Environmental activists say protecting indigenous peoples and their right to their ancestral lands is key to saving the rainforest in Brazil. Activists argue that the natives of the Amazon are its best guardians.
Activists spoke on Monday at a Reuters Impact conference on the future of the Amazon rainforest. They said the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was weakening indigenous rights.
“What we are seeing is an attack on indigenous people, their rights, their lives and their territories, ”said Leila Salazar-Lopez. She is the head of Amazon Watch, an environmental group based in Oakland, California.
Ginger Cassady is director of the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network. She said the actions of the Bolsonaro government continued to increase deforestation. She said the government was lowering environmental protections despite promising to protect the forest.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon area has increased sharply since Bolsonaro took office in 2019. Initial data shows that forest clearing decreased by 1.2% from January to August. But destruction remains at a level not seen in Brazil since 2008.
Bolsonaro spoke at the United Nations General Assembly last month. In his speech, he pledged to increase resources devoted to environmental law enforcement by 100 percent. The environment minister said last month that hundreds of enforcement agents would be added to the fight against illegal deforestation.
But critics say the government has cut spending on environmental efforts for years.
Salazar-Lopez and Cassady urged banks and other investors to respect indigenous land rights. They want financial interests to obtain permission from indigenous communities before launching projects that influence their lands.
Activists called on private industry to stop oil expansion concession in the Amazon. The rainforest around the Amazon River in South America is the largest in the world. It is also considered very important in combating climate change.
Salazar-Lopez said forests are being cut on purpose to clear land for cattle and soybean farms. She said the government’s indigenous affairs agency, called Funai, declined under Bolsonaro. This left indigenous areas unprotected and threatened by illegal logging and gold mining operations.
“Indigenous peoples are the best protectors of the Amazon rainforest and biodiversity around our planet … because they have intrinsic spiritual and cultural ties with the land, ”said Salazar-Lopez.
“They have the most to lose and therefore they will do anything to protect the earth, which is everything to them,” she said.
Indigenous territories make up about 30 percent of the Amazon, which is among the best protected lands in the region. Another 20 percent are protected areas under the responsibility of the federal government.
I am Mario Ritter, Jr.
Anthony Boadle reported this story to Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in this story
indigenous –Adj. live naturally in a particular place or area
Concession -not. the right to sell something or do business on property that is owned by the government or another company or person
biodiversity -not. the existence of many types of plants and animals in an environment
intrinsic –Adj. belonging to the very basic nature of a thing; happens as a natural part of something
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