In Episode 64 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the maddening and telling irony that while we're all supposed to be ga-ga with triumphalism over NASA's latest Mars probe, it has received practicailly no attention that Afro-Brazilian peasant communities are being forcibly removed from their traditional lands to make way for a US-backed expansion of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center in impoverished Maranhão state. This juxtaposition of news stories is paradigmatic of the whole global struggle—sustainable, Earth-rooted cultures against a hypertrophing technosphere that is now colonizing the very heavens. Meanwhile, there are already so many satellites in orbit that near-Earth space is experiencing a fast-growing "space junk" problem. And economic austerity down here on terra firma is compounding the agonizing impacts of the pandemic. Whatever useful knowledge may be gleaned from the Mars probe, accounts don't note that Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. We recall Gil Scott Heron's wry reaction to the 1969 Moon landing ("Whitey on the Moon"), and say with Marvin Gaye: "Spend it on the have-nots!"
Brazil's carbon emissions surged last year due to rising deforestation in the Amazon, jeopardizing the country's commitments under the Paris climate accord, an environmental group warns in a new study. Brazil spewed a total of 2.17 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2019, an increase of 9.6% over 2018, according to the Brazilian Climate Observatory. That coincided with the first year in office for President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic who has presided over a sharp increase in forest-clearing and wildfires in the Amazon.
Brazilian Military Police completed the eviction of a long-standing land occupation called Quilombo Campo Grande in Minas Gerais state on Aug. 14, after a struggle of almost three days. Police brought in armored vehicles and fired tear-gas to clear the community from the land, before moving in to destroy homes and crops. Also demolished was the Eduardo Galeano Popular School, where children, youth and adults studied together. The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), whose followers established the squatter community 22 years ago, protested that the mass eviction leaves some 450 families homeless in the midst of a pandemic.
Four months after COVID-19 was first suspected of spreading to indigenous communities in the Amazon Basin, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghereyesus, said at a press conference that the WHO is "deeply concerned" by the pandemic's impact on native populations. He singled out the recently contacted Nahua people in Peru, six of whom have caught the virus. Poverty, malnutrition, and the prevalence of communicable diseases put indigenous people at greater risk from coronavirus.
Protesters and riot police clashed on the outskirts of the Chilean capital Santiago May 17, amid growing anger over food shortages during the lockdown imposed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Police deployed armored vehicles, water cannons and tear-gas to put down protests in the poor district of El Bosque. Residents blocked traffic and hurled stones at police in running clashes that lasted most of the day. Sporadic incidents were also reported in other parts of the city. Nightly pot-banging protests have been held for weeks in several neighborhoods, promoted under the hashtag #CacerolasContraElHambre—or, pot-banging against hunger.
Indigenous leaders are warning that a combination of neglect, inadequate preparations, and a lack of lockdown measures is exposing remote and vulnerable communities in the Amazon to potentially devastating outbreaks of COVID-19. The nationwide death toll in Brazil has soared above 11,000 amid growing anger at President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissive response. The situation is particularly bad in the Amazon gateway city of Manaus, where the number of fatalities is feared to be many times the official 500 to 600. Peru and Ecuador also have large outbreaks and significant Amazonian indigenous populations.
As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, with more than 200 deaths already reported in Brazil, an evangelical Christian organization has purchased a helicopter with plans to contact and convert isolated indigenous groups in the remote Western Amazon. Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, is notorious for past attempts to contact and convert isolated peoples, having spread disease among the Zo’é living in northern Pará state. Once contacted in the 1980s, the Zo’é, lacking resistance, began dying from malaria and influenza, losing over a third of their population. Ethnos360 is planning its conversion mission despite the fact that FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has a longstanding policy against contact with isolated groups. The so-called "missionary aviation" contact plan may also violate Brazil's 1988 constitution and international treaties such as the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)