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Amazon Deforestation Reaches 12-Year High

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has exploded under President Jair Bolsonaro. New data from the country's space agency shows the rate of deforestation is at a 12-year high. The rainforest is home to approximately 1 million Indigenous people. So what's the impact on them? Gustavo Faleiros is the founder of InfoAmazonia, a data-based journalism initiative. He says illegal logging, land grabs for farming and even gold mining has been encouraged by the Bolsonaro government.

GUSTAVO FALEIRO: It's threatening Indigenous people. So you have a lot of land grabbing and invasions and territories - Indigenous territories by these illegal miners. While the discourse and Bolsonaro's discourse (unintelligible) this is our - Cat (ph) miners, you know, these people need to survive and just find some gold in the river. It's not like that. It's real mining going on with, like, huge, expensive machines. We've done in InfoAmazonia a large investigation showing that this is a big business connected to Amsterdam or Miami. And as the pandemic evolves and gold gets the highest price ever, there's no way of getting out of this because people won't stop buying gold. The pressure is coming directly to the Amazon and fueling these illegal activities. Ask me if Bolsonaro's doing something. No, not at all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Bolsonaro has had an ally in President Trump in terms of supporting industry over the environment. But there has been a shift. Incoming President Joe Biden has threatened economic consequences if deforestation continues. Do you think more international pressure could impact Bolsonaro's environmental approach?

FALEIRO: In one way, it's clear that economic pressure, trade barriers might change. But at the same time, you see the reason Joe Biden mentioned kind of energized the base of Bolsonaro. That's what they want. They want our Amazon. So he creates a kind of a political environment that is prone for the kind of nationalistic discourse as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let me ask you this. If pressure from the United States government isn't going to do the trick, then I'm wondering how concerned you are about what is happening in the Amazon and what you see in the short term as the future there?

FALEIRO: Look, my main concern is that while this is happening, you know, like, this back and forth and pressure, international pressure, the Amazons get more and more illegal. We know about drug trafficking. The FARC in Colombia has operated for years in the Amazon and now...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the Colombian guerrilla group.

FALEIRO: Exactly. So now that they're all mostly done in Colombia, all these trade routes of cocaine have moved to Brazil, to Peru and the south part of Venezuela. And the war is fierce there. I don't know if you have looked at some point the homicide rates of the Amazon cities right now. They just, like, the highest in Brazil because all the - you know, like, the criminal activity of the big centers of the south have moved there because they are trying to control that. And this money is linked to a lot of other illegal activities, including deforestation, because it's a big way of laundering your money and getting land and is moving into illegal mining. Illegal mining of gold, it's huge now. It's the highest level ever in the Amazon, all the Amazon countries, especially in the south part of Venezuela, which is controlled by the same guerrillas that left Colombia. And so we have a regional security issue that is really building up.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gustavo Faleiro is in Sao Paulo. He's the environment investigations editor at the Pulitzer Center and the founder of InfoAmazonia. Thank you very much.

FALEIRO: Thank you, Lulu. It was a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAD DERRICK'S "MOTH, BUTTERFLY, AND TORCHBUG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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