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Sunday, 17 October 2010

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Gathered May 9th at University of Sao Paulo (USP), one of the most prestigious Brazilian universities, the geographer Wanderley Messias da Costa, professor at USP, Eduardo Villas Boas, general at the Brazilian Army, with wide experience at the forest, and Washington Novaes, journalist who conducted a documentary called “Xingu, a terra amea├žada” (“Xingu, the menaced land”), debated about the strategic importance of the Amazon Forest. Specialists in different aspects of the subject, they agree in at least one point: Brazil still has a lot to do to be able to properly manage this biome.

Concerning the preservation of the physical area of the Amazon, Novaes is emphatic: “unfortunately, our country doesn’t have a territory strategy and that will bring consequences for the next decades”. Something that is reaffirmed by General Villas Boas, who said that Brazil lacks a project for the region. Questioned if the forest nowadays represents more of a pour source in the international political scenario or a fragility point towards Brazilian sovereignty, considering that the country is not capable of protecting this biome that is so important for humanity, Costa has no doubt: “we are very fragile, Brazil has one of the best environment legislations in the world, but has a very low capacity to implement it”.

Novaes highlights that Brazil invests less than 0.5% of its federal budget to the Ministry of Environment and that many times not even that is completely used by the ministry, which shows a big planning failure. For Villas Boas, a good project would have to take into account three fundamental roles for the Amazon: its economic potential, its power to help South-American countries to get closer politically and its natural tendency to aid in great humanity issues, such as the climate changes or the lack of potable water around the globe.

International pressure

Humanity has not closed its eyes to these problems. Global warming is no longer e theory defended only by Nature magazine, but is now something that worries almost everyone and the Amazon biome has a central part in this dilemma. By the meanings of treaties or through diplomatic pressure, the internationalization of the Amazon already exists, explain Novaes, and he adds “the understanding that economic growth will solve all of our problems is not credible anymore, we need to find new ways of development, otherwise we are just going to keep destroying the planet”.

Every single day Brazil suffers more and more pressure to manage better this world patrimony. Also, internally there are claims from the people who live in the preserved area for better life quality. On a debate aired at that same day, May 9th, at BBC television, also discussing to whom compete taking care of the Amazon, the governor of the Amazonas state (the biggest state at the area), Carlos Eduardo Braga, pointed “we can’t forget that there are people living there”, drawing attention to another issue that can’t be put aside, the human factor of that region.

Habitants of the paradise

According to a census conducted by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the so called Legal Amazon, that comprehends the states of Acre, Amapa, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Para, Rondonia, Roraima, Tocantins, part of Maranhao and five cities of Goias, had already more than 20 million habitants in the year of 2000. It is not only a lot of people, but also a people with great cultural diversity. The Bolivian area of the biome, for example, has more than 150 different ethnical groups living there, points Costa.

This people, who have the privilege of living in this natural paradise, don't have as much life quality as one would expect. Villas Boas, who has had experiences in different army bases of the region, says “part of the people there is abandoned; with no condition what so ever to take part in citizenship”. They are in need of education, healthcare, transport and lodging.

As Novaes exposed in his speech, a big part of the deforestation process is associated to the creation of roads that cut the Amazon, tearing down trees around them and causing even more anthropism (men interference in nature). The terrible effects that the asphalt brings to the green vegetation quickly raise voices against the roads, but, the situation isn't that simple. Costa confesses feeling divided, “when I see it from the outside, I am against the construction of roads, but in the other hand, when I'm there and I see all the benefits they bring to the local population, I have to be in favor of them". While the world sees in the highways an abuse against nature, for the Amazon people they are the opportunity for a better life, with easier means of transportation, more food and medication arriving in the area.

The indians

The indian issue is also another tense problem in the Amazon. Sometimes idealized as "the good savage man", sometimes demonized because of the habits of his culture, the indian man doesn't receive the proper support from the government. There is the polemic matter of marking part of the territory as indian reserve, as it recently happened with the land of "Raposa Serra do Sol" in Brazil (a big territory that now belongs exclusively to the indians), but also the government obligation of offering decent conditions of housing, education and healthcare for this part of the population.

In a very polemic moment of the event, Villas Boas said that sometimes there is a great anthropological preoccupation of preserving some native tribes’ cultures, which occurs in a way that is distant from the actual human reality of that place. For example, he says, there is the Ianomami culture, in which the individuals have a life expectation of around 30 years, there is a high incidence of respiratory diseases because of the poor ventilation of the indian houses and high children mortality, thanks to sacrifices that are conducted by mothers in this culture.“What is the advantage of preserving such a culture?” he questions.

Studies show that the indian lands are yet better environmentally preserved, but in concern to this people life quality there is still controversy. A possible and balanced line of thinking is that the interference over the local cultures is inevitable as it happens naturally when indians and non-indians meet, and that ideally that process should be followed and conducted adequately. That is the position of general Villas Boas, who in his experiences in the forest has many times seen indians becoming prostitutes or alcoholic addicts after the contact with the white man.

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