The Brazilian government has deployed military planes equipped with firefighting equipment and 44,000 troops in an effort to put out the fires currently destroying large portions of the Amazon rainforest. These fires had been allowed to burn unhindered until international backlash forced President Jair Bolsonaro to make a genuine effort at mitigating the damage to both the rainforest and to his reputation. Despite claiming to have “zero tolerance” for those accused of environmental crimes, Bolsonaro has himself been fined for fishing in a protected area (Londoño 2019). In addition, Bolsonaro has actually called for the abolition of environmental protections, and has expressed the desire to allow industries to more freely access protected areas. Under his regime, those in the mining, logging, and farming industries have felt free to destroy portions of the Amazon to further their own interests.
Pictured: One small portion of the expansive rainforest fire (Londoño 2019)
President Bolsonaro’s lack of regard for the preservation of the rainforest is only tempered by his concern for the economic status of Brazil. He had initially dismissed concerns about the forest fires, but announced the military intervention plan when threatened with cancelled European trade deals and boycotts of Brazilian products. Many Brazilians are still unimpressed with his evidently self-serving efforts to put out the fires; they can see that his motivations are not sincere, and they want a more concrete plan for rainforest preservation. Despite constant backlash and concrete evidence to the contrary, President Bolsonaro claims that the rainforest is not burning, but that the areas on fire are those that have already been deforested (Londoño 2019).
Pictured: São Paulo engulfed in smoke from the Amazon fire (Adams 2019)
Every part of this article is based on facts, from the accurate if somewhat cartoonish depiction of Bolsonaro as a semi-despotic leader intent on destroying the rainforest to the discussion of European impact on Brazil’s fate. But it is also important to examine what facts are not included in the article; the author is an American who has written a news article meant to be read by Americans, which means that everything is shown from a Western point of view. The impact of the Amazon fires on the tribes that depend on the rainforest for their survival is glossed over in favor of a statement from a Greenpeace representative (“Amazon rainforest fires: Ten readers’ questions answered” 2019). Nor is there any direct exploration of the accusation that the fires were started by smaller businesses emboldened by Bolsonaro’s lax enforcement of environmental protection laws (“Amazon rainforest fires: Ten readers’ questions answered” 2019). Western intervention’s effect on Bolsonaro’s actions is the focus of the article, not the actions or struggles of Brazilian citizens.
The intentionally set fires in the Amazon are a perfect example of Western ideals negatively impacting a formerly colonized country. Smaller farming and mining corporations, doubtlessly run by those of European descent given their lack of regard for Amazonian tribes, feel the need to destroy swathes of rainforest in order to compete with larger businesses. Ruthless, environmentally blind capitalism is an inherently Western idea, as is evidenced by continued conflict over and use of fossil fuels, and increased use of cheap, single-use plastics in manufacturing in Western countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Brazil follows the unfortunate path of many decolonized countries by imitating the often harmful policies of Western countries in order to make a profit and attempt to establish itself as a major world power.
Link to Article Discussed
Adams, Char. “Amazon Rainforest, Known as ‘The Planet’s Lungs,’ Has Been Burning at a Record Rate for Weeks.” People, August 21, 2019. https://people.com/human-interest/amazon-rainforest-fire-burning-record-rate-brazil/.
“Amazon Rainforest Fires: Ten Readers’ Questions Answered.” BBC News, August 23, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49450925.
Londoño, Ernesto. “Brazil Marshals Forces to Fight Amazon Fires (and Restore ‘Positive Perception’).” The New York Times, August 24, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/24/world/americas/amazon-rainforest-fires-military.html.