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In the last 35 years, from 1970 to 2005, 17% of the Amazon forest has been destroyed. The main causes of deforestation are activities related to the extraction of natural resources. Deforestation is a consequence of timber exploitation, cattle ranching, grain production in large farms, charcoal production, as well as large projects, such as roads and dams.

Amazon dilemmas and the Lula administration

[1]Lindomar Silva

The purpose of this text is to present preliminary elements for a discussion about the Lula administration, with respect to its policies in the Amazon region.

I – The Amazon development model designed in the 90s

In order to perform a brief analysis of the Lula administration’s policies for the Amazon region, we need an initial understanding of the concept of development that has guided governmental intervention since 1990 until now; that is, one must understand that the neoliberal policies initiated in past decades have considered the Amazon as a region devoted to the generation of trade surplus.

The “Brasil em Ação” and “Avança Brasil” government programs have started a new approach in government practices with respect to regional development. According to this approach, the establishment of integration axes would enable a more competitive access to markets. This concept proposes the creation of long distance transportation infrastructure that integrates national and international regions, thus increasing competitiveness and facilitating access to markets.

The Lula administration has established as its goal for the Multi-Year Plan 2004-2007 to articulate productivity and competitiveness with social inclusion, employment and income distribution. Thus, the federal government has proposed to establish policies capable of realizing endogenous potential, regional specificity and diversity. We may find examples of this proposal in the documents produced by the National Integration Ministry titled “Política Nacional de Desenvolvimento Regional” (BRASIL, 2003a), which lay some of the foundations for regional development policy.

This document states that development must consist of “exploring, in a thorough manner, the endogenous potential of the extraordinarily diverse base of regional development, according to the current social framework grounded on more diversified and sophisticated production, carrying regionally-based social values” (BRASIL, 2003a, p. 12). The document reinforces the need to strengthen the economic agents that find competitiveness anchored in competitive advantages and those that use the region’s natural resources. This conception is also present in the document produced jointly by the National Integration and the Environment Ministries, titled “Plano Amazônia Sustentável” (PAS) (BRASIL, 2006).

But federal government' action in the Amazon was guided by a document drafted by the Planning Ministry, the Multi-Year Plan 2004-2007 (BRASIL, 2003b). There, actions established during past administrations are reinforced, and the articulation between the federal public sector and the economic agents who may wish to take advantage of the wealth of the region is strengthened.

The strategies of the Planning Ministry expressed in the Multi-Year Plan state that Brazil’s economic development is blocked by restrictions causing external and internal vulnerability. These restrictions produce a weak ability to generate foreign currency needed to balance trade and to attract productive capital. This would render Brazil dependent on capital in order to balance its budget.

Faced with such a diagnosis, the government has established as its priority the increasing of trade surplus. For that purpose, the government would privilege companies that perform such a function in the region, such as the mining-metal industries and agribusiness. Based on this diagnosis, the government has focused on strengthening projects that prioritize and increase trade surplus. Subsequently, the public development process focuses on valuing projects that are export-oriented and have weak or no articulation with regional development. Furthermore, these would leave behind them a legacy of social and environmental problems, as was the case with Serra do Navio, in Macapá, after 50 years of manganese exploration by ICOMI[1].

Faced with the need to reassure the functioning of this model, the Lula administration made it clear that it would maintain the same dynamic of previous administrations, with only minor changes. This has been made unequivocal by the President’s attendance at the inauguration of the third production line of Alunorte, in Barcarena, which enabled a rise in the total export volume by this company from 730 thousand tons of alumina a year to 1,4 million tons in 2004. He also attended in 2004 the inauguration, in Canaã dos Carajás, of the CVRD (Companhia Vale do Rio Doce) project aimed at the strengthening of copper mining in the Sossego mine, which will be responsible for the annual production of 140 thousand tons of copper in the next two decades.

