World news

the Amazon, a jewel sacrificed by Jair Bolsonaro

In Manaus, capital of the Brazilian Amazon, he is king. At the town market, near the port, as in the restaurants on the Place du Théâtre – a vestige of the golden age of rubber – pirarucu (pronounced “piraroucou”) is the star fish. It is not alone on the stalls: in the Amazon, we also like the tambaqui, or even the piranha, which is made into soups in the communities living along the river.

But the pirarucu is the all-round champion. And for good reason: the largest freshwater fish in South America, it can measure the size of a man and easily exceed 100 kg on the scale. At the Manaus market, its white meat is sold for 35 reais (€6.7) per kilo. Its skin, reputed to resist the sharp little teeth of piranhas, is also worth its price. A good catch can therefore pay off big. You can lose your head in the Amazon humidity for the pirarucu. And we can kill, too.

In Manaus, several men are behind bars for a double murder committed almost four months ago. On June 5, Brazilian expert on indigenous peoples Bruno Pereira and a British journalist accompanying him, Dom Phillips, disappeared in the region of Atalaia do Norte, a town of 20,000 inhabitants located on the border of Peru and Colombia. . A few days later, their bodies were found dead.

A double murder linked to illegal fishing

In the Amazon, you can die for many reasons: an accident, inattention, an animal in a bad mood. But they were murdered. Very quickly, suspicion fell on the fishermen who illegally plunge their lines into the Indian waters of the Javari Valley and plunder their wealth.

In this 85,000 km2 reserve, fishing is only authorized for the ancestral consumption of the local tribes (there are 26 of them, for some 6,000 inhabitants). ” It is a region where isolated people live, who refuse contact with the rest of the world, explains Felipe Milanez, professor of political ecology at the Federal University of Bahia, in Salvador, and close to the two victims. Bruno Pereira fought for them, for their territories to be respected. »

The murdered anthropologist, aged 41, had worked for a long time in Atalaia do Norte for Funai, the federal administration in charge of defending indigenous peoples and their rights, enshrined in the Constitution adopted after the end of the dictatorship. He was one of the best Brazilian connoisseurs of these peoples. Bruno was the head of the department in charge of uncontacted Indians at Funai, continues Felipe Milanez.But he was dismissed by Jair Bolsonaro and replaced by an evangelical pastor.»

Away from the field, reduced to bureaucratic tasks, Bruno Pereira had taken unpaid leave to return to the Javari Valley and work for an indigenous organization. He trained the inhabitants of the forest in the fight against illegal fishing, explained to them how to compile files to file a complaint and have fishing boats seized. A work that has become essential since the State had deserted the premises.

A deliberate abandonment of Jair Bolsonaro

What this tragedy has brought to light is the abandonment of the peoples of the Amazon during the Bolsonaro presidency: downsizing, budget cuts, a clear desire to exploit the resources of indigenous lands… Jair Bolsonaro deliberately undermined the efforts of Bruno Pereira, of Funai – dealing in particular with preventing intrusions into Indian territories – and other organizations in charge of the defense of the Amazon. For the outgoing president, a former captain in the Brazilian army, the Indian remains, as in the days of the dictatorship, a brake on development, an individual on the margins to be integrated, willingly or by force.

Budgets started to fall before Bolsonaro, but it was not comparable, notes Victor Salviati, director of innovation at the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS), a major NGO in Manaus. Today, these peoples of the forest find themselves alone in the face of illegal groups, such as fishermen or gold diggers, who loot and pollute their environment. It’s a territory at war, extremely dangerous: when I go there, I wear the colors of the FAS, to make it clear that I’m not there to take care of people’s business, but to do the work of our NGO. »

Because the double death of June is by no means an isolated case. In 2019, a Funai employee had already been murdered in this region. His death had not given rise to any prosecution. “A real green light for criminal groups », deplores Francesc Comelles, regional coordinator of the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi), founded fifty years ago by the Brazilian Catholic Church to support the demands of indigenous peoples. In its latest annual report, the Cimi can only note the increase in violence: 355 attacks targeting Indians in 2021, the highest level for ten years, including 176 murders.

Pirarucu, to launder drug money

If the defenders of the Amazon speak of ” war “ by evoking the double death of June, it is also because of the presence of an over-armed actor: drug traffickers, who ship cocaine from Peru and Colombia to Manaus via the Amazon, then to the rest of the country , coasts, Europe. For them, pirarucu is useful… to launder drug money.

People here do not have the means to equip themselves for this expensive fishing, says Renata from Atalaia do Norte, where she works for Cimi. It takes good equipment to capture such beasts and transport them. You also need a big freezer: the fishing grounds are days by boat from the first town. Without forgetting gasoline, which is so expensive here… We are not talking about artisanal fishing, but industrial, which takes tons of pirarucu every month in the reserve.native. »

This is where the narcos come in.They offer fishermen to finance their equipment, in exchange for, say, 60% of their fishing, explains Cicero Pedrosa Neto, journalist for the independent agency Amazonia Real. And the rest of the catch is bought back at a good price. » The fish then crosses the border without incident, towards Leticia and its 50,000 inhabitants, in Colombia, where we love pirarucu. Planes also provide transport to Bogota. The smell of the Amazon giant masks that of dirty money.

By voting on Sunday, October 2, to choose their president, Brazilians will have other concerns in mind: inflation, unemployment, etc. It is not certain that many will think of the two men who died in June at the triple border. However, their death – and many others that have occurred in recent years in the jungle of the Amazon – was not unrelated to decisions taken in Brasilia, more than 3,000 km away.

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