The Amazon Rainforest and the “End of The World”: Me, You, They, Us.
The Amazon Rainforest and the “End of The World”: Me, You, They, Us.
by Tatiana Lionço (Professor at University of Brasília, Brazil).
We have been facing worrying times here in Brazil. I realized that sometimes I am speechless
about political absurdities and explicit cruelty because it disturbs my capacity to think. To find
out if I still have the power to think and to share my ideas about public debates on social justice,
I decided to think and write in English, a language that is not mine, to achieve new and possible
words and ideas, and to reach new audience. It has been very difficult to understand what is
going on in Brazil, and maybe, through the effort of writing in your language (which is imposed
on all us as universal), I can achieve a different consciousness. First I have to say that English
is not a universal language, and I wish very hard that it will not ever be. Not every population
learns English as first or second language, and we must protect their right to be heard in this
world que share. Thank you for reading me in your own language, and remember that before
dictating your terms about the Amazon Rainforest you should isten to our concerns.
Last week I had the opportunity to be close to many indigenous people. I went to the First
National March of Indigenous Women, and so I experienced the situation of listening to
languages that I could not recognize or understand. Some of these women decided to speak in
their language and I am very glad they did so. I could recognize that there are lots of languages
that are not recognized or understood. There are many people who are not heard to because
they don’t necessarily speak your idiom or mine.
I decided to share with you my thoughts, driven by my notable ignorance about the
pronouncements of many indigenous people that spoke in their own languages. I decided to
share my understanding with you even if I can be as ignorant as you are about indigenous
culture and traditions, at least I could share experience with these women and the reflections it
occasioned about my situation as a white brazilian woman.
I came here to destroy your fiction of nationality, your fiction of national sovereignty. My family
lost their european nationality and citizenship four generations ago, when they where
encouraged to emigrate to Brazil. White people of the Americas share a common past: mostly
we are here because of the massive migration to the New World during the ascension of the
National states and the republican regimes in Europe. We lost nationality as a consequence of
"very republican" interests, that justified the expulsion of poor people from European territories.
They promised us better conditions of living, but they, who remain European, would prefer not to
share position with us.
I am aware that even if I am misinterpreted as a white european woman when my body
circulates in countries of the Global North, you can certainly be wrong. I am not, and I am very
proud of being brazilian. I want you, specially white people who are North American and
European and that are protected in your citizenship by the sovereignty of your nations, to
identify with me as someone that you could become. Maybe you can imagine yourselves losing
your nationality in times when your possible poverty or moral inadequacy could earn you the
loss of recognition as a citizen. Try to think about yourself as someone that it would be
preferable to go away because you damage the image of your nation. Maybe you are be able to
think about that when you find out that your image is not guaranteed as you wish. Not for us.
As a Brazilian, a Latin American woman, what I have to say to you is that the Amazon Forest is
in risk of terminal destruction, because it has been already destroyed. I hope you all had already
noticed that, but it is urgent to ask what for. As I could spent some time few months ago in New
York City, and also as I had already gone to some countries in Europe years ago, I have to tell
you, specially people that have never visited “underdeveloped countries”, that you probably
have no accurate idea of the world. I claim you to recognize that we have privileged
perspectives to worry about consequences of the predatory forces of capitalism against natural
resources. You should start listening to other people, in their own terms and languages,
considering the voices of the people that you decided long time ago to not listen to.
The Amazon is burning and its destruction is so severe that the city of São Paulo was
covered by smoke, turning the sky dark during day hours. We don’t need you to teach us how to
preserve the environment. I came here to tell you that I saw how you live, and that I know that
your wealth, the wealth of your cities, your powerful infrastructure, all this derives from the
exploitation of our territory and people, and so many others that you think are “not well
developed” around the world. I don’t want to achieve your development because your progress
is our failure, be sure of that. Our possible development would be a failure to so many other
people and I choose not to benefit from it if I can. I try to recognize my own privilege as a white
woman in Brazil and it has been very shameful, though it is an important step to understand
what must be changed.
The comercial profit of your big industries is due to your exploitation and extraction of our
natural resources. Your capitalist power is due to the exploitation of workers that are contracted
by your companies here, just because you decided to pay the less you could for their work. You
are here even if you hadn’t noticed, and you have been doing things that would be not possible
in our “developed" countries: damaging nature, exploiting workers that you believe your have
helped from misery and lack of dignifying work. It costs you very little to exploit us more and
more, and your profit is our loss.
