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Fora Bolsonaro: The Death of the Amazon

by Matthew Magill

"How many lives will be gambled before Bolsonaro achieves his 'dream'? Will it end with the indigenous people, their children, or the future lives of the global community experiencing the ecological fallout from the death of the Amazon?"
Two indigenous protestors, an adult woman and a child, hold placards outside the Brazilian Embassy. The left reads "We Are Giving Our Lives For The Forests" and the second reads "I Am Nature" which is a quote from Davi Yanomami.
Protestors outside of the Brazilian Embassy in London (Image: Matthew Magill, 2022)

On the 4th of April, a crowd gathered outside the Embassy of Brazil in London to protest against the continued illegal mining of the Amazon and its effect on indigenous people.

Although an ongoing issue, the debate has been amplified by president Bolsonaro's recent proposal to legalise mining the rainforest.

That proposal in question is known as PL 191 and is at the heart of much of this debate. Translated from Portuguese, the Brazilian government website states the proposal is intended to:

"...establish the specific conditions for the realization of research and mining of mineral and hydrocarbon resources and for the use of water resources for the generation of electricity in indigenous lands and establishes compensation for the restriction of the enjoyment of indigenous lands"

There are three key points of this overview. The simplest aspect is the use of "hydrocarbon resources" to refer to the mining of petroleum and natural gas. After that, things become more complex.

Potássio [Potassium]

The "mining of mineral...resources" refers to potassium and other components found in agricultural fertilizers. This is due to Brazil being comprised of 41% agricultural land as of 2020, a significant statistic for the largest country in the southern hemisphere, yet only producing 2% of the world's fertilizer.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, economic sanctions have been placed on the country which has hindered its trading power. For Brazil, this has resulted in an uncertain future regarding their imports of potassium chloride fertilizer from Russia, which provided up to 34% of the total Brazilian import for 2021.

In 2020 Brazil was the largest global exporter of soybeans and raw sugar but was also the largest importer of mixed mineral or chemical fertilizers.

Bolsonaro has played upon this economic balance by retweeting his address in 2016 as a deputy, voicing his concerns on "potassium and food security" which concludes, he claims, with three problems: "...environment, indigenous people, and who owns the exploratory right at the mouth of the Madeira River".

Bolsonaro's "dream" for the Amazon, of transforming it into a complex mining operation in part to reduce reliance on these Russian imports, has been described by Indigenous leaders as an act of genocide.

Drummers from Baque de Axé line the street. The italian flag from a distant embassy is seen in the background. Their drums are  green and red patterned, supported by bands of rope, and are held to the upper thigh. They are roughly the size of a large waste paper basket.
Baque de Axé playing maracatu "the music of resistance" (Image: Matthew Magill, 2022)

That is the extent of Bolsonaro's concern for the lives, culture, and history of the indigenous people.

The ex-military leader has implied in the past that indigenous people are sub-human and, despite publicity appeals, he has applied a similar disregard in his policies.

One such case was placing FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio), a government protection group for indigenous people and culture, under the Agricultural Ministry which is responsible for the expansion of crop production, in a clear bid for diminishing their power through hierarchal interests.

While this was later overturned by Congress, Bolsonaro's politically charged decisions continued into 2020 by appointing a former evangelical missionary as head of FUNAI's isolated tribe department.