By Andrea Guerra
In April, the Amazon rainforest recorded a 171% increase in the rate of deforestation, the worst in ten years. Taking advantage of the controls made milder by anti-COVID measures, 328 square miles of forest were stolen, burnt down by corrupt farmers and ranchers. The Brazilian region of Parà was the most affected by this devastation.
Brazil has become the third country in the world for the number of Coronavirus infections. Last week’s figures from the South American giant are frightening. On May 19, there were 1,179 (official) deaths, which brought the total number of Coronavirus deaths to 17,971, with 271,628 total confirmed infections. Brazil overtook Great Britain to position itself third, in this sad ranking, behind the United States (1,504,244 cases) and Russia (290,678).
However, Brazil is also the country of emergencies within an emergency. Now, an economic and social crisis has been added to the health crisis. There are those who are taking advantage of the Coronavirus distraction to put their hands on the Amazon Forest again. The Imazon Institute (Instituto do Homen e Meio Ambiente da Amazônia) has verified that the deforestation rate was the worst in 10 years in April 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. A good 328 square miles of greenery (three times the surface area of the city of Milan) were “stolen,” an increase of 171% compared to the same month last year. One-third of this number is concentrated in the State of Parà, followed by Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Amazonas, Roraima, and Acre.
Trees are felled, and fires are set to increase land suitable for crops. They expand plantations and pastures, especially for soya, Brazil’s real business over the last decade. Complaints from local people are relentless. We must also add the so-called “garimpos” to the list of those who are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic for their own interests. Gold diggers and miners who occupy land to exploit it, forcibly taking it away from the “real owners.”
Last week Fr. Sisto Magro, a PIME Missionary and Coordinator of the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) for the Diocese of Macapá, in the state of Amapá, spoke about it. “The invaders take advantage of the land because those who must control it are more absent than ever. Those employed by the agrobusinesses are doing a lot of dirty work that is obscured by the Coronavirus emergency, so it goes unnoticed. Instead, they are advancing their deforestation. They continue to steal public land; they continue to occupy the property of small farmers who have no means, and no voice to rebel.”
While President Bolsonaro continues his pro-Hydroxychloroquine battle, the national health system is collapsing. The epicenter of the Brazilian pandemic is the State of São Paulo and its capital. Governor Doria and Prefect Covas do not rule out the possibility of a total lockdown in the coming days, because the population does not follow the rules for isolation. The virus is spreading too fast; hospitals that do have an intensive care ward will all be occupied within ten days according to projections.