Reporting the catastrophe

As the Amazon burns, who are our correspondents?

Dear friends,

Of all the many horrors and crises coming before us, from all over the world, right now; could anything feel more crushingly terminal than the razing of the Amazon rainforest? The fires we’re hearing about right now are a severe amplification of the persistent deforestation of the Amazon, a process that’s been accelerated by Brazil’s fascist President Jair Bolsonaro’s deliberate intention to make the rainforest more profitable for multinational capital and to exterminate Indigenous people.

Hope and justice surely lies in hearing the story from the mouths of the Indigenous people who have been fighting the rampant deforestation of the past decades - like the Mura, who told Reuters this week that they will ‘fight to the last drop of blood’ for their home, and the Kerexu, who told freelance correspondent Michael Fox, for The Sierra Club, that “We know our struggle will be arduous. Maybe many of our leaders will be killed, but we are organized. And we are going to defend our rights.”

Here’s an excerpt from a statement made by The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil - APIB) of Brazil, a self-directed organisation of Indigenous people in Brazil. Note their specific description and analysis of the electoral, legislative, political, and cultural machinations that have led to this moment:

“As the Amazon burns, Brazil’s indigenous peoples are being heard, after decades spent reporting violations of our rights that have led to so much suffering.

Loggers, miners, bio-prospectors and agro-industrial landowners are supported by a powerful lobby in the National Congress, with more than 200 congressional representatives under their influence, and big entrepreneurs such as those operating hydroelectric projects, are posing terrible new threats, intensified by the anti-indigenous and anti-environmentalist policies of the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which seems to normalize and inspire violence against the environment and against our territories and against us, the indigenous people of Brazil.

These policies have fueled a considerable increase in the incidence of fires in Brazil, which have grown by 82% since 2018, the highest in seven years, according to data generated by  Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE). The fires in the Amazon have shocked the world. To us they represent a crime against humanity.

Deforestation in the Amazon is closely linked to fire. The ten counties in the Brazilian Amazon region experiencing the greatest number of fires also represent 43% of all deforestation detected so far this year. …

We know that indigenous territories are the best preserved in the world. In the Brazilian Amazon, communities protect 27% of standing forests, many in reserves that provide 5.2 billion tons of water per day. Indigenous land rights serve as barriers against logging and the damage caused by agro-industry to the forests and to biodiversity. …

The United Nations (UN) report on climate change has, for the first time cited the strengthening of indigenous peoples 'and local communities' land rights as a solution to the climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land, released in early August, recognized that strong land rights, our traditional knowledge and sustainable management of our lands and forests are indispensable to reducing global emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

We are putting our bodies and our lives on the line. If we disappear, so will the the world’s tropical forests, since where there is indigenous life, there is standing forest, despite the constant and growing attacks that our territories suffer every day.”

The Articulation also refers to the recent massive demonstration of Indigenous women in Brasilia, the country’s capital:

“To stand up to attacks on our peoples and our lands, Brazil’s indigenous women traveled to Brasilia in August, often for days to join a march for our rights. We demanded our the government respond to climate change, that our rights be respected and improved access to health services. We were led by the example of Joenia Wapichana, a federal deputy we elected last year to the National Congress.

In the coming weeks a delegation of Indigenous peoples from Brazil will travel to the European Union to report to the world the violations that indigenous peoples in Brazil have suffered since the beginning of the Bolsonaro Government. …

To survive we need national and international public opinion on our side; we need the support of Brazilian institutions and we need international courts to rule in our favor.”

Via Beyond the Shadows, friend of this newsletter Nicole Froio has reports from the ground that:

- 16 groups indigenous groups are being affected in the Amazonia area,

- they report difficulty breathing and walking around the rainforest due to smoke,

- many animals are dying and indigenous land is being destroyed,

- this is the result of the weakening of climate policies and the destruction of indigenous rights in Brazil,

- one of the people interviewed … said they cannot see the clouds at night because of the smoke, and

- they also said they need to put buckets of water in their room due to the bad quality of air.

Nicole also asks consumers to consider how the crisis is being imaged in the global media - be it the viral video of a member of the Pataxó people pointing to a fire in the Naô Xohã village in July that was incorrectly circulated as current footage from the Amazon region, or the over-valorization and centering of Western European commitments to ‘save’ the rainforest.

See also:

It’s going to be critical, as this fight for the planet moves forward, that Indigenous voices are in the lead of the global response. Organizations like the APIB are agile, well-organized, multi-lingual and easily reachable - there’s no excuse for broadcast media to not centre their voices. I’ll report again on coverage of the fight for the Amazon in the coming months.

On that note, I’d like to thank you all once again for staying with me on the journey of this newsletter. Looks like, instead of publishing twice a month with ‘extra’ content for paying subscribers, I’m doing this once a month and making each one public. This has shown itself to be the best way of gaining readers and building a critical community around the purpose and future of foreign correspondence. I realised that most paying subscribers very kindly do so as a gesture of general support for the work rather than in order to access exclusive content. Do get in touch if you have any thoughts on this, as those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning know, this thing is in ongoing development :-)


Abrazos from a cloudy Monday afternoon in Mexico City,


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Jamie Larson