Think with me for a minute: the Amazon and the environmental problem is not only our problem
but it is your problem too. Not only because you will suffer with us the consequences of the
capitalist arrogance of accumulating “value”, that you stimulate as a norm, but also because you
are the ones who promote the destruction of the forests, the rivers, and even the humanity
there. We don’t agree with your moral teaching about how to live responsibly, using bicycles to
go to work and then “not polluting the environment”. You ride your bicycle because your
automotive industries are in our country, for your own profit. You are here exploiting the natural
resources with your miner companies. Be happy, but also take your time to think about how you
have decided to forgo your responsibility. Your comfort and your privilege are achieved and
maintained by the exploitation and the depredation of our territory, sovereignty and conditions of
I have to tell you that I could never represent indigenous peoples, but I am close to them
enough to recognize that they are not even “indigenous”, as we usually say. They are
Tupinambá, Cariri-Xocó, Tukano, Xavante, Guarani- Kaiowá, Macuxi. They can be also Krenak.
They are "others" that I still ignore, even if I am compromised to recognize them. There are
much more of this “indigenous" people that haven’t deserved your recognition and
consideration: you ignore them. You ignore that you, non-indigenous north american people, are
all immigrants in America. You white european ignore that you committed the largest genocide
in the history.
Ailton Krenak, one of the most important contemporary thinkers in Brazil, have been
telling us that we have to postpone the "end of the world". Also,for his people, the end of the
world is not something that will happen, but that already started to happen 500 years ago. It is
still happening: the end of the world is long, and it has multiple consequences. By thinking about
the Amazon rainforest and considering the climate changes that menace us all, maybe you can
start to experience the end of the world too. Try to think about the workers of miners that
recently died in Brumadinho/Brazil, drowned in the mud because of the irresponsibility of
international companies in our territory. You feel safe having you economic interests met. Try to
imagine the krenak people that lost their access to Rio Doce, because it was damaged by
capitalist interests and the disregard for indigenous and riverside communities. Try to
understand that these people are still abandoned in their new needs after this catastrophe, that
their mourning is hindered by the recurrence of his losses. I think you should recognize that
some white people from the “developed countries” working for the Samarco and the Vale mining
companies are responsible, even if they try to pretend they are not. You are also responsible,
because you benefit in your comfortable life due to our niobium, our oil, due to the knowledge of
people you exploit by ignoring them. Try to think about the patenting of the traditional knowledge
of the indigenous people for your profit in the pharmacological industry, one of the biggest
industries of capitalism.
You are responsible, and don’t try to teach us the meaning of democracy, social justice,
and development. We can try to think about this together, that’s true. The president of Brazil
seems to me to freely spread the discriminatory and genocidal logic of the western colonizing
process. Not only does he legitimize violence against the Brazilian people who do not shape his
electoral base, but he also serves to international interests in the debasement of our sovereignty
as a country. Who will buy our state-owned companies that Jair Bolsonaro is putting for sale?
Will you buy not only our state-owned companies, but also the meat and the cereals that are
going to be produced on the devastated forests, on the new and wide fields opened to
agribusiness in Amazonian territory?
What is Ailton Krenak teaching us? That the white western imperialism has been
destroying their world for a very long time. That some of them not only survived the genocide
and the destruction of their world, but that they are generously trying to contribute for thee
postponing of the end of our shared world. The end of your world has just begun: that’s what I
claim you to listen, and please don’t hesitate to share with us your shame, your discomfort, your
For this to happen you must recognize that your project for the world, your way of life,
your culture of consumption and of benefiting from the deterioration of life of all other, have
never been the best way we could live in this shared planet. You must renounce your
supremacy, you must renounce your comfort, you must share our precariousness. I am sure
that you, who agree with me, are not going to feel attacked by my words. My words are directed
as an attack to you white and privileged people from the “very developed countries”, because
you have no idea and you should start listening to me, to them. Maybe you could create new
thoughts differently from the ones that lead us all to experience the destruction and the “end of
the world”. I can agree that is a shame for us, brazilian people, that your imperialist and egoistic
project of society is now being represented by the president of Brazil. This situation touches
most of us in our feelings of shame and desperation. Because of that, I want to ask you a
question: will you negotiate your interests with him?
(The text reflects the views of the author)
Thanks to Prof. Gianpaolo Baiocchi (NYU) for editing it