Category Archives: Amazon

Slaves to deforestation: Labor abuses fuel Brazil’s Amazon destruction

Brazilian labor inspectors and police find workers in slavery-like conditions in the makeshift camp where they were living while building structures with illegally logged timber, in the state of Para, Brazil, June 25, 2021. Handout/Magno Riga

RIO DE JANEIRO, – When labor inspectors arrived in a rural area of the Brazilian Amazon state of Para in late June, they expected to rescue illegal loggers working in slavery-like conditions. But the trees were already cut down and the loggers gone.

Instead, the officials from Brazil’s anti-slavery mobile enforcement group found four men and a boy of 15 building fences and cattle sheds nearby with the illegal timber, on the orders of a local farmer who kept them in a ramshackle camp.

“They had no water, they had no bathrooms,” said Magno Riga, the inspector in charge of the rescue. “They told us they had never been in such a precarious condition.”

Deforestation surged in Brazil after right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, giving a green light to mining and agriculture in protected parts of the Amazon and weakening environmental enforcement agencies.

But while the forest loss itself sparked international outcry among foreign governments and the public, little attention has been paid to the labor abuses underpinning the practice, legal specialists told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Historically, Para is the state where workers are most often found in slavery-like conditions, accounting for at least 13,259 of a total of 56,000 people found across Brazil since 1995.

The state is also a hot-spot for deforestation, topping the list for Amazon region states since 2006, government data shows.

“The relationship (between deforestation and slavery) is permanent,” said Lys Sobral Cardoso, who leads anti-slavery efforts at Brazil’s Labor Prosecutor’s Office, an independent body of public officials.

“It has been that way for 20 to 30 years,” she added.

CATTLE AND MINES

While there is no hard data on deforestation and slave labor, more than 1,324 workers have been rescued from slavery-like conditions while felling wood from native forests since 1995, said Mauricio Krepsky, head of the government’s Division of Inspection for the Eradication of Slave Labor.

But there are likely many more such cases going undetected, said Krepsky, as inspectors find it hard to get information and rescue workers in remote areas where most deforestation occurs.

“Many workers do not report (their employers) for fear of not getting more work or even of being murdered,” he said.

In 2019, when deforestation jumped, 12 workers were rescued in Para and 17 in Roraima, both Amazon states, with several more rescues carried out since.

Traditionally, unscrupulous farmers have used slave labor to clear land for cattle, which feeds Brazil’s powerful meat-packing industry – but recently mining is also attracting attention from the authorities as a driver of deforestation.

“We do not have consolidated data saying that there is deforestation in all (illegal) mining areas, but in all cases in which I worked, there was deforestation,” said Cardoso, who has worked on about 20 such cases.

As illegal logging and gold mining – both highly profitable industries – have expanded in the Amazon, labor officials have stepped up efforts to tackle the slavery issue.

In 2018, Brazil set up the Labor Prosecutor’s Office to fight abusive working conditions in illegal mines.

On July 28 this year, more than 100 federal police officers drove to a farm in Para, near the city of Ourilandia, to investigate reports of a huge illegal gold mining operation.

“The whole area was deforested illegally,” said labor prosecutor Edelamare Melo, who took part in the raid.

During the operation, federal police arrested six men found responsible for the illegal mining and apprehended machinery. Melo interviewed about 50 workers who were left in the mine but many others fled as soon as they saw the police arrive.

Besides living in flimsy sheds without walls, the workers had no protective gear and drank water left over from the mining process, which Melo said was likely contaminated by mercury.

“All this forms the conditions for slave labor,” she added.

Slavery in Brazil is defined as forced labor but also includes degrading work conditions, long hours posing a health risk or work that violates human dignity.

NO ALTERNATIVES

Three workers from the raided illegal gold mine were sent to a halfway house for rescued slaves in Maraba, in Para state, run by the Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT), a Catholic charity that has pioneered anti-slavery efforts in Brazil.

