miércoles, 21 de agosto de 2019



Eliane Brum stands in the Tabuleiro do Embaubal of the Amazon Rainforest, where turtles are hatched. Image by João Luiz Guimarães. Brazil, 2019.

"For us to be capable of resisting, we must become the forest—and resist like the forest," said Eliane Brum, Brazilian newpaper columnist, reporter, and filmmaker based in the Amazon city of Altamira. She is also a member of the Amazon Advisory Committee of the Rainforest Journalism Fund (RJF), which supports reporting on the Amazon and other tropical rainforests in partnership with the Pulitzer Center. Brum spoke at the first Rainforest Journalism Fund Conference on July 12, 2019, in Manaus, Brazil, during a dinner for journalists and scientists attending the Sciencetelling™ Bootcamp & Explorer Spotlight, co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society. Eighty journalists and 40 scientists from throughout the Amazon basin gathered at the conference.

The Amazon Is the Center of the World
I want to begin by reminding us where we are.
I want to remind us that we are in the center of the world. This isn’t a rhetorical statement. Nor is it meant to be a sound bite. Right now, as our planet is experiencing climate collapse, the Amazon Forest is truly the center of the world. Or at least one of its main centers. If we don’t grasp this, there is no way to meet the climate challenge.

This is precisely why we have placed our bodies here in the city of Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, in the country that holds about 60 percent of the Amazon. Manaus is both a forest in ruins as well as the ruins of the idea of a country. Manaus can be seen as the living sculpture of a conflict begun in 1500, when the European invasion brought the death of hundreds of thousands of Indigenous men and women and the extinction of dozens of peoples. Right now, in 2019, we are witnessing the beginning of a new, disastrous chapter.
Brazil is a great builder of ruins. Brazil has built ruins of continental proportions ever since Europeans started inventing it in the sixteenth century. Right now, a predatory form of life called Bolsonarism has assumed nearly total, and totalitarian, power in Brazil. Bolsonarism’s chief project is precisely to build ruins in the Amazon Forest, methodically and swiftly. This is why, for the first time since Brazil’s re-democratization, we have a Minister Against the Environment.
For over 30 years, no environment minister has enjoyed the same autonomy as Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s Minister Against the Environment. He is a gofer for predatory agribusiness, in turn responsible for the majority of the deaths in the fields and forests, and also Brazil’s greatest destructive force. The “ruralist” caucus is not in the government today. They have always been part of the government, formally or not. But today, they are the government.
Bolsonarism’s number-one power project is to turn the public lands that serve everyone—because they guarantee the preservation of natural biomes and the life of native peoples—into private lands that profit a few. These lands, most of which lie in the Amazon Forest, include the public lands to which Indigenous peoples have the constitutional right of use, the public lands settled by ribeirinhos (people who have for over a century made their living by fishing, tapping rubber, and gathering Brazil nuts and other forest products), and the collective-use lands of quilombolas (descendants of rebel slaves who conquered their right to the territories occupied by their ancestors).
Infighting is constant among the various groups occupying the government today, in part because the Bolsonaro administration employs the strategy of simulating its own opposition so it can occupy every possible space. Yet there is a consensus about opening up Indigenous peoples’ protected lands and opening up conservation areas. When it comes to transforming the planet’s largest tropical forest into cattle, soybeans, and mined ore, there is no fighting. A few somewhat dissonant voices have already been deleted from the government.
Bolsonarism goes well beyond the creature that lends it its name. At some point, Bolsonarism might even do without Jair Bolsonaro. Deeply entwined with our global democracy crisis, Bolsonarism has been influencing the entire Amazon region, drawing out figures who have been hiding in sewers for years, sometimes decades, in other Latin American countries where the fate of the world’s largest tropical forest is also being decided. Bolsonarism, it bears repeating, is not a threat just to Brazil but to our planet. Exactly because it destroys the forest that is strategic to controlling global heating.

How do we resist this tremendous destructive force, this skilled destructive force?
For us to be capable of resisting, we must become the forest—and resist like the forest. Like the forest that knows it carries ruins within itself, that carries within itself both what it is and what it no longer is. It seems to me that we must lend shape to this political, affective feeling in order to lend meaning to our actions. This means shifting a few tectonic plates in our own thinking. We have to decolonize ourselves.

