The Bloody Reign of Terror That Almost Destroyed the Amazon

A landowner known for chain sawing half of the farmers refused to sell their land to him. Another had a jar in his office in which he kept the severed ears of men he had ordered the murders of. Up to 20 secret cemeteries are used to dispose of the remains of murdered workers. And entire Indigenous populations were wiped out by dynamite, machine guns and arsenic-laced sugar.

This was, and still is, the Amazon rainforest, in a way. a lawless land legal sanction and environmental degradation, where being an activist or farmer fighting land grabs and working conditions akin to slave labor is death.

“In the Brazilian rainforest, creature, or land grabbing, are the main drivers of deforestation, violence, and a host of crimes related to the illegal forest economy—scams, money laundering, corruption,” said Heriberto Araujo, author of the book. . The Masters of the Lost Land: The Untold Story of the Amazon and the Violent Fight for the World’s Last Frontier. “And in the 1970s, the reign of lawlessness spurred a number of criminals and psychopaths to take extreme actions to make a name for themselves in the region,” he added. By becoming an evil legend, perhaps they can prevent encroachers from taking over their lands and farms.”

Araujo’s book focuses on the Brazilian state of Para, the country’s second-largest state, which has the largest number of land-control murders and 80% of the 18,000-claimed slave labor in Brazil. To explain what was happening there and across the Amazon, he focused his story on some key figures in the region: Dezinho, the president of the rural workers union, who was eventually killed murdered for his favor; Maria Joel, his wife, who took on the goals he fought for; Joselio, a landowner accused of torture, murder and enslavement; and Decio Nunes, a wood magnate twice convicted of murder who has yet to spend a day in prison.

Araujo, who was interviewed by email from The Daily Beast from his home in Spain, believes that accountability is at the heart of the matter in the field, saying that “people break the law, because they destroy forests in the area. an area or commit a violent crime, including murder. , often manage to avoid prison. The fact that many crimes are committed through middlemen and hired killers presents a challenge for police and prosecutors.”

The numbers seem to endure this. Between 1985-2018, of the 1,790 land and resource-related murders in Brazil, most of which occurred in the Amazon, 92% were not arrested or tried. But if this all sounds like the Wild West, Araujo warns that there are significant differences between the way the American West and the Brazilian Amazon were opened to development, and the land crazes playing out. afterward. Later, he said, “the federal government has never really succeeded, if it has ever tried, to put in place an efficient and legal system for allocating public land to the people. America [government] played an important role in systematically reviewing, if not controlling, the allocation of parcels and the record of that process to prevent major land disputes. I’m not arguing that it’s perfect, but it’s done in a more professional way in Brazil.”

The Amazon was essentially opened to major development in 1966 during Operation Amazonia, a forest settlement and development campaign that included the construction of roads to and from the interior. But in 1969, when an indigenous tribe massacred a farming family, the country was forced to develop a policy to protect their land from invasion. However, according to the Jornal do Brasil as quoted in Araujo’s book, this did not stop the afforesters and herders from having power relations in other states, who “demarcated large areas in a illegally, including Indian territory, and sold the land to the colonists without any action.” Other pioneers, simply by clearing the land, became its owners, the idea being that whoever cleared a piece of land became its owner, regardless of the law. This is known in Brazil as the “Land for the Landless”. Harm to nature is seen as the price of progress, and Araujo says in his book, “the world is concerned with the fate of the forest, but the immediate concern of many breadwinners. family is to get a job.”

Eventually, the government began to give preference to the big farms, no longer supporting the little guy, and by the early years of this century, soybeans had become a major crop, with exploitation iron or gold also contribute to the extraction of land (guard recent report about a 75-mile illegal road that cuts through an indigenous reserve to an outlawed gold mine). But because of this, the country is also becoming an agricultural superpower, and under the presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) exports have tripled.

There is hope going forward. Lula’s recent re-election means Bolsonaro’s destruction is over.

However, there was progress in the early years of this century when, says Araujo, “illegal deforestation has reached an all-time low, and the reason for that progress is the federal government. has allocated resources to combat the criminal networks behind the deforestation. .”

But that progress stalled under the rule of President Jair Bolsonaro when, Araujo claimed, “there was a real and purposeful attempt to destroy that capacity and knowledge, because he had eliminate key players and inadequately fund environmental agencies to combat active criminal networks. deep in the forest. As a result, deforestation skyrocketed and people reporting on these problems became targets.” Proof of this came last year, with murdered indigenous activist Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips, An incident has drawn international attention to the lawlessness that is taking place in the Amazon.

And there is still hope going forward. Lula’s recent re-election signaled an end to Bolsonaro’s devastation, and just days after his new term, Lula appointed an Amazon activist as environment minister and an indigenous woman as the environment minister. the country’s first indigenous minister. He also pledged that unlike his second term in the early 2000s, when he began serving farmers, he is now accepting proposals for conservation.

Can he make a real difference? “Lula faces many challenges,” said Araujo, “from sophisticated and violent crime to the pervasive mentality of the Amazon as a place to plunder. Ultimately, I think he has a chance to end illegal logging if the international community gets involved in the process of laying the groundwork for sustainable development. The Amazon requires a new whole-system-centric development model—the rainforest and its people, including indigenous peoples.”

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