Like most workers rescued from activities linked to deforestation, they were from neighboring states with few employment opportunities, said Geuza Morgado from the CPT.

“We’ve had cases of people being rescued for a second or third time,” said Morgado. “The standard story is that in their towns there are no jobs, so they need to migrate.”

The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, the CPT and Para’s State Commission for the Eradication of Slavery (Coetrae-PA) have all run programs among workers to raise awareness of their rights and slave labor in Para and neighboring states.

But the impact is limited due to a dearth of other job opportunities, said Leila Silva, a social activist in Para and Coetrae-PA member from 2013 to 2020.

“They don’t have access to an alternative,” said Silva. “To break (the cycle) we need effective public policies.”

States and cities should offer job training to rescued workers so they can build a better life, she said.

“Some want to study, but they have no access to a school. So they go back to the slavery cycle,” she explained.

Riga, who rescued the four men and the teenager in Para, sees little chance of a brighter future for them and others trapped in similar slave-like conditions.

“There’s a huge demand for this sort of work, and they live off of it,” he said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210823120004-rbvx7/

How to help the pandemic-stricken Amazon? ‘Amazonize yourself,’ says new campaign

A file photo shows smoke billowing from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Brazil. (CNS/Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

Catholic groups and bishops in the Amazon have teamed with actors, academics and indigenous communities to call for attention, as well as action, to the growing threats to life in the region, as they say illegal mining and land grabbing have only intensified with the coronavirus pandemic.

A new campaign, called “Amazoniza-te,” or “Amazonize yourself,” seeks to raise awareness of the many ways that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, endangers communities and forests in the globally critical biome. It brings together a coalition of Catholic groups, indigenous peoples, scientists, researchers, actors and artists in defense of the Amazon. 

The goal of the campaign, Fr. Dário Bossi of Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) Brazil told EarthBeat, is to sensitize the public, both in the Amazon and internationally, to the present reality in the Amazon — a place threatened both by the surging pandemic and continued rises in industrial activity and government deregulation.

“We are facing a situation where deforestation and land grabbing, fires, legal and illegal mining are being intensified, becoming agents of proliferation of coronavirus in the Amazon region communities,” organizers said in a press release.

Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, said the campaign is an opportunity for people worldwide to express solidarity with the rainforest and its peoples at a crucial moment.

“In this invitation to ‘Amazonize,’ we want to overcome the systematic violation of environmental protection legislation and the dismantling of public bodies by government action to deregulate and illegally expand the activities of mining companies, agribusiness, loggers and ranchers in the region,” the archbishop of Brazil’s Belo Horizonte Diocese said in a statement.

The campaign is the latest initiative by the Amazon church to act on the special synod on the Amazon, held in October 2019 at the Vatican. The synod, called by Pope Francis, drew worldwide attention to the plights facing the people and natural resources of the Amazon Basin.

The Amazon has become an epicenter of the pandemic in South America.

Across the nine-country region, there have been more than 27,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among their indigenous populations, and 1,108 people have died, according to data from official sources compiled by REPAM. Many believe the actual figures are much higher, as testing has been insufficient and people with symptoms of the virus die at home rather than a hospital.

In a May 4 letter, more than 60 Brazilian bishops, including Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, expressed their “immense concern” with the spread of the virus and the responses from the federal and state governments. The prelates said limited access to hospitals and the lack of intensive care unit beds has made COVID-19 more deadly to indigenous peoples — already more vulnerable from lower immunity to infections, especially within intentionally isolated tribes. Reports have also linked government health workers with inadvertently spreading the virus among indigenous populations in Brazil, as has transportation along the Amazon River itself.

The pandemic’s spread in the Amazon puts at risk the rainforest as well, as indigenous people have long served as its primary protectors and conservationists. Organizers with the “Amazonize-te” campaign say that the increased presence in the region of miners, loggers, ranchers and farmers has also contributed to the coronavirus’ spread.

