Missionaries support indigenous peoples and local communities in defending their territories. A crucial mission in this time of change.
One can barely see the sky and the heat is unbearable. In North East Brazil drought returns to threaten the work and the survival of many rural communities. The elderly still remember when, until forty years ago, it used to rain for six months in a year in the Amazon region: from November until April. Today it barely rains four months. But where might the smoke that in these days is obscuring the sun and that is preventing flights landing at airports, be coming from? Some put the blame on the fazendeiros, the local farmers, who practice uncontrolled burning of pastures, in order to prepare the soil for the sowing when the rains start.
They are burning the last two forest reserves of Maranhão, which are home to the Awá and Guajajara indigenous groups. The fire has been extending throughout the reserves for two months by now and no one (due to lack of political commitment and substantial investments) has managed to halt it. But the worst thing is that this fire is due to arson which is perpetrated by illegal timber traders in conflict with the indigenous peoples. Several people make a profit from the precious timber, including some local politicians and corrupt officials, but ‘the forest standing’ – as they say here, is the real guarantee for the life and the future of many indigenous villages. When the natives began to firmly oppose the timber looting, the struggle began. Some local, environmental leaders had to flee their land because they were threatened with death. The Comboni missionaries, in the context of the Panamazon Ecclesial Network for the defense of the Maranhão and its communities, submitted an open letter which was signed by nuns and bishops from l4 different countries.
The pressure on the Government of Brazil is strong: President Dilma Rousseff declared at the Paris climate talks that the rate of deforestation of the Amazon has decreased by 80% over the last decade. This is correct, but in 2014-2015, in contrast, it grew by 16%. The recently revised Forest Code in fact, is favouring agribusiness and the conversion of natural land and forests into a monoculture crop. The Brazilian President also announced that illegal deforestation of the Amazon will be reduced to zero by 2030. But since it is illegal, shouldn’t it be ended now and forever?Now governments must demonstrate to be willing to implement the commitments made at the Paris Climate summit and turn declarations and principles into real action.
We, as missionaries, feel that our place is beside the indigenous people of Maranhão, supporting them in their defense of life. We also promote, along with other ecclesial groups, the education of these people and participate actively in the Panamazon Ecclesial Network by denouncing and making alternative proposals to the looting of this region. We join debate on climate change and support the pressure put on national governments in order to achieve courageous choices of sustainability and defense of the future generations. We feel demoralized when we look up in the sky and see the pale sun behind the smoke screen. We definitely rely more on the indignation of the indigenous peoples and local communities, in their organization and self-defense of land, than on the politicians’ promises. (C.B.)