Our world hangs on a decision controlled by the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF). At this writing, the STF is reviewing a case filed by the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. It would require Xokleng, Guarani and Kaingang Peoples to prove ownership of their ancestral territory in the Amazon Rainforest. If these Indigenous Peoples cannot prove ownership of their land, then Santa Catarina can remove them from it and allow leveling of the Amazon followed by further corporate development—mining, drilling and industrial agriculture.
Indigenous people do not have documents that prove ownership of their land. Requiring a proof of ownership from them is like requiring a tree (good for new-home framing, utility poles and/or smelting ores) to show proof of its existence—or get cut down.
Santa Catarina’s government claims that the Xokleng People “invaded” the land in question in 2009. The Xokleng People claim that while agribusiness has diminished their territory, they have never left the area. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has said that relative to their population, Indigenous People control far too much land.
A lower court ruled that the Xokleng group did not occupy the land in Santa Catarina in 1988 when Brazil returned to democracy and its constitution was signed. If the STF overturns the lower court’s ruling, certain lands in the Amazon “could cease to be productive.”1
The STF’s decision on the Santa Catarina case will set a precedent for Bill (PL) 490/2007, a law that would allow Brazil’s federal government to remove Indigenous Peoples throughout the Amazon if they cannot prove ownership of their homeland.2
The Amazon Rainforest—the lungs of the Earth—plays a crucial role in regulating global oxygen and carbon cycles. No other rainforest holds as many species. Industrial manufacturing, deforestation, cattle ranching and mining continue to alter the Amazon rainforest. After centuries of colonization and burning to make way for industrial development, this ecosystem now emits more CO2 than it absorbs, thereby endangering the entire planet.
In 2007, Brazil voted in support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. PL 490 threatens respectful engagement with Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon. It threatens their continued existence. If they are removed, who will manage and protect the rainforest?
In mid-August, more than 6000 people from at least 173 tribes gathered in Brasilia to hear the STF’s decision and to stand for their rights. The STF said that it would announce its decision on August 25, 2021. On August 25, the STF said that it would announce its decision “later.” On August 26th, the Court said that it will interview 39 more people, and announce its decision on September 1st. On September 1st, the Court had not yet completed the 39 interviews.
First comes deforestation, then comes fire
In 2021, 267 major fires have been detected throughout the Amazon, burning more than 105,000 hectares (260,000 acres)—an area about the size of Los Angeles.
According to MAAP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project), 67% of major fires in the Brazilian rainforest have burned recently deforested areas: first came deforestation, then came fires that burn the remains (the stumps) of freshly cut trees. MAAP has also documented major fires in the natural grasslands of the eastern Brazilian Amazon. Most of these fires have occurred in Indigenous Territories, such as Xingu and Kayapó. Because of the Brazilian government’s ban on unauthorized outdoor fires, MAAP assumes that most of the 160 major fires that started after June 27 have been illegal.
Who’s lobbying for what?
In De Olho nos Ruralistras, Priscilla Arroyo reports that many trans-national corporations are funding lobbyists to pressure Brazil’s Supreme Court to vote in favor of Santa Catarina’s case and PL 490/2007, to remove Indigenous land rights and allow for further agribusiness and monocrop development of the Amazon. 3 These corporations include: Germany’s Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, a world leader in seeds and pesticides, including Roundup; BASF, which processes and exports Brazilian grains and vegetable oils; Souza Cruz and Philip Morris, members of the Brazilian Tobacco Industry Association; the André Maggi group, which helps fund the Brazilian Association of Soy Seed Producers (APRASS); Duratex, which produces wood panels; Klabin, which produces and exports paper; DowDuPont, which manufactures coolants, lubricants, plastics, construction materials and perfluorinated chemicals (PFOAs) for Teflon pans and solar panels; and Cargill, one of the world’s top producers and distributors of sugar, refined oil, cotton, chocolate and salt.
Why do executives and shareholders of these corporations prefer short-term profits to preserving the Amazon?
“Ecocide” is mass damage and destruction of ecosystems—severe, widespread or long-term harm to nature. In most of the world, no one is held personally responsible for it. Stop Ecocide International (SEI) proposes making ecocide an international crime, along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. While suing corporations for ecological harm currently results in fines, making ecocide a crime at the International Criminal Court (ICC) would create an arrestable offense. It would make individual corporate or government leaders whose decisions or acts lead to severe environmental harm liable to criminal prosecution. If enacted, then individuals could be charged for ecocide and jailed for ecocidal acts.
Would enacting this law change corporate practices and slow or stop environmental harms?
I start my day. I turn on lights, open my fridge. What kind of fuel does my utility use to deliver electricity to me? (I know that there is no “clean” fuel, since manufacturing solar PV and industrial wind systems requires extracting minerals and fossil fuels; operating these intermittent “renewables” requires backup power, usually from natural gas; and neither solar panels nor industrial wind turbine blades biodegrade).
I wash my face. Where were the soap’s oils and herbs grown? Who drilled the petroleum for its plastic container? I cook rice. Who grew the grains? Where did the natural gas come from to heat my pot? What waterways were poisoned by fracking this gas?
I power up my computer to research this article. Did the petroleum coke for smelting its silicon transistors come from the Tar Sands? Did the copper in its circuit board come from Chile? Did the circuit board’s gold come from the Amazon?
Was the iron for my car’s steel body mined in the Amazon? Where did its tires’ rubber originate? Did Amazonian bitumen go into the roads I drive?
I look around my house, filled with computers, appliances, books, clothes and other things with international supply chains. Decades ago, the ecological economist Herman Daly suggested, “Do not take from the Earth faster than it can replenish. Do not waste faster than the Earth can absorb the waste.”
I don’t know how to live by that principle. Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon still know.
Yanomami elder Davi Kopemawa Yanomami warns, “If the forest is destroyed, there will be no rain. Without rain, there is nothing to drink or eat.”4
Meanwhile, corporations that supply much of our world with soy, beef, wood, minerals and chemicals perceive that their survival depends on destroying the forest. Reality is complex. Some people in the Amazon perceive that their survival depends on jobs that cause deforestation.
How/can we commit to the systemic transformations required to protect Nature for the benefit of all people and the Earth?
At this writing, the Brazilian Supreme Court says that it will announce its decision on September 8th. If it supports Santa Catarina’s case (and PL 490/2007), why hold COP26?
1 Debora Alvares and David Biller, Brazil’s Indigenous march to pressure court on land ruling, AP News, August 25, 2021.
2 “Keeping an Eye on the Ruralists,” by Mariana Franco Ramos, De Olho nos Ruralistras, August 27, 2021.
3 Priscilla Arroyo, “Multinacionais sao financiadoras ocultas da Frente Parlamentar da Agropecuaria,” De Olho Nos Ruralistas, 21/05/2019 (updated 16/06/2020). English: “Multinationals are hidden funders of the Parliamentary Agricultural Front.”
4 Misgovernment turned genocide into a project and found an echo, says indigenous teacher, by Mariana Franco Ramos, De Olho nos Ruralistas, 6.26.21.