The fact that the Amazon is still seen as something faraway and also, or mainly, as a periphery shows just how stupid white Western culture is—a culture first of European roots and then of U.S. ones, and a stupidity that molds and shapes the political and economic elites of the world and likewise of Brazil. Also, to some extent, the intellectual elites of Brazil and the planet. Believing the Amazon is faraway and that it is a periphery, when the only chance of controlling global heating is to keep the forest alive, reflects ignorance of continental proportions. The forest is the closest close that all of us here have. And the fact that many of us feel faraway when we are here only shows how much our eyes have been contaminated, formatted, and distorted. Colonized.

Some days ago, I was talking to public attorneys and prosecutors who had recently moved to towns in the Amazon interior on their first postings. Because that’s the logic. The Amazon is the epicenter of conflicts, but to oversee the State and defend the rights of the most unprotected, institutions send in those with no experience. Some—not all—interpret their being sent to a region of the Amazon as a test or even punishment, an ordeal they have to pass before they receive a “decent” posting. Part—not all—can’t wait to be re-assigned and leave this “bad trip” behind. It’s not their fault, or it’s not their fault alone, because this is institutional logic, this is how our eyes view the Amazon. Fortunately, some realize the importance of their role, and they learn, comprehend, and stay, becoming public employees vital to the struggle for rights in regions where rights are worth little or nothing.
I reminded them that they, like me, are privileged. That they are precisely in the center of the world. That they are in the best place to be for someone who has chosen their profession. But they will have to work hard to overcome their ignorance, as I work hard every day to overcome mine. And the local population, the forest peoples, will have to be tremendously patient in explaining what they need to know, since they know little or nothing when they get here. The same holds true for journalists and also for scientists.

If we gather here believing we are special because we are concerned with the forest, we will have understood nothing. If we—we journalists, we scientists, we who are white well beyond skin color—understand ourselves as having left the comfort of our homes in “developed” cities, which supposedly offer more leisure and cultural options, and having come here to express our solidarity with the forest peoples, we likewise will have grasped nothing. If any truth exists, it lies in the ruins. The only truth is the ruins.

For more than 20 years, I traveled the Amazon’s different regions and then returned to Porto Alegre and, later, to São Paulo, cities in Brazil’s urban south, where I lived. In 2017, I moved to Altamira, so I would no longer be a “special envoy” to the Amazon and could change the point of view from which I observe Brazil and the planet and also be coherent with my conviction that the forest is the center of the world.

When I got here, I had trouble renting a house. Some of the houses I liked were owned by land-grabbers and/or those who order crimes to be committed against forest peoples and sustainable farmers. Because here, in the center of the world, there is a direct relationship. Not that the owners of houses, apartments, hotels, and condominiums in São Paulo are “cleaner,” but there the chain linking the crime to its head is longer and has more intermediaries.

In the big cities of Brazil and the world, we are distanced from the deaths in which our small daily acts are accomplices. We have the privilege of not being forced to question the origin of the clothes we wear or the food we eat. But here, in the Amazon, if you eat beef, you know for sure it is beef from deforestation. If you buy wood, you know there is (almost) no truly legal lumber in Brazil. If you purchase a table or a wardrobe, you look at the furniture and think about how it was most likely made with wood torn off Indigenous land or from an extractives reserve. Here, in the center of the world, our relationship with the death of the forest and forest peoples, as well as with the death of family farmers, is direct. It is inescapable. And we can only live by consciously carrying both our contradictions and our ruins.

This is why we must also face up to the contradiction that we are here, at this convening, funded by Norway’s resources. Norway is a major backer of the Amazon Fund as well, now under attack by the Bolsonaro administration. The continued existence of the Amazon Fund, the main financier of forest protection, is vital to curbing the accelerated destruction of this biome, even if only minimally. Yet this does not absolve us from the need to reflect on the fact that the Rainforest Journalism Fund is financed largely with oil money, since Norway is Europe’s biggest oil producer. Norway is also present on destructive frontlines in the Amazon—for example, through the company Hydro Alunorte, which contaminated the rivers of Barcarena, in Pará. We can only move ahead if we face up to all these contradictions, instead of running away from them. And if we demand better, more coherent practices from Norway.

