And More Capitalism
As the Brazilian “miracle” began to lose ground in the early 1970s, the generals looked to large-scale capitalist development projects in the Amazon as their salvation. These massive projects created the greatest or potentially greatest ecological damage. Several huge dams flooded millions of acres of forest.
Mining polluted the waters, and deforestation destroyed the ecological balance of the forest, creating fires that added carbon to the atmosphere and increasing the greenhouse effect. These projects emphasized the maximum extraction of profit from the forest without any concern for the people or the ecological damage. For example, one of the proposed projects was to create the world’s larges rice plantation: another involved the manufacture of wood pulp on a massive scale. A charcoal project would have required 1,680,000 acres of eucalyptus plantations. Public colonization for the small farmer gave way to corporate colonization for the rich.
At present, farmers in the Amazon struggle to ship their crops to market. This is one of the key factors limiting deforestation. But the government wants to complete a 1,000 mile road which is cutting straight through the Amazon. As one driver states; "you will be able to get everything out so the rainforest will be totally destroyed".
The Continuing Drama
The forest people are struggling today to stop many of these projects. In 1980, the military dictatorship of Ernesto Geisel was under attack. The “miracle” was not happening. The standard of living of the average person had fallen, while inflation was rampant and the value of the Brazilian currency had declined rapidly. Brazil’s debt soared, and the “miracle” still needed billions in foreign capital to fuel its huge projects. The dictatorship was followed by a return to democracy, but the struggle for the Amazon rainforest is still being waged.
See Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn, The Fate of the Forest: Developers,
Destroyers and Defenders of the Amazon
Amazon, 1990: Chico’s Legacy
The government of Brazil founds four large extractive reserves. Taken together they are the size of the state of Massachusetts. One of them is called the Chico Mendes Reserve.