“The coronavirus has exacerbated the existing socio-environmental crisis, meaning we are now starting to see an immense humanitarian tragedy caused by a structural collapse. With the Amazon being more and more deforested each day, successive pandemics even worse than this one may come,” the bishops said in their letter.

Although the bishops did not name specific government officials, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been the target of national and international criticism for his downplaying of the pandemic. In early July, Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19.

In a separate letter, leaked to Brazilian media July 26, almost one third of the country’s 450-plus bishops criticized Bolsonaro and his government’s “inaction and omission” in responding to the pandemic, along with their handling of the rash of crises facing its citizens and lands.

As the coronavirus has spread, Bolsonaro has continued steps to block indigenous people from their traditional lands and has loosened environmental and economic regulations in the Amazon. Critics have accused the Brazilian government of using the pandemic as cover for development encroaching farther onto indigenous lands, including recent efforts to sidestep required consultations with local communities to build electrical lines through the rainforest to power mining operations.

“At a time when governments should be looking to protect the most vulnerable, the Brazilian leadership is using it as an excuse to bulldoze through actions which will have a devastating impact on people and the planet,” Moises Gonzalez with the U.K.-based Christian Aid said in a statement July 16.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/how-help-pandemic-stricken-amazon-amazonize-yourself-says-new-campaign

Pope Francis prays for ‘daring prudence’ during Amazon synod

2290676D-041B-4E20-8AF6-735872F8FF8FPope Francis at the opening Mass for the Amazon synod Oct. 6, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

.- At the opening Mass for the Amazon synod Sunday, Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit would give the bishops prudence, wisdom, and discernment to help the Church in the Pan-Amazonian region be renewed by the fire of faith.

“Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 6. “It is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit.”

“Fidelity to the newness of the Spirit is a grace that we must ask for in prayer. May the Spirit, who makes all things new, give us his own daring prudence; may he inspire our Synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.”

The Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region is taking place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27. Bishops, priests, lay experts, and religious men and women, will meet to discuss issues of importance to the Church in the Amazon, including a lack of priestly vocations, ecological challenges, and obstacles to evangelization.

Present at the Mass Oct. 6 were the synod fathers and the 13 cardinals created in a consistory Oct. 5.

In his homily, Pope Francis pointed to the Old Testament episode of the burning bush to show that “God’s fire burns, yet does not consume.”

“It is the fire of love that illumines, warms and gives life, not a fire that blazes up and devours. When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect, it is not God’s fire but that of the world,” he said, condemning the times people have colonized others instead of evangelizing them.

“May God preserve us from the greed of new forms of colonialism,” he continued. “The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel. The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity.”

Francis reflected on St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, in which the apostle says: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”

Addressing bishops, the pope said they are not bureaucrats and their episcopal ordination is not an employment contract, but “a gift of God.”

This gift, he explained, is for service of others, not for personal gain. “We received a gift so that we might become a gift.”

“To be faithful to our calling, our mission, Saint Paul reminds us that our gift has to be rekindled,” the pope stated, adding that the status quo smothers the missionary fire.

There is also, he said, a kind of destructive “fire” that wants everything and everyone to be the same. It “blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, for their own group, wipe out differences…””

Instead, “the fire that rekindles the gift is the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts.”

He quoted St. Paul again, who says, “do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, but take your share of suffering for the Gospel in the power of God.”

“Paul asks Timothy to bear witness to the Gospel, to suffer for the Gospel, in a word, to live for the Gospel,” he said. “To preach the Gospel is to live as an offering, to bear witness to the end, to become all things to all people (cf. 1 Cor 9:22), to love even to the point of martyrdom.”

Praising especially those martyrs who died in the Amazon, he said, “for them, and with them, let us journey together.”

After Mass, Pope Francis led a traditional Marian prayer, the Angelus, from a window in the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

He reflected on the day’s Gospel passage, which contains the apostles’ request to Jesus to “increase our faith.”

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-prays-for-daring-prudence-during-amazon-synod-44018