On the invisible wars

Since 2019 the world is at war with coronavirus and its variants. A war with an invisible enemy. Coronavirus has gained all the attention with its unprecedented coronation, but how many other unseeing wars are happening that have a great impact to the world’s population?

We are already experiencing the consequences of the Ukraine war. We are not sure about what is going to happen with prices in general, — especially fertilizers and fuels –, but, above all, we are all paying attention because it is a European conflict.

There are other territorial conflicts that have as many consequences to the world population as this one. But when the stage is white and western, the audience is larger. Who is paying attention to the wars happening in Africa or Asia Minor? Who is paying attention to the wars happening in the Amazon Forest? When will the whole world properly care about what is happening with the different peoples who are constantly fighting to keep their selves and their lands protected?

Everyone is shaken by what is going on in Europe because what happens in Europe seems to be more approachable and frightening than what happens in other parts of the world. The media has an important role on what is seen and what is not. It prefers to show images of a European conflict while keeping alive the intellectual colonialism to which we are all subordinated.

Europe is powerful and rich. But such power and richness were always dependent on the essential resources of the Amazon and other developing regions. The Amazon has the largest biodiversity in the world. If we lose the war against deforestation there is a great chance that the world will lose the battle against climate change. We are fighting against ourselves when we ignore these unseen battles. But the Amazonian wars are difficult to visualize. They are taking place too far away to be noticed. There are no witnesses apart from the forest and the different people and beings that inhabit it. And climate change – although happening everywhere and now – it is still seen as a war to be fought in a distant future.

If fertilizers and fuel are essential to the globalized world, oxygen and water are crucial to life in this planet. How intelligent are we if we keep ignoring this? Land conflicts have always existed. We have experienced many tragedies of the commons. But when it’s a European war, we awake the deep memories of the great wars. That’s why we get intensely touched by images of Ukrainian elders running away, trying to escape. At least they have the chance of running away. The Amazonian elders never had. When will we be able to look at them with the same solidarity we look at Ukrainians right now?

More importantly, what makes a war a “great war”? Nuclear power? Casualties statistics? Maybe we get afraid thinking of Europe’s dark past. Chernobyl, the Jewish genocide. But we are in the middle of a modern genocide when it comes to the Amazonian wars.

I will never forget when I was working in São Felix do Xingu – the municipality responsible for the largest rates of deforestation in the Amazon and for the largest cattle herds of Brazil – and some of the small farmers I was working with told me: “our mayor is one of the most dangerous murderers of the last decades”. He was accused of being the principal mandatory of crimes organized by land conflicts in 2003 and was one of leaders of the 2019 fires. It was then that I began to understand that a cow is worth more than a person. I began to understand that it isn’t just the forest that is dying, but also its people and their culture, and by implication – because we are all interconnected in this vast and mysterious web of life – we are dying too.

The dissemination of slave labour in the Amazon is alarming. Large landholders build clandestine airstrips to facilitate the transportation of materials and supplies, but also heavy weapons and ammunition. “There is overexploitation of labour, where many of the workers perform their duties in farms at gunpoint”. I have heard this from many different people I worked with in all parts of the Amazon. Large landholders, however, are not the ones to blame for deforestation. We are. We have agreed, as a species, that eating meat, using mobile phones and consuming other commodities that drive deforestation is ok, as long as we do not know (or even when we know) what is behind their chain of production. And again, if fertilizers and fuel are now in the headlights because of the Ukrainian war, one day it will be the Amazonian resources turn.

Modern societies tend to deny the link between the Amazon and our daily lives. The forest is too far away, too wild. However, not only the link has long existed but is intensifying over the past two decades with the commodity super cycle of the early twenty-first century –which resulted largely from the rising demand from emerging markets, particularly the Chinese one. The rubber extracted from the Amazon – through the brutal enslavement of local populations – enabled the automobile revolution of the nineteenth century, which fuelled the current climate crisis. Today, part of the minerals that allow societies to have ‘high-tech lifestyles’ (mobile phones, laptops) come from this region, and mining has become an increasingly important driver of Amazonian deforestation. Higher living standards all around the world have increased pressure on tropical countries and have shaped their relationships with both the rest of the world and the forests that lie within their borders.

Recent reports have showed that Latin America is still the deadliest region for environmental defenders, and that’s not counting the unreported deaths. Under the Amazonian treetops many are fighting at the front of the war against deforestation, but most of the world has no idea who they are. They have many nicknames: “Forest warriors, guardians, keepers”. Not just the “minorities in need of elite’s support and aid”, “the poor” or “the vulnerable”, as some like to call them, but the people who hold the practical and relational knowledge of living in harmony with the rest of nature. The ones who could teach us how to escape the vicious cycle of blind developmentalism. As anthropologist Els Lagrou once affirmed:

“(…) we are all undeniably enmeshed in the same vast web of Late Capitalism that infiltrates the most remote areas and aspects of our lives with its commodities, toxic substances, viruses, mosquitos and epidemics, and its implacable logic of exploitation of the seas, the soil, the territory (…)”

We are the forest. From medicines to electronics, from food to energy and clothes, we are all made in the forest. The Amazon is not the lungs of the world, it is its womb. It needs to be nourished and protected to keep generating all we rely on. And so need the people who are fighting to keep the forest alive. They deserve all our support, commotion, and solidarity. After all, as Henry Thoreau wrote: “What would human life be without forests, those natural cities?”

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