14 May 2012

Pig Iron Vessel Anchor Occupation, Brazil. © Greenpeace

Right now a 20 year old Brazilian named Elissama de Oliveira Menezes is attached to the anchor chain of a massive cargo ship here in Sao Luis, at the mouth of the Amazon. She’s a small girl anyway, but next to the 175 meter ‘Clipper Hope’ she looks absolutely tiny.

As long as Elissama stays on the anchor it’s impossible for the ship to dock and load its cargo of pig iron which is destined for the USA. Pig iron is used in the production of steel and is exported from Brazil ready for processing.

She’s there because she wants to end a cycle of destruction which starts in the Amazon rainforest and ends in car showrooms all over the world. She’s also sending a message to Brazil’s President Dilma, who is preparing to host the world’s elite in Rio in a few weeks time. Dilma is currently considering whether to veto changes to the ‘forest code’ a key law which has protected the Amazon for decades. It’s vital that she shows leadership to regain control and protect the Amazon.

Over the past two years Greenpeace has collected evidence about a new rainforest scandal involving the production of pig iron. Our research shows how rainforest trees are being chopped down to make wood charcoal, which is then burnt in furnaces to make pig iron.

This is driving the destruction of the rainforest, but it’s not just the trees that are suffering. The wood is often taken from protected land which is the home of indigenous people like the Awa tribe who have relied on the forest for centuries.

And at the charcoal camps themselves people work under terrible conditions to feed the ovens with fresh wood. This is modern day slavery, where people are lured from their homes with the promise of money but landed with huge debts for accommodation and food which they cannot pay off. Often these people sleep with nothing more than a plastic sheet as shelter, breathing in charcoal particles and other pollutants as the shovel wood in and charcoal out.

Greenpeace activists, along with Elissama, are taking action today to bring this Amazon crime to an international audience. Some of the world’s biggest car makers including Ford, GM, BMW and Mercedes are caught up in this scandal, but right now they’re on cruise control with the radio turned up.

As I look out of the window of the campaign office here on the Rainbow Warrior I can just make out Elissama against the vast bulk of the cargo ship she is blocking. One committed Brazilian can stop a ship of many thousand tonnes – but she can’t do it alone. She needs your help.

Visit our Amazon homepage to join her.