Eye on the Amazon

The Amazon Burns, and the World Responds

Today, vast fires continue to rage uncontrollably across the Amazon's irreplaceable ecosystems. In Brazil alone, nearly 30,000 square kilometers (11,500 square miles) of forests have been consumed in August, quadrupling the area burned last year. This is the equivalent of 4.2 million soccer fields, most of which were lit by criminal arson.

Approximately a third of today's fires are raging in protected areas of the Brazilian Amazon – including indigenous territories – where more than 3,500 fires have been detected across 148 indigenous lands, with the Kayapó and Munduruku areas in Mato Grosso and Pará states among the worst hit. The legendary Kayapó Chief Raoni Metuktire spoke to how the fires are disproportionately impacting native communities in an op-ed entitled: "We, the peoples of the Amazon, are full of fear. Soon you will be, too."

Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro's immoral regime frantically scurried to appear as if it were taking action to address this global emergency. His flimsy edict banning the further setting of fires has gone unheeded, with almost 4,000 new fires set within two days of his order. While rejecting a G7 offer for firefighting support, he attacked France's president (and insulted his wife) and further isolated his government diplomatically.

In a meeting with Brazil's Amazonian state governors purportedly called to find solutions to the crisis, Bolsonaro launched into a hateful diatribe questioning the fundamental legitimacy of indigenous territories, stating: "Indigenous people don't lobby, they don't speak our language, and yet today they manage to have 14 percent of our national territory ... One of their intentions is to hold us back."

In response, the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB) countered: "While the Amazon is in flames, the anti-indigenous President Jair Bolsonaro continues spewing his ignorance and racism against ingidenous tribes in Brazil. Using the argument that we are protected by foreigners, he continues preaching his genocidal, ethnocidal, anti-ecological, and anti-indigenous politics."

Far from a flippant statement, Bolsonaro's hate-filled rhetoric aims to set the stage for a coordinated assault on indigenous land rights, as political representatives of Brazil's powerful agribusiness sector work to open native lands to industrial activities. Today's catastrophe should therefore not be seen in isolation, but rather as one manifestation of a concerted campaign to destroy the human rights and environmental protections that keep the Amazon standing.

In this dire context, it is essential that Brazil's vibrant resistance movement countering Bolsonaro continue to gain strength and momentum. As his popularity plummets nationally, Bolsonaro is rightfully considered to be a global pariah whose illegitimacy must be fashioned into a tool to undermine his toxic agenda.

Given the intrinsic connections between the objectives of the Bolsonaro regime and the worst actors within Brazilian agribusiness, one clear strategy is to encourage trade sanctions in key global markets like the European Union, while advancing global financial divestment from destructive industries and boycotts of agricultural commodities linked to illegal deforestation, rights abuses, and runaway forest fires. As consumers of these goods, we may be complicit in today's disaster. It is our duty to become informed about how to leverage our influence to make a difference.

The global community must stand in solidarity with Brazil's resistance at this critical moment. APIB has called for us to support their movement in tangible ways. "Just getting angry on social media is not enough to address the scale of Amazon destruction that we are witnessing," said Sônia Guajajara of APIB. "We need to stop this absurdity. On September 5th, the Amazon is in the streets. There are more than 100 cities planning actions around the world. In Brazil alone, more than 70 cities will mobilize. We must get organized, get active, and join forces in defense of the Amazon and in defense of our future."

Tomorrow's Global Day of Action for the Amazon provides an opportunity to make our voices heard as part of a rising movement to oppose Bolsonaro and challenge the corporations that are enabling his regime's rainforest destruction and human rights abuses. We are collectively facing a climate emergency of unprecedented proportions of which today's Amazon fires are a burning symbol. In response, we need to exercise our collective power to extinguish these flames and build a future where this can never happen again.

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