Environmental Fascism Haunting the Amazon

"Amazon Rainforest" by CIFOR

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2018 is a symbolic year for one of the first and last utopias on planet Earth; the Amazon Rainforest. A ghost prowls the region, embodied in the expectation of president-elect, Jair Messias Bolsonaro of Brazil.

The ignorance of the president-elect, in regard to the Amazon, shows the clear poverty of the economic and political ideas with which he intends to guide his mandate. The integration between forest and hydrography, besides its sociocultural and historical diversity, presents a complexity of problems and solutions for both the world and the country, yet for Bolsonaro, the Amazon is just an undeveloped, remote side of Brazil, “a place of [ignorant] Indians, Quilombolas and Caboclos”, that should give way to progress through chopping down the forest for the advance of agribusiness open to foreign investors.

In confirming that the “Amazon is not ours”, and that “we have ways to explore this region in partnership”, he ignores millennia of adaptability of its people. He ignores scientific thought on the region. He ignores the resistance and resilience of the Humid Tropical cultures. He ignores that the Amazon Rainforest consists of nine countries – Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Equador, Surinam, Guyana and French Guyana.

At a meeting with executives, Bolsonaro indicated that he was favorable to exploration of the riches of the Amazon, whose natural resources – including minerals and oil – are valued at up to US$ 5 trillion. Executives participating in the event confirmed receptiveness to “putting the Amazon back on the agenda”. This can only mean the agenda of visible predatory interests.

Economic exploration of the Amazon in the form proposed by the president-elect faces plenty of resistance from certain sections of society. Only last year, current president Michel Temer tried to open up Renca (an area in the Amazon conceived by the military government for exploration of mineral resources); but gave up after negative repercussions.

Bolsonaro demonstrates a similar discourse to Donald Trump, president of the United States, in confirming his opposition to the Global Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement was approved by 195 countries in 2015 with the aim of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, to avoid global warming, yet Bolsonaro believes Brazil would have to “pay a high price” to meet its demands, as the agreement injures the sovereignty of the country:

“What is in play is national sovereignty, because there are 136 million hectares that we’ve lost control of… I will leave the Paris Agreement if this continues being an object of it. If our part means handing over 136 million hectares of the Amazon, then I’m out.”

After taking up office, Bolsonaro will take the debate on the demarcation of Indian lands and commercial exploration of protected areas to congress. This would have implications for the sustainable use of land by riparian and indigenous agriculture in the Amazon, besides threatening the lifestyles of native populations. “There are a lot of oversized reserves and the Indians want to do on the land what the farmers do on their lands. We want to titularise indigenous and Quilombola areas as well, if it depends on me; of course it (the approval for commercial exploration in these areas) will have to get through Parliament”.

It is on this particular aspect that the environmental fascism embraced by Bolsonaro threatens Amazonian lands and people. Historically speaking, fascist regimes of the likes of Mussolini and Hitler can be considered anti-democratic, the relationship between State and Society neither respecting social mediations, nor allowing divergence or debate. Protest, opinion and the active participation of civil society are ignored, while power and choice are concentrated in the hands of the few, with no right to contradiction and the elimination of public opinion and a free press.

Given this characterization, the environmental fascism being perceived in Bolsonaro’s vociferous discourse would be defined by defending the predatory use of natural resources under exclusive government control and the inadmissibility of external opinion on the fate of said resources from groups such as community councils, academia and NGOs. Such inadmissibility could also be reinforced by law through interventions extinguishing the forces of activism, especially with the repulsion of rural social movements.

Then there is the declared intervention restricting the use of land by minorities or traditional groups – whose practices limit the model of predatory development – whereby economic zoning is imposed on the ecosystems and biomes, increasing environmental impact and the chances of an environmental catastrophe. The entire regulatory framework of restrictions on the exploitation of natural environments would be minimized or made extinct under the fascist rhetoric.

