Brazilian Church says ‘Amazonize yourself’ as region faces COVID-19, deforestation

Brazilian Church says ‘Amazonize yourself’ as region faces COVID-19, deforestation

In this May 22, 2014 file photo, a small boat navigates on the Solimoes River near Manaus, Brazil. (Credit: Felipe Dana/AP.)

As deforestation increases in the Amazon and the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads throughout the region, the Brazilian Church has decided to create a campaign to raise awareness on the need to stop the destruction of the rainforest and its peoples.

SÃO PAULO — As deforestation increases in the Amazon and the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads throughout the region, the Brazilian Church has decided to create a campaign to raise awareness of the need to stop the destruction of the rainforest and its peoples.

Amazoniza-te – Amazonize yourself – is focused on dialogue with broader segments of the Brazilian society and with the international community, organizers said.

The initiative is part of the Church’s effort to call attention to the Amazon, which began with the preparatory works for the Synod for the Pan-Amazon region, held in Rome in October of 2019.

Recently, members of the Brazilian clergy were involved in the organization of the First Global Assembly for the Amazon July 18-19 and defined a set of actions to fight the coronavirus and the growing environmental destruction.

“The Amazonian bishops felt the need to establish a dialogue not only with their customary public, but to society as a whole. That’s why we decided to ally with scholars, traditional peoples and artists,” Father Dario Bossi, one of the campaign organizers, told Crux.

According to Bossi, the goal is to run the campaign for three months, until the United Nations General Assembly meets on September 15.

“A report on the situation of the indigenous populations will be presented at the assembly and we’ll be able to articulate our criticisms about the Amazon,” he said.

The initiative includes a website (amazonizate.org) and the production of several short clips in which indigenous and other traditional groups, scholars, members of the clergy, and famous Brazilian artists briefly discuss the region’s problems.

In the first video, indigenous leaders denounce wildfires and deforestation in their reservations. At the end, the Brazilian film actor and director Wagner Moura appears saying that the coronavirus pandemic “can’t be disconnected” from the environmental issues.

“Both things are completely connected. If there’s a moment in history when it’s important to strongly engage in this fight, [this moment] is now,” he said in the video.

During the virtual conference for the campaign launching on July 27, REPAM’s executive director Sister Maria Irene Lopes reiterated that the initiative is based on the great vulnerability of the indigenous peoples to the coronavirus. “[This is major problem, especially if we consider] the weakness of the healthcare services and structure in the region’s states and cities,” she said.

Another motivation for the campaign, she continued, is the “accelerated destruction of the biome due to the uncontrolled increase of deforestation, wildfires, invasion of indigenous and other traditional communities’ territories, spoliation of lands, mining and panning, cattle raising, monoculture growing, and the effects of hydroelectric plants on riverside communities.”

Lopes argued that there’s a “systemic violation of the environmental legislation” and that the governmental agencies in charge of monitoring and protecting natural reservations are being “dismantled.”

“[There’s] an intentional governmental operation to deregulate and illegally amplify the activities of mining companies, agribusiness, logger companies, and livestock raising in the region,” she claimed, referring to President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental platform.

Since the pandemic started in March, environmentalists and members of the clergy have complained that the number of monitoring operations carried out by the police and other agencies has dramatically fallen, a situation that left vast reservations in the Amazon unprotected.

“If the agents are in quarantine, illegal miners and loggers are not,” Father Luis Miguel Modino, a missionary in Manaus who was part of REPAM’s communication team, told Crux.

According to a letter released on Monday by a group of employees of the main environmental agency in Brazil, the deforestation rate in the Amazon over the past 12 months probably grew 28 percent in comparison with the previous year – and 72 percent in relation to 2017-2018.

Bishop José Ionilton de Oliveira of Itacoatiara (in Amazonas State), who is the Vice President of the Bishops’ Conference’s Pastoral Land Commission, said that the dismantling of the environmental protection agencies is a process that was intensified over the past two years.

“They’re mostly inoperant now. It’s fundamental that the world knows what’s happening here,” he told Crux.

Modino agrees. “The only thing that can really stop this process is the international community’s pressure. That’s why this campaign is important,” he said.

Regarding the pandemic, Modino explained that the coronavirus has disproportionately spread through the Amazon. While the region has only 12.5 percent of the Brazilian population, it already had 507,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 – more than a fifth of the country’s 2.44 million infected. “This disease is especially lethal among indigenous people. The overall situation couldn’t be worse,” he said.

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