For this purpose, the government has chosen to benefit certain economic segments and has established a strategy aimed at favoring export companies without local ties by providing tax exemptions, which will inevitably lead to impoverishment and environmental degradation. The government has chosen to benefit a development model that is alien to the region. This approach is opposed to a sustainable development model that could give priority to human rights and environmental protection.

One of the examples of this policy is the strengthening of CVRD - Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, who in 2005 was responsible for 14% of the nation’s trade surplus, with an annual gross profit of $35,4 billion reais, and a net profit of $ 10 billion reais, or two-thirds higher than in 2004. It is obvious that this large growth of CRVD and other companies is favored by tax exemptions and by integration projects coordinated by the federal government.

Thus, we conclude that the project established for the Amazon region by the Lula administration is a continuation of the model implemented by the previous government, focusing on “income concentration, homogenization of the productive process and devaluing human and environmental resources”, according to a statement by professor Maurílio Monteiro during a talk at the Brazilian Bishops National Conference.

II – Grain agribusiness and deforestation

The rise of deforestation has been very serious in the Amazon region. In the last 35 years, from 1970 to 2005, 17% of the Amazon area has been destroyed. The main causes of deforestation are activities related to the exploration of natural resources, such as timber exploration, cattle ranching, grain production in large farms, charcoal production, as well as large projects, such as roads and dams.

One of the main causes of deforestation is the rise of grain agribusiness. The Brazilian state that includes almost half of the levels of deforestation is Mato Grosso, at 48.1%, the equivalent to 12576 Km². Mato Grosso is the largest soy producing state in the country, and the world’s largest individual soy producer is Blairo Maggi, its current governor. In the last 35 years, this is the state that has lost the largest area of forest. At the same time, we can notice that the revenues collected by the Maggi industrial group have risen 28%, reaching US$ 532 millions in 2003, versus US$ 415 millions in 2002 (Greenpeace, 2005).

The forest has been destroyed in order to enable the production of timber, cattle and soy, and for road construction and paving. At the center of this discussion is the paving of the BR-163 highway, since just the expectation generated by this construction has increased the illegal occupation of land, violence and deforestation in the Santarém region.

Thus, the incentives for grain agribusiness and the quest to secure the necessary infrastructure for its transportation, via Amazon ports such as Santarém and Vila do Conde, in Barcarena, favor a type of development that destroys one of the fundamental characteristics of Amazônia: its environmental and cultural diversity.

The main consequences of a type of development that converts forest in pasture and agricultural areas are an intense and irreversible loss of genetic wealth in many of the Amazon’s ecosystems, such as regional rainfall reduction, increase in forest susceptibility to fire, and extensive land cover conversion from forest to savanna. The rise in grain agribusiness is also a cause of pollution and the disappearance of rivers, favoring large landholders, and causing the rural exodus of small farmers, who are forced to migrate to large cities.

III - The creation of homogenous spaces in the Amazon

Undoubtedly, the Amazon region’s greatest wealth is its diversity. Throughout time, this diversity has guaranteed the survival of its population. The increased presence of corporations in the region created homogenous structures and spaces. Such structures are materialized in the consolidation of soy and eucalyptus monocultures, cattle ranching and mining companies.

Government policy throughout the 90s strived for “efficiency” in the development of competitive advantages, which favored the marketing of natural resources as a key element for trade surplus generation. Despite the rhetoric of the Lula administration in claiming to pursue an interconnection between economic growth and sustainability, there were no significant policy changes.

IV – The rise of poverty

When we think of the Amazon what comes to mind is a region with great natural resources. In fact, it is so. But the current development model limits the ability of local populations to benefit from that wealth, and causes extreme poverty, as well as loss of natural and cultural resources. Since this form of economic development is centralized and imposed from the outside, without further commitments to the region, it is not surprising to see the rise of unemployment, violence, and extreme poverty in the region.

