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Brazil’s Indigenous warn against Amazon deforestation


Courtesy Photo: Carlos Saque Dias

Adriano Karipuna, a Brazilian indigenous and climate activist, is seeking international support before it is too late to save the world’s largest rainforest. The following quotes from Adriano have been translated, and were communicated via direct messages.

“The last four years were the most deforested and threatened by invasion, our rivers are contaminated by mercury, many animals are disappearing, and our trees are dying,” said Adriano Karipuna, a Brazilian indigenous activist fighting globally to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Adriano Karipuna, a Brazilian indigenous activist fighting against the deforestation of the Amazon, poses for a portrait in the Karipuna village in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, in August, 2022. Photo: Carlos Saque Dias

Adriano Karipuna, a Brazilian indigenous activist fighting against the deforestation of the Amazon, poses for a portrait in the Karipuna village in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, in August, 2022. Photo: Carlos Saque Dias

Adriano is one of the leaders of the Karipuna Indigenous people, a group located in the Porto Velho Rondônia region of northwest Brazil in the upper Amazon river basin. Prior to Adriano’s leadership, the Karipuna did not address their struggles with the world regarding their struggles and fear, but that changed in 2018 when Adriano addressed the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous People in a plea to gather international support for the at-risk rainforest.

The Karipuna lived in isolation until the 1970s when expanding farming and logging activities brought non-Native people into their area of the rainforest. This exposed the Karipuna to violence and disease, and today their tribe consists of less than 60 living members. But regardless of their size, Adriano explains, “My Karipuna indigenous people are protecting 153 thousand hectares of Amazon Forest, and we have very little support from the government.” While the Karipuna’s land is officially recognized by the Brazilian government, it is consistently one of the most illegally deforested territories within Brazil and Adriano claims the government has failed to intervene.

Despite brief publicity gained at the UN over four years ago, the Karipuna argue nothing has improved within the Brazilian Amazon, a result of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019. In fact, new reports claim that 2021 hit new records for Brazilian Amazon deforestation — up 20 percent from the previous year. Mapbiomas, the Brazil-based organization made up of universities, NGOs and tech companies, explained in their 2022 report that in Brazil alone, “111.6 hectares were deforested per hour or 1.9 hectares per minute, which is equivalent to about 18 trees per second.” Further, Brazil’s space research agency (INPE), used satellite imagery to record deforestation within the first three months of 2022 that showed a 64% increase compared to the previous year. Bolsonaro has kept true to his promise of opening up the Amazon to mining and agriculture, and thus legal deforestation has increased. And many within Brazil, such as Adriano, believe illegal deforestation has also increased in the last few years due to the current administration’s lack of accountability for illegal loggers and farmers.

At this shocking rate, Adriano is continuing to see how he can protect the Amazon and is planning to return to Europe within the next month to attend panels on climate change. He views these conferences as crucial opportunities to hold the Brazilian government accountable. “The Brazilian government has not complied with international agreements protecting the forest and Indigenous peoples.”

Besides speaking to the UN and other overseas organizations, the Karipuna have fought for legal protection within Brazil’s courts. This year the Karipuna filed a lawsuit against the Brazilian government, their province, and FUNAI (the national agency for the protection of Indigenous peoples in Brazil) citing a lack of protection against illegal logging. As a representative of his people, Adriano is currently in law school to better understand the legal system in order to continue to defend his people beyond this lawsuit. In fact, at the time of communication, Adriano was traveling overnight out of the Amazon into the city to attend his legal studies classes.

Of course the Karipuna and their region are not alone in facing the impacts of environmental degradation. Lavinia Candido Neves was born and raised in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas — Brazil’s largest province. Located in Northern Brazil, it is the only city located within the Amazon with a population of over one million people.

Neves explains, “The consequences of deforestation in my community are visible in several daily activities, such as the proliferation of diseases related to the quality of the air and raw materials, in addition to the climate changes that have taken place in recent years, increasing the temperature, compromising the flow and volume of water and affecting a mass of people who use natural resources to generate their main income.”

While forest degradation is not a new problem, Neves believes these practices have become “increasingly brazen,” a critique many have of Brazil’s government under the current conservative administration.

Despite these claims, the Brazilian government asserts that things are improving and the government is interfering where necessary. The most recent Brazilian environmental protection policy was introduced by the government in April 2021 when they shared “The Amazon Plan.” This plan was introduced by Vice President Hamilton Mourão, of the controversial Bolnasaro administration, and prioritizes mitigating deforestation in 60 percent of the Amazon. Its most ambitious goal is to lower deforestation to the level it was at in 2016, yet critics were quick to point out the lack of enforcement.

Adriano spoke about these latest environmental promises from the Brazilian government and said, “Brazil has lied to other countries saying it will end deforestation.” He believes those speaking out against the government are more endangered than ever. Adriano explains that recently many indigenous people have been murdered by invaders seeking to take the land, likely due to Brazil’s increasingly lax arms policies, and says these murders have failed to reach justice.

Adriano’s statements regarding murder in the Amazon comes after the global outcry in June 2022 when British journalist, Dom Phillips, and Brazilian indigenist, Bruno Pereira, were murdered while journeying through the Amazon gathering information for a piece on illegal deforestation. Although suspects were charged with the murder, the story has raised many questions within the public regarding “the truth” Phillips and Pereira were aiming to uncover prior to his tragic death.

As the world’s largest rainforest, deforestation in the Amazon carries global impacts, but the scale of these impacts is often unfathomable to scientists. J. Keith Gilless, a professor of Forest Economics at UC Berkeley and former Dean within their College of Natural Resources, highlights what he believes are the two greatest threats when addressing deforestation; loss of biodiversity and carbon floods.

“The biggest loss is that whenever you are deforesting in the tropics you are promoting the loss of biodiversity,” said Gilless. “The Amazon is one of the great hubs of biodiversity and the biodiversity of the Amazon is great enough that we don’t know what we are losing until we have lost it.” These ecosystem changes are unpredictable and unprecedented.

Secondly, the carbon floods set off a chain of events that will greatly contribute to climate change. Gilless explains that “a mature rainforest is a big carbon account. The process of deforestation sets in motion a chain of events that makes the area a tremendous carbon emitter.” This flux of carbon that will be sent into the atmosphere has large scale global effects. In fact, deforestation is second only to the burning of fossil fuels in regards to carbon emissions — something scientists directly link to climate change.

As deforestation continues to increase, threatening locals and the global climate alike, scientists believe the time to save the Amazon is limited. Until the evidence points in a positive direction, individual activists like Adriano are continuing to spread their message in hopes of garnering support. Adriano reminds readers abroad: My Karipuna people need help, and our forest is very threatened.”

Copyright 2022


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