2 million hectares of Amazon saved!

Feature story - November 11, 2004
The Brazilian government has stood up to the powerful forces of illegal loggers and greedy soya and beef barons in the Amazon by creating two massive protective reserves. This means increased sustainable use of the forest by local people and added protection against environmental devastation.

The Arctic Sunrise campaigning for the extractive reserves in 2003. The announcement by the Brazilian government to create 2 million hectares of extractive reserve is a major victory for our campaign.

We have been working with the local communities of Para State for four years for the formation of the Verde Para Sempre Extractive Reserve. This is part of our work in the Amazon supporting the establishment of a network of protected areas in the Middle Land to stop increasing deforestation led by cattle and soya farming. The recent presidential decree has protected two million hectares of the Amazon forest by creating the Verde Para Sempre and Riozinho do Anfrisio extractive reserves.

Protecting a way of life

Last year we had two ships in the area where local communities and forest are being destroyed for profit at any cost. It is a lawless frontier where greed, corruption, slavery and even murder are common place as loggers and ranchers trash the forest for short term profits. Along with local people we confronted the powerful forces behind the destruction such as mayors of the region who also own logging companies. Realities such as this mean unsustainable development and environmental destruction go hand in hand with human rights abuses and the total disregard for law and order.

View the animation of the threats to the forest in Para State.

View the threats to the forests in Para State.

The communities living in the region have been fighting to change the situation and want to preserve this forest, its rivers and the life that depends upon it. Extractive reserves are protected areas cooperatively managed by the local communities for low-impact activities such as rubber tapping, vegetable oil extraction and small-scale logging. They must include fully protected areas, guarded by the communities themselves.

Maria Luisa, who lives in this region, says they have been fighting for this dream for four years.

"Life here was very healthy. We used to live from our hunting and fishing. I get very sad when I start remembering how it was and how it is now. There wasn't greed, everybody used to live on the land, and everything belonged to everyone."

Their traditional lives changed when loggers and local authorities began invading public and community lands in the region, exploiting timber illegally in a predatory manner and aggressively attempting to displace the local rural populations.

"Many times I am afraid of dying," says Maria Luisa. "They come with guns, knives and I get afraid, but at the same time, I am not. Why? If I was born to fight for my people, for life, if my destiny is to die, I will die for it. I will not stop before all these injustices, to let things go because I am afraid. I am not afraid!"

As well as our work in the region almost 19,000 people answered the call to help these local people achieve their dream of the protected reserves by writing to Brazilian President Lula to urge him to create the reserves.

Now Maria's dream has been realised and all this hard work has resulted in a major victory for the Amazon. Our Amazon coordinator is in party mood: "We are extremely happy with Lula's decision to protect the Amazon and the forest people who live here. It's time to celebrate. The legacy of Chico Mendes has been honoured. With this decision, the Brazilian Government has shown that the future of the Amazon is not in the hands of illegal loggers or soya and cattle farmers. It is in the hands of social justice, environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources by the forest peoples."

More:

Our work to protect the Amazon continues and you can find out all about our expedition to Para State last year including ships diaries, beautiful images, slideshows and animated explantations of the threats to the forest.

Take action:

Right now we are trying to protect a different type of rainforest - deep sea trawling is destroying the ecosystems at least as diverse as the Amazon and we need your help to stop it.