The state of Pará

The imposition of a development model that does not value socio-environmental diversity brings serious social consequences to the population of the region, producing a contrast between the appropriation of wealth and the rise of poverty. This has become evident in the state of Pará.

Pará, the second largest state in the Amazon region in terms of land area, and the most populated one, has 430 thousand unemployed people, according to DIESSE (Interlabor Department for Socioeconomic Statistics and Studies). In cities such as Santarém, Alenquer, and Paragominas, where there was a rise in crop monoculture, one can witness the sprouting of neighborhoods with extremely poor living conditions. According to the Social Services Bureau of Paragominas, 350 families arrive in the city each month looking for employment. The high level of unemployment observed in medium and large Amazon cities is accompanied by an increase in violence and exploitation, whose main victims end up being children and adolescents. There has also been a rise in the number of children and teenage victims of child labor – there are more than 300 thousand working as maidservants without any rights. Regions such as Marajó and the islands of the Lower Tocantins are known routes of child and teenage traffic for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

The rise in poverty has also brought with it a resurgence of diseases that are easily controllable or that had become extinct in past decades. According to Health Watch data and indicators, the state of Pará is ranked first in the nation in the occurrence of leprosy. In 2004, 5041 cases were detected by SINAN (National System for Judicial Notification), and 18 deaths were recorded by SIM (Information System on Mortality). According to official indicators, there are, in Pará today, 39 hyper endemic municipalities, that is, administrative regions where more than 20 cases per 10 thousand people are observed; none of the remaining 104 municipalities in the state can avoid the endemic classification, either. Faced with such data, a frightening prospect cannot be ruled out, not to mention the cases where entire families are in the process of contracting the disease but have yet to make it to the official indicators.

The fact that the Marabá region, where the world’s largest mining province is located, and from where CVRD has extracted 85 million tons of iron until the end of 2006, is the area of the state where hanseniasis has seen the steepest rise is undeniable proof that extractive mining companies do not bring quality of life to their surrounding populations.

Beriberi is another disease that should have been controlled, but was not. Recently, 123 beriberi cases have been diagnosed, with 37 fatal victims, in the municipalities located on the banks of the Tocantins River, in the South of the Maranhão state, and 41 more cases in Pará, just in the D. Eliseu municipality. That region has seen one of the highest rises in the establishment of charcoal kilns, which exist to produce vegetable coal for the Marabá metal company. One might add that beriberi was known for killing the Black populations during the colonial period, in the 17th century. Its main cause is vitamin B1 deficiency, and it provokes a neurological syndrome in its victims.

Final considerations

We must reflect upon development based on indicators that take into consideration the basic rights of our population, and the ecological balance of the region. After these elements have been accounted for, we realize that the Amazon has been put through a process that has been designated by André Gunder Frank as the “development of underdevelopment”, that is, we are getting poorer.

Government policies define the Amazon as a region to generate trade surplus and to produce raw materials. These materials, however, have less and less value. The Carajás mine, projected to produce 25 million tons of iron, has reached 85 million in 2006, and will have produced 100 million by the end of the decade. Aluminum ore, in Trombetas, went up from 6 to 16 million tons in 2006. Alunorte, projected for 1,1 million tons of aluminum, will produce 2.4 million.  Not to mention the mines that are about to start the process of extraction.

So, the strategy defined by the Lula administration reinforces previous projects and strengthens local oligarchic forces, and, consequently, deepens income concentration problems and social exclusion. The current model considers the forest and its population as impediments to “development”. The current policies for the Amazon region are not different than the ones during the period of colonization.

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[1] After the expiration of a manganese exploration contract in the Serra do Navio by Icomi, in the Santana municipality of the Amapá state, groundwater contamination by arsenic was found in the Icomi port soil, and a region with large areas of poverty was left with no assistance.

[1] Lindomar Silva is a sociologist and Regional Secretary for Cáritas Brasileira Regional Norte II (Pará and Amapá states).