The world watches in horror as images of vast expanses of Amazon fires circulate, but these are no ordinary wildfires. They were set out to generate huge profits for some multinational companies and the bourgeois governments that support them. Urgent action and the mobilization of workers and activists around the world are needed to end the capitalist exploitation that is destroying one of the most important ecological regions on Earth. Here's what you need to know about fires and those responsible for them:
1. Deforestation fires have burned the Amazon for decades
The peoples that inhabit the Amazon have suffered from the destruction of the rainforest for decades. The Brazilian military dictatorship of 1964-1985 confiscated 6 million hectares of land from indigenous populations, in part to build the immense trans-Amazon highway. Forest fires were used to clear the land, displace its ancestral inhabitants, and build ranches and cattle farms. From the beginning, multinational companies like McDonald’s were involved in this devastation, financing suppliers that destroyed and continue to destroy large swaths of the rainforest to grow products like soybeans in large quantities for export.
2. Fires in the Amazon have increased by 85% under the Bolsonaro government
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who calls himself “Captain Chainsaw”, delivered an inflammatory speech against the protection of the environment, undoubtedly in an appeal to agricultural and livestock producers who constitute a fundamental part of his support. In Congress, the power of rural representatives is linked to agribusiness (most of them are members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) and is a decisive force in government. When he first came to power, Bolsonaro said very clearly to this sector: “this government is yours” and he has kept that promise. Bolsonaro's Minister of Agriculture, Tereza Cristina, comes from this same sector. Both the president and his administration have spoken out against taking forest protection measures and have favored greater commercialization of the Amazon territory. Even Bolsonaro's Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, defends this policy. In the last decade, wildfires have increased steadily, and so far in 2019, there have been more than 70,000 fires. In August alone there were more than 30,000 fires.
3. Previous governments also let agribusiness interfere in the Amazon basin
The PT (Brazilian Workers' Party) governments also favored agribusiness. For example, a series of reforms to the Forestry Law, approved by the government of Dilma Rousseff, allowed amnesty for those responsible for illegal deforestation and reduced the number of protected areas in the jungle and savannah. The former president authorized German mining companies to operate in the region before it was toppled by the institutional coup. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales, despite his rhetoric in favor of indigenous peoples' rights, backed the burning of the Amazon with a law authorizing “controlled” logging and burning of forests in private and community areas.
4. A handful of multinational companies are helping destroy the Amazon
Bolsonaro and Brazil's agricultural bourgeoisie are not the only ones who want to destroy the jungle for their capitalist companies. Major imperialist companies are also behind the deforestation: Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas (France), financial groups like Blackrock and Capital Group (United States), and pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson also have business in the area. Other multinational companies responsible for doing business with this devastation are grain producers; Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) control 60% of the soy industry in Brazil and benefit directly from forest fires, as do agrochemical companies such as Monsanto and Bayer. France and Germany also have direct interests in mining in the region. The participation of these companies reveals the hypocrisy of the apparent opposition to Bolsonaro's policies by governments like that of Emmanuel Macron in France. Imperialist capital earns millions by burning the Amazon.
5. "Green Capitalism" Won't Save Rainforests
The Amazon has become a disputed territory for different capitalist sectors; Some of them use the rhetoric of environmental protection to describe their businesses in the region, but all of these companies are interested in exploiting commodities in the Amazon basin. They produce certified wood, regional products, and ecotourism, all of which affect the environment. In addition, these "green" companies also seek carbon credits, which allows them to obtain economic benefits if they show more environmentally friendly production processes. Corporations linked to pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies demand a “controlled” Amazon, which will allow them to patent their products and regularly use the resources provided by the forests. Roche, Bayer, L'Oreal, Unilever, are just some of these types of companies. The primary materials that they extract with only basic regulations guarantee them new products for a public interested in natural or "ethical" products.
6. More than a million indigenous lives are in danger
The nearly 350 indigenous peoples that inhabit the Amazon basin in Bolivia and Brazil are suffering the devastating consequences of deforestation. Not only are they victims of smoke inhalation and burns caused directly by the wildfires, but they are also victims of diseases spread in the area, such as flu and measles, and of fraud from fraudsters who falsify documents to sell. indigenous lands to other capitalists. The construction of dams and routes in the jungle also forces them to abandon their homes. Some groups, such as the Awá people, are in grave danger of disappearing altogether. Those who survive this displacement travel through the jungle to earn a living hunting and fishing. Later, many of them are persecuted by mercenaries hired by landowners to protect the territory taken from indigenous peoples by force. These hit men have murdered numerous environmental activists over the years.
7. Fires have disastrous environmental consequences
The large amount of burned land in the Amazon rainforest will have drastic effects on the environment. To begin with, the trees in the region produce 20% of the total oxygen in the atmosphere. Their destruction can rapidly accelerate global warming and increase the overall temperature of the planet.
The drought and warming will be very harsh as a result of an increase in the general temperature of the area, generating new sources of fire in other affected territories. Another direct effect of the fires is the loss of many species of flora and fauna, the cruel consequence of which can be seen in the images of dead animals, burned alive and displaced from their habitats. Additionally, carbon dioxide and other chemical compounds emitted by fire will accelerate the greenhouse effect.
As indirect consequences of fires, the Earth's water balance will change: with the accumulation of greenhouse gases from burning trees, more and more energy is retained in the atmosphere. This causes a warming of the temperature of the land, oceans and atmosphere, which contributes to the melting of ice surfaces and the evaporation of existing bodies of water.
Latin American scientists have explained that it is not possible to fully predict the effects of fires, but they do know that fires will undoubtedly lead to profound transformation in the soil and the environment.
8. Fires put the health of the poorest people at risk
The inhabitants of the Amazon and its surrounding cities also suffer health consequences as a result of the fires. Respiratory problems, loss of oxygen in the blood, and heart disease are increasing rapidly in the region. The dense smoke from the fires primarily affects the poorest families in the affected areas, who live in poorly ventilated houses and cannot afford to flee the fires. As the fires continue, sharp declines in air quality will directly affect working families, particularly children, who cannot afford adequate medical care. In addition, the dryness and increased heat from fires put homes at risk of catching fire and families at risk of being displaced.
9. The Amazon is not the only region destroyed by agribusiness
The scale of the fires in the Amazon is causing a severe crisis, but it is not the only area where almost unregulated deforestation is being used to generate billions of dollars in profits. Other forests are at serious risk, such as the Siberian forest, where 2.5 million hectares have already been destroyed. The same is true in vast regions of Southeast Asia, where 71% of the region's characteristic wetlands were lost to free up land for the lucrative palm oil industry, used for food and cosmetics.
10. Demonstrations around the world call for the protection of the Amazon
Across Latin America and around the world, there have been several major demonstrations that have denounced the Amazon fires and the role that governments and corporations have played in the destruction of this region. The youth movement that organizes the #FridaysForFuture, as well as thousands of others around the world, protested outside the Brazilian embassies to demand urgent measures against these devastating fires. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are expected to take part in the global climate strikes in September. Many agree that the governments and capitalist companies involved in the region are responsible. A collective response from the working class and youth, indigenous peoples and peasants affected by this terrible destruction is the only way to end the extermination of entire peoples and the devastation of the environment.