Illegal minors searching for gold in the River Iren, Laposa Serra do Sol, Indigenous Reserve, Roraima, Brazil, near the border with Guyana (2021)

Men In the Brazilian Amazon these days, it’s nearly impossible to run for public office to speak about the environment.

A more common scenario is: A candidate for Congress parades a helicopter emblazoned with the Brazilian flag, a symbol of illegal gold mining, through the streets of the Amazonian city of Boa he Vista. He defends the gold rush that ravaged Indigenous territories and polluted rivers. stopped.

Like all Brazilians, residents of the vast Amazon region elect governors and legislators in October’s general elections. But as the campaign unfolds, few candidates and voters are talking about current record-breaking deforestation rates and other environmental issues.

Instead, many politicians are vying for who will have bolder promises to ease legal restrictions on gold mining, increase deforestation for agribusiness, and pave highways through forests. I’m here. A minority of those working on environmental platforms struggle with competition and face public animosity.

With widespread poverty and a lack of economic opportunities other than damaging the environment, Amazon voters increasingly support politicians who see the legal protection of the world’s largest rainforest as a barrier to development. I’m here.

A survey conducted by the website ((o))eco news found that most legislators in Brazil’s nine Amazon states voted to ease five environmental laws, from opening up indigenous territories to legalizing mining and land grabbing. Turns out I voted yes for major bills. In three of the votes, representatives from the Amazon region voted more in favor than representatives from other regions in Brazil.

Today, of the 118 members of Congress representing Amazon, only one was elected by the Social Environment Platform. Joenia Hupichana was the second indigenous leader in Brazilian history to be elected to parliament, but she is from Roraima, where indigenous people make up 11% of her population, the most in the country.

In her bid for re-election, one of her opponents is a gold prospector and businessman named Rodrigo Martins de Melo who used a helicopter as a trademark of his campaign. Airplanes are the only way to transport prospectors and equipment to remote indigenous reserves, such as those owned by the Yanomami people, the most illegal gold miners in Roraima.

“It’s mining that brings money to Boa Vista commerce,” Melo said through a microphone from the back of a pickup truck. Behind him rolled forward a much larger truck carrying a helicopter adorned with the Brazilian flag, which has become a symbol of support for far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Mello, who campaigns under the name Rodrigo Cataratas (Rodrigo Waterfall in English), pledged to defend the rights of the 40,000 prospectors he estimated.

The tendency to downplay the value of forests was stronger in areas where European immigrants arrived in the 1960s and 70s. To attract people to the Amazon, the military government of the time built roads, turned a blind eye to the chaotic gold rush, and relinquished vast swaths of pristine rainforest inhabited by isolated indigenous peoples. Disease and displacement have pushed some groups to the brink of extinction.

Most of the cities in Rondonia were built in the 1970s by immigrants from southern Brazil. Today, the state is one of the Amazon’s most deforested states, a major beef producer, and a growing soybean farm.

Last year, the Rondonia legislature voted unanimously, 17-0, to reduce the reserve by 2,200 square kilometers. This is to accommodate illegal ranchers and open up the rainforest to agribusiness. Governor Marcos Rocha, a staunch ally of Bolsonaro, signed the law. It was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by a state court.

Most of the so-called deforestation arc, which includes dozens of cities, shares its cultural history, according to Ricardo Gilson, a geographer at the Federal University of Rondonia.

“This is a frontier society that transforms the natural landscape into an extractive economy: mining, cattle, crops and hydropower energy. Not a society that sees standing forests as a positive thing,” he told the Associated Press.

To stand out in such a culture, Gendarmerie Captain Cairo Teixeira da Silva, who is running for parliament for the first time, prides himself on being more radical than his competitors. His shirt has the Brazilian flag printed on it, and he recently appeared in a campaign video of him brandishing a rifle and promising to arm illegal prospectors from police raids.

“I will fight for the miner to get a dredger, a T4 rifle to secure his gold,” he shouts, tapping his gun.

Two of the Amazon’s rainforest defenders chose to leave the region entirely and run for Congress in the state of São Paulo, thousands of miles away, because of historically low environmental support. , which can explain the decrease. They include indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara, who Time magazine crowned her one of the world’s most influential people, and her two-time senator-elected former minister from the Amazonian state of Acre. This is Marina Silva.

For Mario Mantovani, senior adviser to the Environmental Congressional Front, lawmakers who support Bolsonaro now have access to generous federal funds that they can distribute as they please, so this year’s environmental-based campaign will take place in the state of the Amazon. Running a campaign has become difficult.

“They’ve put so much money into the region that it’s hard to even come up with a strategy against them. It’s a game you play with marked cards, where you become an isolated voice and you can’t do anything.” Mantovani said in a telephone interview with the AP.

In such a hostile environment, he said, it makes sense to run for office in São Paulo, where many people care about the Amazon. Fabiano Maisonnave, Rio de Janeiro, MDT/AP

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