The Amazon revisited
In the July 2020 Socialist Standard, we discussed the Yanomami indigenous people in the Amazon. Over the decades they have suffered enormously from diseases brought in by outsiders, who have also committed killings as a way of gaining access to resources such as gold. Earlier this year, a report ‘Yanomami Under Attack’ was published (socioambiental.medium.com). This details the further destruction of their land by mining.
The price of gold has increased, making mining it even more profitable, and in 2021 the extent of wildcat mining increased by almost half on the previous year. Over half the Yanomami population have been directly affected by this mining, and this involves both violence and the spreading of diseases such as malaria. More than 3,000 hectares of land has been destroyed by mining, to say nothing of land adversely impacted, much of it in close proximity to Yanomami villages. The Brazilian government under Bolsonaro is essentially on the side of the mining companies, expressing very negative and dismissive attitudes to indigenous peoples. He is a climate change denier who supports profit-making and has no regard for protection of the Amazon rainforest.
One of the most appalling aspects of the invasion by miners is their behaviour to young Yanomami women. They regard the women as ‘rewards’ for giving food to the indigenous families. One miner is quoted as saying, ‘If you have a daughter and give her to me, I will bring a large amount of food that you will eat! You will eat!’
A recent documentary film, The Territory, directed by Alex Pritz, deals with the Uru-eu-wau-wau people in a different area of the Amazon, further south. There are only just over a hundred of them now, and they are being confronted not by miners but by would-be settlers who have grandiose plans for building new towns in places they have claimed. The settlers are depicted in a not unsympathetic way in the film, as men who want to work on their own land rather than toiling away for a pittance on land belonging to others. The trouble is that this means clearing land used by the Uru-eu-wau-wau; drone photography is used to show the extent of the deforestation. The settlers have little understanding of the society they are attacking.
Ari, a man involved in surveillance of the invaders, is found murdered (his death is still unsolved). The Uru-eu-wau-wau fight back by destroying temporary homes built by the settlers, who react by saying that every time a building is destroyed, they will rebuild it. There are threats of violence against a non-indigenous woman who tries to defend the locals.
The Amazon rainforest is the world’s largest, and its gradual reduction in size has very serious implications for environmental issues such as biodiversity and global heating. The demand for profit risks not just the communities and lives of its indigenous inhabitants but the wellbeing of the planet and its people more generally.