and administration of indigenous and quilombola lands now falls to the Ministry of Agriculture, while the rest of the FUNAI and its responsibilities falls to the newly-minted Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, overseen by a far-right evangelical leader (see here for an account of these actions in Portuguese).
Despite the uproar and the protests from national and international spectators, these actions remain in place and have set a clear tone for how Bolsonaro's presidency will approach environmental concerns. Researchers, activists and environmentalists of all stripes are on high alert. See this interview (in Portuguese) with Professor Rogerio Almeida of the Federal University of Western Pará where he discusses major concerns with Bolsonaro's actions and the historical trajectory which has led Amazonia to this moment. This article (also in Portuguese) with journalist Lúcio Flávio Pinto is also worth a read for similar thoughts and reflections. The consensus is clear: Bolsonaro's actions forebode disastrous environmental consequences for the Amazon forest, and for the rights of the under-privileged people who inhabit it; but, truth be told, this is nothing new. The Amazon has been the playground of rich and privileged developers since the time it was discovered by European explorers. The events unfolding now may be same old tiger, who has never changed his stripes. The difference is, now he isn't hiding who he is or what his intentions are.
As if all this wasn't enough, on January 25th a dam burst in Brumadinho, Mato Grosso, killing hundreds and spilling mind-boggling quantities of toxic waste into nearby rivers. The culprit: Vale mining company, the same entity responsible for the Mariana disaster which occurred three years ago. The lesson? Major mining companies such as Vale act with relative impunity in the Amazon; they do what they like, when they like. Bruno Stankevicius Bassi reports.
On more personal terms, I am increasingly concerned by the thought of similar operations in the state of Pará, in the Calha Norte region. The state of Pará has over 64 mineral waste deposit dams, like the one that burst in Brumadinho. Of those 64, 18 are considered 'high risk'; the most dangerous of them is owned by, guess who? Vale. The state government has designated a task force to verify the status of these dams but for the time being, Vale has not closed any of its operations in Pará.
Meanwhile, the federal environmental authority, Ibama, has demanded the MRN bauxite company, which operates Brazil's largest bauxite mine within the boundaries of the Saracá-Taquera National Park, develop an emergency plan to avoid a disaster, should a Brumadinho-situation occur. The mineral deposit dams for the MRN mine are less than half a kilometre from the Boa Vista quilombola territory, and in close proximity to the Trombetas river which flows into the Amazon river. Boa Vista community-members have been denouncing the precarious nature of this dam for over a year, to no avail. See this report by Comissão Pro-Índio de São Paulo for more details (Portuguese). On the contrary, things seem to be complicating themselves for communities along the Trombetas river, as Bolsonaro's government recently decreed the construction of a new hydroelectric project in this same area.
Things are looking pretty bleak as the first month of Bolsonaro's presidency draws to a close. Researchers are running scared, as scholarships are being cut for under-privileged students, and others fear losing funding based on "ideological testing".
Hopes for integrated conservation and sustainable livelihood plans seem like a bit of a pipe-dream right now, but this report from Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture (Empraba) from 2016 is a good reminder that there are still plenty of researchers, activists and civil servants who still believe in the possibility of an Amazon which survives by way of locally-managed conservation schemes. These are the voices that we should project, now more than ever. If you care to listen, stay tuned.
See you back here soon,
Hannah Reardon is a Montreal-based researcher trained in Political Science and Anthropology.