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Amazon fires — political ploy to privatise public land

The massive forest fires in the Amazon have reached unprecedented proportions. Chris Chatteris comments on the lack of political goodwill in putting an end to the fires, and far more importantly, a change to environmental policies. The victims, he says, are the world’s people, but expresses hope that public activism will put politicians under increasing pressure to change the way we treat our common home.

The Amazon rain forests are burning. An area the size of Manhattan is going up in smoke every day.

Arsonists are setting these fires because they can; they know they have the tacit approval of the Brazilian president and his government for the destruction. The aim is to capture lands that are communally owned by indigenous people and other groups and put them into the private hands of ranchers and growers of soya. It is a contemporary form of colonialism and is as violent as ever.

The fact that the fires in the Amazon have suddenly shot to the top of the world’s headlines, and are a matter for discussion at the 2019 G7 Summit, came as a shock to President Bolsonaro. He reacted badly at first to this unwanted interference in Brazil’s internal affairs. Thanks to the scale of international reaction, he quickly changed his tune and assured the world that he was taking action.

The international pressure has emboldened local opposition and he now has demonstrators on the streets to contend with. The big macho strongman suddenly appears politically vulnerable.

The aim [of the fires] is to capture lands that are communally owned by indigenous people and other groups and put them into the private hands of ranchers.

It’s a fascinating sign of the times that a right-wing hardliner is suddenly made to look weak over a green issue. Remember when people used to laugh at the greens and make bunny-hugging jokes about them?

Not anymore. Green has become a force to be reckoned with and is moving into the mainstream. The more far-sighted politicians have seen this. A younger generation of voters is preparing to punish politicians at the polls who neglect the environment, and those who wilfully make war on it are being recognised for what they are – the real enemies of the people.

READ — Green Diplomacy – The Chance to Mitigate the Effects of the Economic Crisis in the Context of Sustainable Development

Today the “people” includes the population of the whole planet. The Amazon, the fate of which will affect us all, for better or worse, is one of the most vital in our “common home,” as Pope Francis describes it. It is one of those natural resources that benefits everyone, yet the political pirates are being enabled to privatise at our collective peril.

By allowing the continued arson in the Amazon, Bolsonaro threatens to burn us all out by also massively contributing to global warming. He may feel that he can burn out indigenous people, but the seven plus billion population of a world that is heating up is another matter altogether.

A younger generation of voters is preparing to punish politicians at the polls who neglect the environment.

The planetary common good must ultimately trump the interests of Bolsonaro and his cronies. What we are witnessing is the fact that the limits of political power are written into the global ecosystem.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Chris Chatteris SJ
Chris Chatteris is a Jesuit priest who is the handyman at the Seminary in Cape Town, combining the tradition of the ‘worker priest’ with teaching and spiritual direction of seminarians. On the handyman side his current project is to ‘green’ the seminary and he has installed such things as heat pumps, rain tanks and recycling systems. He does some writing, last year authoring a book entitled Vocations and what to do with them, a handbook for vocations directors. He also writes a monthly column for the Southern Cross reflecting on the Pope’s intentions, plus occasional other articles elsewhere. Chris was born in Zambia and went to Jesuit schools in both Zimbabwe and Britain and, having been unable to beat them, joined them in 1968. He studied philosophy, theology, French and education, and spent a very formative time in France, part of which was at the L’Arche Community of Jean Vanier fame. Chris has taught in French and British schools and worked in British and South African parishes, including a mission in KZN at the time of the transition from apartheid to normality. He has also worked as the novice director of Jesuits, in the theological formation of young religious at St Joseph’s Theological Institute, Cedara and, briefly, at the Jesuit Institute.

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