On 27 May 2019, ISS organized an event on Amazon indigenous peoples, the role of global agribusiness and authoritarian government, with a focus on the current situation in Brazil.
The discussion and debate included presentations by Gabriela Russo (PhD researcher at CEDLA/UvA) and Dr Tim Boekhout (independent criminological researcher and EUR research fellow). Their very stark and succinct analysis of the soya chain/'highway' (rapidly encroaching further into parts of this region) and deforestation trends was underlined in very personal and socio-environmental terms by the third speaker Vandria Borari. This indigenous activist and legal researcher researcher from Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon described the personal and community perspectives of the impact of soja in their territory. The impact on indigenous communities, she argued, has been harsh, irrespective of the measurement indicator used (water/land/health/violence/security/cultural traditions/ voice-income-dignity).
The discussion underlined that changes to this must be brought about by pressure on the companies and others responsible via consumer and social movements, but also by government and regulatory norms and practices, something that is quite problematic at this moment.
Following the event, Vandria Borari, who recently completed a Law degree in the Federal University of West Pará (UFOPA) and is currently an exchange student in the Netherlands, wrote the following declaration, to denounce the violations of rights of indigenous peoples going on in Brazil.
We, indigenous peoples, have been in the Amazon for thousands of years. We are the autochthonous peoples of the forest and lived there long before the invasion of European colonizers and the emergence of laws that further propelled the grabbing of our territories. Our traditional ways of living and our ancestral culture, maintained by the current generations, are largely based on protecting and respecting Mother Earth. We believe that everything that She grants to us is worthy of gratitude and of profound celebration. For this reason, we cannot accept it when nature is harmed and destroyed.
'In this mosaic of intertwined life, there is also a visceral and organic connection between the forest and the peoples of the forest. The Amazon still sustains this connection...'
Our Amazon is formed by lakes, rivers, water springs and marshes. In it you can find one of the largest fresh water reserves in the world. Its biodiversity is beyond measure and comparison. In this mosaic of intertwined life, there is also a visceral and organic connection between the forest and the peoples of the forest. The Amazon still sustains this connection and, if it is destroyed, our own existence is at stake.
For us, native peoples, the protection of the Amazon and defence of our territories have always been constituent of our struggles against an economic model based on the exploitation of natural resources, which started during colonization and still persists today. Currently, our region of Tapajós in the Amazon has been taken over by deceiving promises of progress. Our region is threatened due to the implantation of mega-projects, such as hydroelectric dams, the spread of mining and illegal timber extraction, and the construction of new ports and roads necessary for the expansion of industrial agribusiness, itself a threat and largely centred on soy monocultures. The Netherlands is the second country to which most of the soy from the Brazilian Amazon is exported, after China.
One of the regions of the Amazon that has become the focus of agribusiness frontier expansion, with support of the Brazilian State and of foreign capital, is Santarém, in the state of Pará. The arrival of soy in our territories brought with it the installation of a large grain port of the trader Cargill. The arrival of the multinational company in our region led to the destruction of an important archaeological site, erasing the remnants of an ancestral history of more than 11 thousand years.
Vandria Borari. Credit: wefutureglobal
Despite these violations, agribusiness continues to gain space and to cause immense deforestation. The formerly rich vegetation gave place to uniform fields of soy: green deserts, drowned in highly carcinogenic pesticides. Many local families have also been expelled from their lands. Those that try to resist the expansion of soy into their territories often live under constant threat to leave. Families that live next to soy plantations are often the most harmed ones, since they suffer directly from the large quantities of pesticides applied nearby. There are drastic consequences to health, such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, dizziness and breathing troubles, from breathing these poisons, including in children.
'We, indigenous peoples, live in a situation of extreme invisibility and marginalization.'
The larger ecosystem and other species also suffer from this contamination. The bees in the region are currently endangered and many honey producers have lost their entire production on occasion as bees affected by the chemicals in soy fields do not return to their hives.
We, indigenous peoples, live in a situation of extreme invisibility and marginalization from the Brazilian State, especially in relation to our rights to access and maintain our territories. These rights are not only recognized in our Constitution, but were also strengthened through Brazil’s signing of International Labour Organization Convention 169, on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
We need more people to become truly aware of the threat of catastrophe the Amazon is facing. It is also the responsibility of the countries to which the soy is exported, including many European and Asian countries. What is at stake, at the end, is the loss of rich forests, of thousands of lives and of traditional cultures that have resisted for thousands of years.