Karipuna territory, Amazonian destruction in Bolsonaro’s time

The resistance of the Karipuna people against agribusiness and criminality forces us to think about the future of Brazil and the Amazon in these upcoming elections. If Bolsonaro remains in power, the cost will be for the entire planet.

By Manuel Ortiz Escámez
Pie de Página – Global Exchange – Terra 360

BRAZIL – Andrē Karipuna fears for his life and that of his community, the Karipuna tribe, which he leads in the southern Brazilian Amazon, in the state of Rondônia. He claims that during the government of Brazil’s current president, the ultra-right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, 80 percent of his territory has been “destroyed, burned, stolen” by armed invaders.

The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on the planet. Its soils and vegetation contain 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is one of the gases causing global warming.

This jungle, also called the “lung” of the planet, has an area of 6.9 million square kilometers. Its territory includes parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, French Guiana, Venezuela and Bolivia. Most of it (65 percent) is located in Brazil.

Amazon River. The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest on the planet. Its soils and vegetation contain 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the gases causing global warming. Photo by Manuel Ortiz Escámez.

Even though the Amazon is key to the global climate balance, in the four years of Bolsonaro’s government the Brazilian Amazon “has experienced unprecedented destruction”, as well as an “enormous increase in violence against the indigenous peoples that inhabit it”, says biologist Celso Sanches, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO).

Bolsonaro dismantled the systems for monitoring and controlling deforestation in the Amazon, such as the Brazilian Institute of Environment (Ibama). He also eliminated programs and institutions that provided support to indigenous peoples, such as Funai.

Thus, under Bolsonaro, the agricultural, livestock and mining frontiers (legal and illegal) in the Amazon have expanded. According to information from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, between 2020 and so far in 2022, the Brazilian Amazon has lost more than 4,500 kilometers of forest. The Karipuna territory is one of the eight most threatened and deforested indigenous communities in Brazil.

“With the current president Bolsonaro we see an increase in violence, an increase in invasions and organized crime has become stronger,” says Laura Vicuña, regional coordinator in Rondônia of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI). 

In Karipuna territory, criminal groups are disputing the possession of the community’s land, and what the Karipuna people are doing is to confront these invasions by denouncing what is happening to the world.

Land near Karipuna territory in Brazil. Photo by Manuel Ortiz Escámez
Eric Karipuna in a part of Karipuna territory deforested and burned by invaders. Photo by Manuel Ortiz Escámez

Andrē Karipuna, and his son Icaro Karipuna, travel the Jacipará River. Photo by Manuel Ortiz Escámez

Eric Karipuna, cousin of Andrē, says that until 2018 there was a modality of invaders who entered their territory to cut down the trees. They would traffic the wood and leave. Now, armed groups enter the territory, cut down the trees, sell the wood, burn what is left and illegally sell the land to entrepreneurs who raise cattle. This prepares the land to grow soybeans.

Brazil produces a third of the soy consumed in the world. A large part of it is grown in the southern Amazon. So, the first thing that jumps out at you when you travel to Karipuna land from Porto Velho, the nearest city, is not jungle, but huge green fields with cows instead of trees. Or large expanses of desert-like land, ready to plant soybeans.

Soybean farming is a multi-million dollar industry that increased its productivity during Bolsonaro’s government. This, thanks to Bolsonaro’s greatly reduced regulations for the use of agrochemicals, which have not only contaminated the land and air, but also the Jacipará River.

The Karipuna tribe subsists on hunting and fishing. That is why the Jacipará River, which connects with the Madera River and with waters from the Amazon River, is vital for the community, as they also use it to move within their territory.

Minutes before taking a boat ride on the Jacipará River, with Andrē, his son Icaro (8 years old) and Aripã Karipuna, the oldest man in the village (over 70 years old), we are warned to keep the cameras as hidden as possible. The reason is that an encounter with invaders can happen at a moment’s notice.

“They don’t like the presence of journalists, environmentalists or indigenous people,” warns Andrē, who brings to the conversation the murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and environmentalist and indigenist Bruno Pereira. They were killed in the Javari Valley region in June of this year.

Karipuna village. Photo by Manuel Ortiz Escámez

According to CIMI data, 176 indigenous people were murdered in the Amazon in 2021. Many of the cases are linked to invasions by armed groups and the defense of territory by native peoples.

“Here we live in fear, fear in our own home,” says Andrē. 

We constantly receive threats from criminal groups. They want to intimidate us into leaving our land. That is why we are making an international call for help, it is international because inside Brazil no authority listens to us.”

Criminal groups move freely through Karipuna territory. Those who do not move freely are the indigenous people,” denounces Vicuña.

Aripã carries an old rifle and affirms that it will protect us in case of an attack by invaders. Andrē murmurs to us that this rifle is only good for hunting because criminal groups use high caliber weapons. The Karipuna tribe, Andrē explains, has never defended its territory with violence.

Aripã guards the territory of invaders. Photo Manuel Ortiz Escámez

Upstream we reach an area of burned trees. Some trunks are still smoldering. Andrē tells us that this year, the tribe built a house here because it is a place where they collected seeds. A few weeks ago, he says, the invaders cut down and set fire to it.

In September, this year, Greenpeace pointed out to representatives of the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner that the Karipuna tribe “has been massively invaded by land grabbers and loggers. Especially in recent years, under the Bolsonaro government”.

In the context of the general elections in Brazil, whose second round will take place on October 30, and where the leftist former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leads the polls for the presidency, followed by Bolsonaro, the renowned American linguist Noam Chomsky warned that if Bolsonaro continues in power, in addition to the power of the Republicans in the United States, it could “take the world to a point of no return” due to the deterioration of the Amazon.

“The stakes in Brazil’s election are huge,” Chomsky added. Biologist Sanches agrees: “We are close to a point of no return”. 

Should Bolsonaro continue, he adds: 

Much of the Amazon could be transformed into a savannah, which would be catastrophic. Therefore, Bolsonaro is a threat to humanity. He threatens not only the Amazon, but the possibility of life on earth.”

Although Brazil has a sophisticated electronic voting system, it does not reach Karipuna land. Therefore, the tribesmen will have to travel approximately 4 hours by gap to vote in Porto Velho. Even so, Andrē points out, “we are going to do it. We will vote because for us these elections are of enormous importance. They can be the difference between life and death for our people.”