The government of Brazil wants to cut protections for the last areas of the planet where the unique Araucaria forests (Araucaria Angustifolia) grow. Photo: Daniel Castellano

By Giem Guimaraes
29 September 2017

(Mongabay) – Brazil. The fifth largest country in the world. Besides housing the world’s largest rainforest and freshwater reserves, — approximately 12 percent of the world’s total — it is also the country with the largest commercial cattle production, with more than 215 million animals. Additionally, it has the world’s largest production of soybeans, sharing the first place with the USA. Impressive figures. Apart from managing the laws of these paradoxical coexistences — forest and water versus animals and soybeans — we have yet another “splendor.” The Brazilian political class, which is responsible for what has been called the greatest corruption scandal of all times, involving oil giant Petrobras.

It looks like Brazil continues to be what it had been prearanged to do since it was discovered by the Portuguese: it is a land to be exploited, to see its riches extracted by a privileged caste. In the beginning, this “enterprise” was managed by the Portuguese court, which was represented by explorers sent by the Lusitanian empire. Others, such as the French, Dutch and Spanish, followed suit, but none were a match for the ruling class that had settled in the country.

Whether it was subsistence farming, mining, livestock or logging, all Brazilian economic activities were soil-dependent for centuries. From the tree the country was named after, “Pau Brasil” (Brazil wood) to coffee; from gold to sugarcane, its territory has been serving the lords of the earth for more than 500 years. This behavior has solidified Brazilian culture in the trinomial: mineral extraction, deforestation and agribusiness.

Most immigrant families who came in the following centuries also took their sustenance from the land and continued with the same destructive pattern already present in the country. Germans, Italians, Japanese, Polish, Ukrainians and their descendants assisted in annihilating the forests of southern Brazil in the last century. Nothing has changed since, and Brazilians are still trapped in the same pattern. Moreover, they have been hostages of a political system set up not to serve them, but to be served by them. […]

Finally, I present the perfect example to understand how corruption affects nature in Brazil: the [Samarco] Mariana dam burst disaster. Certainly, the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history. To some, it bears comparison to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the world’s worst mining disasters, the breaking of Samarco´s [toxic iron ore waste] dam killed 19 people and left 700 homeless. It also destroyed the Krenak native way of life and contaminated 280 miles of the Doce River, killing millions of fish, and ultimately ruining the entire food and local economic chain. Samarco is a subsidiary of the Anglo-Australian company BHP Billiton (an FTSE 100 company) and Brazilian mining giant Vale. Due to public information, it is widely known that the Mariana disaster was a crime caused by governmental and professional negligence as well as environmental licensing fraud.

It has been two years since the incident happened, and not only has there been no accountability or punishment for the disaster, but a judge just also decided to suspend the criminal process due to juridical technicalities. Sadly, the Brazilian judiciary system is known to be pro-accused biased, and the federal government has a tradition of protecting companies, not the Brazilian people.

As this is being written, the new Brazilian mining code, which exempts mining companies from presenting contingency plans in the case of accidents, [and doesn’t] require them to purchase insurance, is in the process of being approved by the Congress. A recipe for environmental chaos. [more]

Brazil: a world champion in political and environmental devastation (commentary)

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