SAO PAULO – Writer and activist Ailton Krenak, one of Brazil’s most prominent indigenous leaders, hopes that the Catholic Church’s Synod on the Amazon, which begins on Monday at The Vatican, provides concrete “results” and brings a “new perspective” to the environmental crisis in the region.
“The Synod is going to show that the Amazon is the common interest of humanity, that it’s not a special situation of Brazil, that it creates disequilibrium far beyond the devastation that’s occurring there,” Krenak told EFE during an interview in Sao Paulo.
Born along the Doce River in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais 66 years ago, Krenak said that it is “essential” for other voices abroad, like Pope Francis, “to remark on what is happening” in Brazil and provide that country with “guidelines” on how to deal with the “serious violence” against nature in the Amazon region.
Brazil’s Amazon, which encompasses 60 percent of the national territory, last August suffered the worst forest fires in the past decade.
The photos and videos of huge areas of forest burned by the flames were seen around the world and sparked protests from the international community vis-a-vis the inaction of the Brazilian government of ultrarightist President Jair Bolsonaro, who favors exploiting the region’s natural resources, just as do certain other nations.
Human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, have claimed that mafia organizations are behind the illegal lumbering, the fires in recent months and the deaths of activists in the Amazon basin.
Krenak said that the Synod, which will last until Oct. 27 with the participation of 185 of the so-called sinodal priests, along with 80 experts and observers, is calling attention to “the need” for “entities capable of promoting governance and management” in the vast territory, which is shared by nine nations.
“It’s land shared by assorted peoples, from different countries, and to date the most that has been achieved was to produce that Amazon cooperation treaty (the Leticia Pact),” which is “limited by the size of the tragedies that are occurring,” he said.
“In the face of this, another view is needed, another perspective. It can’t be that each country does what it wants,” and the Vatican Synod can help, he added.
According to Church figures, living in the approximately 7.5 million square kilometers (2.9 million square miles) of the Amazon – 15 times the area of Spain – are about three million Indians.
Krenak does not consider the Bolsonaro government to be a valid interlocutor for resolving the Amazon crisis since, in his opinion, “it dismantled the Environment Ministry,” “did away with the environmental control agencies” and “left everything in the hands of companies and exploiters of gold and precious stones.”
Bolsonaro said this past week that the international interest in the Amazon is not really aimed at preserving the ecosystem, but rather at securing the mineral resources that exist in the region.
“The interest in the Amazon is not in the Indian, or the bloody trees, it’s in the minerals,” said the president in an off-the-cuff speech before prospectors who were asking for federal protection to be able to keep working in Para, one of the nine Brazilian states making up the country’s Amazon region.
Krenak thinks that Brazil is going through “a serious lack of governance” regarding the environmental question and that Bolsonaro intends “to make that picture worse and more unsustainable” with certain initiatives like the bill to regularize small-scale mining on indigenous lands.
According to a recent report by the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi), an entity linked to the Catholic Church, invasions of indigenous lands in Brazil increased by 44 percent in the first nine months of 2019 coinciding with the period when Bolsonaro came to power and exceeding land invasions in all of 2018.
The organization blames that increase on Bolsonaro’s anti-ecological rhetoric and on the liberalization of mining activities in those territories begun under his predecessor, Michel Temer, who governed from 2016-2018.