Journalism from the center of the world

A scene from the filming of children from the Santa Benedita housing complex, on the outskirts of Altamira. Video shot by artist Joaka Barros, (crouching with cap) from the urban culture collective Reação de Rua (Street Reaction).

Dear SUMAÚMA Community,

In this seventh issue, we bring you a major scoop, and the exclusive story of the land reform activist and close friend of Dorothy Stang forced to become a fugitive for 17 years. We also give you an article that restores life to Tanaru, the last of his people; a major report on the effect of a corporation on the forest of the Awa Guajá people; and an opinion piece on what the forest treaty assigned by three powers in biodiversity – Brazil, Congo and Indonesia – really means. We’re also honored to bring you the voice of Raoni, perhaps the oldest and wisest root of the tree of indigenous peoples, who for decades has warned of the climate catastrophe coming from the Amazon Rainforest, in a video recorded by his grandson Matsipaya Bepkoti Beppakrejti Waura Txucarramae. In it, the great Kayapó leader sends a message to Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula. We also have the final chapter of Nature in Power, a series in which the forest-peoples express their demands to Lula, who made a commitment to them during his campaign.

In this series, we began with the leaders of the native peoples, followed by the voices of the quilombolas (descendants of escaped slaves who settled in communities known as quilombos), ribeirinhos (members of traditional forest communities), camponeses (smallhold farmers) and activists from the Amazon’s urban social movements. With great joy, we then introduced, through the voices of scientists, the demands of the non-human peoples (from mammals to reptiles, fungi to insects), demonstrating what a democracy capable of including other species might be like. In this issue, we end the series with the wishes of the children and adolescents of Altamira, living in the urban periferias (often socially disadvantaged urban suburbs) after their parents and grandparents were expelled from both the forest and the urban riverbanks.

Children and adolescents, those most affected by the plans and policies of governments and corporations, as well as by organized crime, are never listened to – not even by the media. In our story, we explain why listening to them is one of SUMAÚMA’s fundamental promises. “Lula, listen to the new generation ” is a partnership with the Aldeias (Villages) organization, which works together with children in the Santa Benedita housing project, and was created with young artists from the urban periferia collective Reação de Rua (Street Reaction, in English).

Those in power often argue that we need to preserve the Amazon rainforest, but can’t overlook the dozens of millions of people who live in the cities of the Amazon region. We at SUMAÚMA, agree – but only in part.

We do not see the forest and the city as separate entities. Just as the cities were constructed on top of the bodies of the trees and other species, a glance at the urban periferias reveals they are inhabited by those expelled from the forest, or their descendants, as well as by migrants who scaled the map of Brazil until they arrived in the Amazon, searching for promised reward (the majority of them false) of a better life. Those born in the Amazon, who today live in the periferias, were stripped of the forest and their identities. And without an identity, they became simply, generically “pobre” (“poor”).

We believe the Amazon can only be protected by rebuilding the bridges broken by a long sequence of deadly partnerships between governments and private initiative – such as, in Altamira’s case, the Trans-Amazonian Highway built under Brazil’s military-industrial dictatorship, and the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant of recent democratic Workers’ Party governments. The region is now threatened by the predatory gold mining project of the Canadian Belo Sun corporation, now dependent on the decision of Pará’s reelected state governor, Helder Barbalho, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party.

It is time to reforest the cities and the people, and to change the relationship with nature of the urban zones, which are today dominated by an elite born of the predatory exploration of the forest. Without reforesting the people, including those not from the forest but who have ended up living in Amazon cities, this relationship will not change. It is an enormous challenge, but it needs to be tackled now, starting with the children of the periferias, many of whom are so exiled from the forest they are hardly aware they live in the Amazon. Without doing this, we risk another violent, colonialist intervention from the outside. Change from within, by contrast, means not just change through local people, but through another type of thought and understanding, and through another language.

SUMAÚMA aims to rebuild these bridges with journalism.

The affronts against nature and the nature-people of the current Brazilian government will continue until Jair Bolsonaro’s last day in power. The most recent of these, that thousands of indigenous people may be excluded from the 2022 Brazilian Census, was uncovered by SUMAÚMA special editor Talita Bedinelli. If society does not mobilize to stop this scandal, we will have a complete picture of what has happened to the Yanomami in the last ten years or more, a period during which they were violently affected by illegal mining, nor will it be possible to plan and carry out consistent public policies for this people.

Talita Bedinelli also wrote SUMAÚMA’s debut story, entitled “Why Do Miners Screw The Vaginas of Yanomami Women?”. This extraordinary piece of work, produced in partnership with the indigenous expert and anthropologist Ana Maria Machado and photographer Pablo Albarenga, SUMAÚMA’s photo editor, recently took second prize in the reporting category of the Movement for Justice and Human Rights journalism awards. Winning a prize with our first story, having existed for just under three months, was a cause for much celebration here at SUMAÚMA.

Ed Wilson, a journalist from the state of Maranhão, makes his SUMAÚMA debut with the incredible story of the 17-year flight of Geraldo Magela de Almeida Filho. A land reform activist and friend of Dorothy Stang, the US nun and missionary murdered in Anapu, Pará in 2005, Magela was accused of a crime he did not commit in the same year as Stang’s death. He was forced to change his name and flee to another state, adopting a clandestine existence as a traveling salesman, whose customers were, in the main, from the Amazon’s agricultural business sector. Ed Wilson, whose career has focused on the union and social movements of Maranhão, is the author of two books and is about to publish a third, all of which explore the fascinating world of community radio. He is also a professor of journalism at Maranhão Federal University, in the state capital São Luiz, and a content producer for the Tambor Agency.