There is also a risk of “de-legitimization” of scientific advances regarding natural, cultural and historical phenomena, as such knowledge weakens the idea of national sovereignty over such territories, which would be impossible for the monolithic, omnipotent state. The natural, cultural and historical heritage of humanity protected by science would thus be subject to a different perspective, devalued and discredited before supposed national interests. Such national interests, imposed on divergent ideas, operate within the fascist logic excluding other meanings and possible visions of the world.

Statements made by Bolsonaro show little consistency or diplomatic content and demonstrate that the president-elect has already given up the sovereign right and duty of the Brazilian state and society guaranteeing the presence of Brazil in the future of the region. This goes against the Brazilian Constitution, which, in article 255, § 4º, establishes the fundamental regulatory mark for the country, whereby, “Everyone has the right to an ecologically balanced environment, as well as to common use of the people and usage essential to healthy quality of life, imposing on the public and collective power the duty to defend it and preserve it for present and future generations”.

Bolsonaro’s lack of knowledge and his disdain for the indigenous populations of Brazil is a profound threat to Brazilians in the Amazon Basin. Giving up the Amazon to predatory exploration in the interests of big business has already been considered by the military dictatorship and other governments as payment for Brazil’s external debt. However, the Amazonian populations, alongside the scientific community and informed national institutions, denounced this false discourse of national salvation and fought for the integrity of the land and its resources for contemporary generations.

The Amazon is a crucial part of the complex contemporary world in its physical, environmental, socio-cultural and historical components.

The Amazon is a crucial part of the complex contemporary world in its physical, environmental, socio-cultural and historical components. It is a complexity of ecosystems within a biome that is essential to the maintenance of the Earth’s equilibrium. The region is considered to be a decisive entity in the chemical maintenance of the atmosphere, in the dynamic of the hydrological cycle and in climate change. Its ecosystems have the highest biodiversity in the world and its urban, rural and indigenous areas and environmentally protected reserves should only be explored in a sustainable manner, disciplined and conditioned by actions of socio-economic development based on the institutional order of its states.

Bolsonaro represents a clear and present danger to any such sustainable development, recently declaring on national television that “We want an end to this industry of fines practiced by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation and Biodiversity (ICMBio). We are going to put a full stop on all activism in Brazil”. He did not speak for the landless, the leaseholders or small producers; he clearly assumed a commitment to the agricultural capital of the country. This demonstrates not only his ignorance, but also his disrespect for the true value of the Amazon and its importance in the lives of its indigenous people and in the lives of ordinary Brazilians. Bolsonaro fails to understand that millions of Brazilians defend the Amazon as a place where the relationship between nature and culture is emblematic of Brazil, and its conquest through the simple reproduction of colonialism is in direct opposition to the political struggle of its peoples. Brazilians from North to South, traditional populations, Indians, Quilombolas, Pantaneiros, Riparians, Caboclos and the like have already come to a consensus that national protection of the Amazon is as important as public policies like Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) and Bolsa Família (Family Allowance).

In this context, fake news and social networks operate as a supplementary political force, reinforcing obscurantism and fundamentalism of racial ideologies, prejudices of every order and ignorance on the sustainability of environmental protection policies in the Amazon. Upon stating that he will finish with state institutions such as IBAMA and ICMbio and with all political activism, Bolsonaro is effectively ripping up the Brazilian Constitution, which any president is duty bound to protect.

The spectre of Bolsonaro and his environmental fascism is deeply worrying; he demonstrates a distinct lack of authenticity in casting himself as the Brazilian Trump and shows complete disregard for the cultural history of the very people he purports to represent, which is not only a tragedy for the Brazilian people of the Amazon and contrary to the environmental interests of the entire world, but is tantamount to farce.

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Marcos Colón

Dr. Marcos Colón leads the Portuguese program at the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics at Florida State University. He was the writer, director and producer of the film “Beyond Fordlândia: An Environmental Account of Henry Ford’s Adventure in the Amazon.”

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