Monday, August 26, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president, rejected an aid package pledged by G7 countries to help combat the forest fires in the Amazon. Unlike the recurring forest fires in British Columbia or California, these fires are anything but natural; many of them were lit intentionally to clear areas for soy and cattle farming. They reportedly began on August 10, after farmers organized a “day of fire” to burn tracts of land previously cleared for farming, but the fires have continued to spread at alarming rates throughout the rainforest.
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, over 76,000 fires are currently burning through the Amazon, which represents an 80 per cent increase compared to last year. The Amazon is the largest rainforest on the planet, and its ecological cycles regulate both regional and global climates. The destruction of even a small portion of this rainforest is accelerating the climate crisis and posing devastating environmental consequences that ultimately impact marginalized groups and Indigenous peoples the most
Conversations about the climate crisis tend to frame it as an unstoppable force, and the discourse surrounding the Amazon fires is no different. The blame is put on individuals to adopt different lifestyles and diets, ranging from veganism to the ban of single-use plastic. While these should be encouraged, we must keep in mind that only 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions. The companies who produce and directly benefit from these fires, mainly within the agribusiness and mining sectors, should be the ones held accountable. These companies work hand in hand with the farright Brazilian government and have a shared interest in not only the destruction of the rainforest, but in the theft of land from and killing of Indigenous peoples.
Bolsonaro’s policies, which encourage deforestation for the development of agricultural land, are directly responsible for the spread of fires in the past few weeks. The fascist and antiIndigenous agenda of the government was made explicit in documents recently leaked by openDemocracy. According to the documents, Bolsonaro is promoting specific construction efforts and propaganda campaigns that serve to stop conservation efforts in the Amazon. The leaked presentation expresses the Brazilian government’s opposition to “globalist” efforts working with Indigenous peoples to “relativiz[e] the National Sovereignty in the Amazon basin,” and asserts the need for efforts including “psychological oppression” to oppose this movement. Under Bolsonaro, environmental regulations were also loosened, cutting penalties for breaking regulations and giving greater freedom to deforest. His environmental minister, Ricardo Salles, has also amended the Forest Law to expedite the granting of licenses to clear-cut the rainforest.
On August 26, Trudeau announced at the G7 Summit that Canada was pledging “$15 million and water bombers” to help combat the fires. This announcement was received with praise, as Canada remains seen as a leader in environmental protection. However, Trudeau’s government has simultaneously refused to halt negotiations with MERCOSUR, a South American, Brazilian-led trade block. Other countries, such as France and Ireland, decided to postpone the ratification of any agreement until Bolsonaro takes action to stop the fires, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh demanded Canada halt the negotiations in an effort to apply international pressure on Brazil.
Trudeau said at the G7 summit that it is imperative for world leaders to “act for our planet,” and joined other Western leaders in publicly criticizing Brazil for its lack of action. Canada’s blatant hypocrisy not only enables Bolsonaro’s eco-fascist agenda, it also supports it by maintaining trade negotiations that directly concern the same companies that are destroying the Amazon forest. Furthermore, Canada’s actions render it complicit in the theft of land from and killing of Indigenous peoples, whose voices are being deliberately stifled by the Brazilian government.
Indigenous peoples who are voicing their criticisms and resisting occupation of their land are being criminalized under Bolsonaro. As a result of the loosening of environmental regulations, farmers and loggers, who are encouraged to seize Indigenous land for profit, have threatened and attacked Indigenous groups. Máximo França, a member of the Baré Indigneous people from the Amazonas state, explained, “we are facing a process of genocide with this government, also a process of ecocide.” “They are killing us every day; they are killing us with the fire that is happening, they are killing us when they displace us from our territories, when they invade our territories.”
Any discussion of the Amazon fires should be centred around Indigenous peoples’ struggle for liberation. The theft of land from, displacement, and intentional killing of Indigenous peoples in the region is directly connected to its destruction. Raoni Metuktire, an Indigenous Brazilian environmentalist and chief of the Kayapo people, states that the fires started by farmers across the region are a direct response to Bolsonaro’s fascist propaganda. He calls for international pressure on Bolsonaro and eventually for the deposition of the president through Congress and denounces “the anti-indigenous government of Jair Bolsonaro, who normalizes, incites and empowers violence against the environment and against us.”
The most effective way to help combat the destruction of the Amazon is to give space to Indigenous voices who have been relentlessly opposing the eco-fascist actions of the Brazilian government. Further, anti-colonial and environmental activism are inherently linked. Groups have already been organizing protests in front of the buildings of some of the major corporations investing in the Amazon. You can research what complicit companies are in your area and mobilize to pressure them into divesting from projects within the Amazon. You can also donate to Indigenous groups, rather than international NGOs like Greenpeace and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, whose funds are rarely allocated directly to the communities affected.