Soledad Barruti, one of the most renowned journalists in Latin America, has authored a major story detailing the impact of the train owned by Vale, the largest producer of iron ore in the world, in the territory of the Awa Guajá people. It is essential reading on how the guardians of the Amazon are fighting against the end of the world, facing powerful corporations involved constantly engaged in greenwashing. Catarina Barbosa, a journalist from Belém, in the state of Pará, tells the story of Tanaru, the last survivor of a people who were victims of genocide – or as much of it as we can know, given that Tanaru preferred to keep his distance from us, the murderers of his people. Tanaru’s extraordinary reeXistence has overcome his death, and may be decisive for the fate of the forest.

In a special article for SUMAÚMA, Daniela Chiaretti, one of the most respected journalists specializing in the environment from the perspective of the global south, has written about the treaty signed by the powers of biodiversity – Brazil, Congo and Indonesia. “Is it for nature, or just for money?” is the thorny question. Knowledge of this topic is essential if we are to understand what is at stake in the debate over the Amazon. Expressions such as “carbon credits” are used without the majority of the population knowing what they mean. It is a deliberate form of exclusion. SUMAÚMA aims to translate the main themes of the global debate over the largest tropical forest on the planet so that decisions do not come, once again, solely from the global summits, before turning out to be yet another colonialist intervention into nature and its peoples.

This is our seventh newsletter, and the last one of the year. It also marks almost three months of existence for SUMAÚMA – journalism from the center of the world. With a tiny team, initially of just five people, we did everything possible (and sometimes things that are impossible) to launch this trilingual journalism platform based in the Amazon before the recent historic presidential election in Brazil. Through our journalism, we want to make our contribution, no matter how small, to achieving the best possible outcome as the Amazon and Brazil approach a tipping point.

We also wanted to make our fundamental premises clear from the beginning. Based on our mantra, “the forest first”, we have demonstrated, in the series Nature in Power, who should first speak and be heard in the Amazon, with the Amazon, about the Amazon. We have presented our demand that, in the 21st century, a democracy only deserves the name if it includes other species. And, finally, we have made listening to the new generations an irreducible principle. We have also established our journalism as oral, transmitting knowledge and news from the forest peoples through Sumaúma Radio, our fortnightly podcast available via every platform and player. It is presented by the indigenous leader Elizângela Baré and the ribeirinho Maickson Serrão, in partnership with the Wayuri Indigenous Communication Network. It is produced by Vem de Áudio.

Our next newsletter will be published on January 10th next year. We’re going to spend the next few weeks getting ready for 2023, because we plan to do even more in the year ahead. But you won’t be short of SUMAÚMA’s company: once a week we’ll bring you a news report, article or podcast. Strengthening our community of readers is one of our goals for 2023. As we never get tired of repeating, without your participation and support, SUMAÚMA will not be able to grow into a tree of global journalism.

We are deeply grateful to those who helped us sow the seeds of SUMAÚMA by contributing on the crowdfunding site,  and hope that one of your goals for next year (and bring on 2023, so that Bolsonaro is gone!) is to follow us even more closely. We hope too that our journalism, in these almost three months, has justified your faith in us. For our part, I can tell you we have made SUMAÚMA the center of our lives, because, after all, that is what childbirth is like. We ended the year like the mothers and fathers of newborns: disheveled hair, dark circles under our eyes, the gym put off until next year, unpaid bills, dreaming of at least seven uninterrupted hours of sleep, longing to read that novel that gazes forlornly at us from our bedsides. But, despite all this, full of joy for what we have brought into the world.

Last Thursday, the second day of December, the first heavy rain fell in Altamira. This marks the start of winter and also, we hope, the end of the criminally-set forest fires. Not even land grabbers and loggers can set fire to a drenched forest. I wish you were here with us to see this. When it rains, the forest is transmuted. It becomes greener and, I swear, we can see the plants grow in leaps and bounds before our astonished eyes. That’s when we realize how the Amazon still exists, despite all the attacks on it. Its ability to regenerate, when it still has some health left, is remarkable. But we know the attacks have been so widespread and so violent that this capacity for regeneration has already been reduced by almost 20%. Thus, at the beginning of the Amazonian winter, we breathe. But standing, like the forest, because the fight goes on, and we continue to be slaughtered.

When it began to rain our dog Babaju (short for Babaçu Junior), frightened by the thunder, ran away. We gave chase, trying to catch him before he attacked our neighbor’s chicken coop. He’s a huge dog, but he’s scared of storms. Our kitchen flooded, because nature has a way of messing up our roof tiles, just like it floods the ducks’ house and the chicken coop, because after all, we’re the intruders here. While I edited this newsletter, Jonathan Watts nailed up boards to keep the chicks from drowning, while the ducks swam around like all their Christmases had come at once. I’m sharing this so you, our readers, know that life for those who put SUMAÚMA together is as full of ups and downs as yours.

When it rains heavily, making that which is green even greener, I feel a joy that is bigger than me. We feel the same kind of happiness because SUMAÚMA was born. And because you believe in us.

Bring on 2023. Because we’ll go on producing journalism from the forest, and fighting with a fearsome joy.

Eliane Brum

SUMAÚMA creator and editor in chief

Translated by James Young

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