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BRAZIL
Defending the Amazon
José Pedro Martins
3/22/2007
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Catholic Church’s 2007 Fraternity Campaign focuses on jungle peoples.

In the first three years of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government, 121 people were killed over land conflicts in the country’s Amazon region. The victims include rural workers, unionists and environmentalists such as Dorothy Stang, a nun from the United States, who was murdered Feb. 12, 2005 for her work protecting the forest.

Putting an end to the escalating violence in the Amazon region, particularly in areas where land conflicts, slave labor and deforestation exist, is the principal motivation for the Catholic Church’s 2007 Fraternity Campaign, which will address issues in the Amazon region between Feb. 21 and April 1.

The Church is trying to call attention to the living conditions of the 23 million people who live in Brazil’s Amazon region, including 163 indigenous communities established in there, home to 270,000 people, close to 80 percent of Brazil’s indigenous population.

The 1988 constitution establishes that indigenous communities have rights to their land, but this is not totally guaranteed. Of the 504 indigenous territories in Brazil’s Amazon region, just 241 — less than half — have demarcated their lands and registered these borders with government authorities.

The Justice Ministry has still not established the borders of 40 percent of Brazil’s indigenous communities. The National Bishops Conference of Brazil, or CNBB, says this is one of the reasons indigenous communities are constantly invaded by illegal loggers, miners and other activities that contribute to deforestation, a grave risk for these native communities.
Along with fisherman, rubber farmers, Afro-Brazilian communities and others who live off the jungle’s products, the indigenous communities are the most vulnerable to the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest.

Mons. Pedro Casaldáliga, bishop emeritus of the São Félix do Araguaia prelature, says that the campaign aims to make the Brazilian and international communities realize the Amazon Rainforest’s importance.

A key reserve
”It is a great reserve of life, with rich flora and fauna, but also home to millions of people, most threatened by the uncontrolled occupation of the forest lands,” he said.

The CNBB ran its first Fraternity Campaign in 1964, the year a military coup overthrew the government of President João Goulart (1961-64). During the dictatorship that followed, the campaigns became one of the few spaces for discussion and protest under the military regime that held power here until 1984.

When Brazil returned to democracy in 1985, the campaigns, under the strong decades-long influence of liberation theology on Brazilian clergy played a fundamental role during debates on how to create a more just and democratic society. They addressed land issues, migration, labor issues, the Afro-Brazilian community, women and violence.

The campaign “will help us establish new kinds of relationships with the nature around us,” said Belen Bishop Orani João Tempesta. “The unbridled and inconsistent exploitation of our environment can lead us to our self-destruction.”

According to Brazilian government figures 17 percent of the Amazon Rainforest has been deforested. More worrying is the acceleration of this process (LP, Feb. 21, 2007). Between 1994 and 2004 alone, more than 210,000 square kilometers (84,000 square miles) of the Amazon were destroyed.

Livestock farming is a major culprit, the bishops say. Between 1990 and 2003, cattle farming in the Amazon region increased 140 percent. In 2004 there were 71 million heads of cattle in the region, compared to 23 million people living there.

The increase in soy farming is also a cause for alarm. Between 1999 and 2001, Brazil’s Geography and Statistics Institute said the area of soy cultivated in the zone known as the Arc of Deforestation increased more than 57 percent, while rice and millet field area decreased 11 percent and almost 2 percent, respectively.

The Arc of Deforestation
The Arc of Deforestation corresponds to the area in southeast of Maranhao state, north of Tocantins, south of Para, north of Mato Grosso, Rondonia, south of Amazonas and southeast of Acre, the area where deforestation has increased the most. From 2000 to 2001, close to 70 percent of the deforestation in the Legal Amazon, the area of Brazil that is completely in the Amazon Rainforest, occurred in just 50 municipalities in the states of Mato Grosso, Para and Rondonia.

The link between the destruction of the rainforest and violence against rural laborers is most clear in this area, also where majority of murders over land in the Amazon region occurs.

Mons. Casaldáliga says that this year’s Fraternity Campaign could be a milestone in advocacy for the rainforest because it addresses the repercussions of deforestation for Brazil and the planet, including the importance of maintaining an equilibrium of natural resources there.
”Today there already exists the idea that the Earth is one unit,” he said. “Either we save everyone or no one.”

 


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Amazonian deforestation is accelerating at an alarming rate.
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