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Arestas do Brasil / Edges of Brazil

Reckless settlement

Bruno Peron, 23 March 2017

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Something caught my attention in the first days of March, which is New Year in Brazil, since this country only works after Carnival festivities. It was the news about trucks jammed at the BR-163, which connects the state of Pará to Mato Grosso. There are two situations for debate: one is the infrastructural precariousness of the north; the other is the ethical and environmental disregard that stains the future of the Amazon.

Coincidently, I was in Belém between the end of Carnival and the beginning of Brazil’s New Year. Thus, I could experience the senses of a large city that is surrounded by river and jungle, of the tiles inherited from the Portuguese and that are darkened by tall buildings, and of the vibrant access to the modernity of shopping centres. While the European colonisers conducted their disputes overseas and protected their territories with stone fortresses, the Brazilian settlers populated so that they could have a supposed control over their territories. The history of Brazil oscillates between exploration and devastation.

The innumerable fortresses in the north and northeast regions of Brazil testify the concern of the Portuguese with the guarantee of their portions of conquered land: Fortress of São José of Macapá, Fort of Belém’s Castle, of São Luís, of João Pessoa... Then, material greed gives space to poorly made decisions to expand the territorial borders through settlement towards the west of Brazil. In this context, the settlers founded the cities of Manaus, Rio Branco... The border of the devastating man does not cease to expand in this country.

Such territorial takeover of the interior of Brazil was not, however, an impediment for foreigners to get into the Amazon. Facts confirm this: the production of rubber was encouraged by Ford; North American scientific and military bases live together with indigenous villages; European and Asian consumers demand our cattle and soy. Cattle raising and monoculture, by the way, have caused a terrible imbalance in environmental reserves in the north of Brazil.

The highway BR-163 is just a representative fraction of a problem that is much larger than the truck mire and the arrival of soy to the ports of Pará (especially in Miritituba and Santarém). Governors of Brazil make wrong decisions that will have a devastating impact on the environmental and ethnic wealth of the region. Instead of becoming untouchable zones of environmental protection and of safeguarding them from mankind’s harmful action, there has been urban and productive expansion in the Amazon with rulers’ consent. These promote “development”, “growth” and “export”, since they have to give account of their management and this happens especially through numbers. The environmental and ethnic protection, however, is limited to lettered people’s fictions, environmentalists who risk their lives, and foreigners who are truly worried with science.

Brazil is a country that is slow to produce; and it only does so when the government’s cashier also earns something. Take account of the propagation of parties that last even a few days after the official end of Carnival, a period in which “blocks” and smiling people remain dancing on the streets. This scenery takes place until the “waters of March” wash the Brazilians’ illusions and reveal their civilisation’s misery.

Settlers have opened roads between leafy trees and indigenous villages. This is the price of the “progress” that our flag promises to offer us with “order”. However, I do not believe in the official versions of history. They hide the point of view of the oppressed people by the charm of “development” and of the silent voice of nature, which can be heard by few other than the indigenous people. The isolation of environmental reserves for purposes that are exclusively scientific, technological and touristic is an idealisation that becomes a chimera in Brazil.

Gradually and with evidence, the settlers’ economic interest combines with the selfish inadvertence of politicians so that, in a future that is not far away, Brazil becomes a barren, dry and inhospitable desert.