Along different paths, I think we are here—not only those who have come from outside but also those who have already placed themselves here in this territory geographically—because we know our lives depend on it. Even if this is not yet a feeling, or even a thought, that everyone can name. We aren’t here to help the forest peoples, telling the world out there what is happening here. Rather, we are here to humbly ask if they will accept us alongside them in the fight.
We are the ones who need the help of the forest peoples. They are the ones who know how to live despite the ruins. They are the ones who have experience resisting the great forces of destruction. If we are to have any chance of producing a resistance movement, we must understand that in this fight, we are not the protagonists.

Unless we understand our place in this fight and are willing to share the little power we have, or even give up this power, I believe it will be very hard to produce any real movement. This time, we are the ones who need to let ourselves be occupied and allow our bodies to be affected by other experiences of being on this planet. But not as a form of violence, like the colonization of the Amazon and its peoples, the colonization still underway today—and underway at an ever faster pace. This time, as a form of exchange, a blending, a relationship of love, as consensual sex.

I would like to repeat the words of the philosopher Peter Pál Pelbart, who summed it up brilliantly: “Perhaps the challenge is to abandon the dialectics of Same and Other, of Identity and Alterity, and recover the logic of Multiplicity. It is no longer just a matter of my right to be different from the Other or the Other’s right to be different from me, in both cases preserving an opposition between us. Nor is it a matter of a relationship of peaceful coexistence between us, where each is tethered to his identity like a dog to a post, and thus entrenched in it. It is a matter of something more radical in these encounters, of also embarking on and assuming some of the Other, and thus at times even differing from yourself, detaching from yourself, coming unstuck from your own identity and constructing unprecedented shiftings.”

For a long time, we white Western journalists and scientists—and when I say “white Westerners,” I am talking about much more than skin color; I am talking about a way of thinking about this world and inhabiting it—have used the forest peoples merely as sources for our work. Scientists from all fields, including the humanities, have made careers grounded in the knowledge of forest peoples, citing them in academic papers simply as “informants,” if citing them at all.
While this practice remains widespread in scientific production, many have begun to understand that it is no longer ethically possible. Forest peoples must be recognized at the very least as co-authors. Intellectuals, like scientists, are not limited to academia. Intellectuals and scientists are also, and very much so, in the forest.

This is what many Indigenous intellectuals all over the world are saying right now. In Brazil, the most significant work co-authored by an academic intellectual and a forest intellectual is “The Falling Sky,” the product of a true, real partnership of mutual respect and mutual learning, between Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami intellectual, and Bruce Albert, a French anthropologist.
Perhaps the most fundamental debate we need to pursue within journalism is how this ethical, and aesthetic, challenge can occupy journalistic production at this crucial moment, how we can collaborate with forest peoples in order to invade and occupy journalism through their own experiences—and not just by letting themselves be formatted by our model of the press. It seems to me this shouldn’t be just about occupying space, about Indigenous peoples, ribeirinhos, and quilombolas doing journalism. It should also be about transforming space, transforming the very act of journalism.

One of the ways to initiate this movement within the Rainforest Journalism Fund is to encourage the co-authorship of reporting projects, because the most effective way to occupy spaces of power…is by occupying spaces of power. And again, we must take up this challenge not because we are “cool,” or making a concession, or doing a favor—not even because it’s the most correct thing to do—but because we have much to learn and because we can teach. We need to invent ourselves another way around if we want to have a chance to confront this moment in which the human species has become the catastrophe it feared.

Bolsonaro is not just a threat to the Amazon. He is a threat to the planet, exactly because he is a threat to the Amazon. Confronted with Bolsonarism’s accelerated force of destruction, we, of all nationalities, must do as the enslaved Africans who rebelled against their oppressors. We must forge quilombos. And since we don’t know how to do this, we will have to be humble enough to learn with those who do.
What is best, and most powerful, about today’s Brazil and the Amazon, in all its regions, are the peripheries that demand to be the center. Our best chance lies in joining forces with the real center of the world where the dispute over the future is being waged, sometimes by bullet. This is the movement that we, journalists and scientists, must humbly serve. I hope the forest peoples can, after everything we have done against their bodies, accept us alongside them in the fight.


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