The struggle for social and environmental justice in the Brazilian Amazon – A Volunteers Story

Here from CAFOD Volunteer Michael Walsh as he tells of his experience of a recent CAFOD event!

On Wednesday, about fifty CAFOD supporters experienced a much-needed antidote to the discouraging news coming out of Latin America in recent months. CAFOD Westminster organised a meeting about its work with indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazonian forests. Esther Gillingham – CAFOD’s Brazil Programme Officer – spoke with authority of the outstanding courage of the indigenous people and their organisations in the face of the depredations of mining companies, large-scale agriculture and developers who have already laid waste to vast swathes of the rain forest – the home of about 255 groups of indigenous people. Those same rain forests retain and absorb vast volumes of carbon dioxide. Unstable and extreme rainfall patterns such as droughts and floods are linked to deforestation in the Amazon region, and are widely thought to be a powerful factor in increasing climate change all over the world.

CAFOD Westminster Volunteers

Before the Portuguese first set foot in Brazil, between two to four million indigenous people lived there but smallpox, slavery and slaughter had reduced the number over centuries. Today there are fewer than 900,000 indigenous people living in Brazil (98% of their lands are in the Legal Amazon region), who have been diminished by nearly one fifth as a result of ruthless and mostly unlawful incursions by commercial interests.  For Brazil has a most impressive legal framework protecting the rights and the lands of indigenous people, guaranteed through the 1988 Constitution. The Brazilian Government is bound in particular by its ratification of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation proclaiming and protecting the inalienable rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

The prospects for the free practice of these rights plummeted with the election last year of Brazil’s new government who are proposing to halt indigenous land demarcations, and open up indigenous reserves to mining. The fifty million people in Brazil who live in abject poverty have no reason to hope that the new government will help them to secure a better life in his determination to promote economic development regardless of the immediate and fatal long-term consequences for the national and global environment.

CAFOD stands with all in the forests and favelas in Brazil whose life prospects and freedoms are under threat.  It works with partner organisations who are at the cutting edge of the struggle for fair treatment. CAFOD stands with heroic individuals like Joenia Wapichana, an indigenous lawyer who is the first indigenous woman to be elected to Congress. Through taking part in the Climate Change Campaign and through contributing to the forthcoming Family Fast Day collections this Lent all can join in the struggle for justice, peace and global climate sustainability.

By Michael Walsh Office Volunteer.

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