Journalism from the center of the world

The Tapajós River used to be an intense blue, but it is now changing color due to mercury contamination. Photo: Juliano Salgado

Hello Sumahumans! Thanks for being here and joining our fast-expanding community. We need to be together more than ever after a grim first-round of elections in Brazil.

Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism are creatures that can only be understood in the context of the war against nature. They have not appeared out of nowhere. They have been here for a long time and it is only in recent years that the conditions have been right for them to emerge. In this sense, the result on October 2 is no surprise. Here at SUMAÚMA we have stated again and again that the struggle must be endless. This is not mere rhetoric; SUMAÚMA is the response of those in the field of journalism to the very serious times we find ourselves living in.

The first round showed the fight will continue to be difficult. Extremely difficult. Brazil’s Senate and House of Representatives will to a large extent determine the fate of the nation – as well as that of the planet, given the country is home to 60% of the world’s largest rainforest. But, in the wake of this election, the two chambers will be working against nature even more than before. And if they are going to work against nature, they are going to be working against us. The destructive track records of many of the incoming senators and deputies suggest they will aggravate the climate crisis, which – as we can all observe – is already bringing more extreme weather, forced migration and food insecurity. Every day, it affects our lives a little more. The anguish that leaves many unable to sleep at night, which causes distress and erodes the will to live, has its roots in what psychologists have begun to call climate anxiety.

Those of us who live in the Amazon, feel the actions of Jair Bolsonaro and Congress in our very flesh. The strokes of his pen turn to blood the next day. Be under no illusion, the legislators who were elected on October 2 will make the situation even worse, as reporter Leandro Barbosa explains in this issue. In the Brazilian Lower House and Senate, they will act against life. That means intensifying the attack on the laws that protect nature and its peoples; weakening environmental inspections; changing the Constitution to guarantee the predatory exploitation of indigenous lands and conservation areas in the forest and other biomes; opening them up to mining and other high-impact activities; and legalizing the theft of public territory in the maliciously euphemistic name of “land regularization”, which turns criminals into landlords.

A significant share of voters consecrated a political phenomenon that we can call villainocracy, choosing the worst of humanity in full knowledge of just how bad it can be. A perfect illustration is the election to the lower chamber of Ricardo Salles, who gutted forest protections so thoroughly that he effectively served as Brazil’s first anti-environment minister. Yet he won almost three times as many votes as Marina Silva, a genuine former environment minister who radically reduced deforestation in the Amazon and is still the most internationally renowned Brazilian environmental activist. Salles’ extensive media exposure, as well as the illegal use of government machinery to campaign on his behalf, helps to explain his high number of votes, but there is every reason to believe that those who elected the exterminator of the Amazon region, as well as other notorious enemies of life, knew exactly who and what they were voting for. In the same way as those who voted for Marina Silva, although there were a lot less of them, chose her for what she is.

The only chance to stand up to the new, worse-than-ever Lower House and Senate is to ensure Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is elected in the second round on October 30th. Even then, it will not be easy. The opposite outcome would be catastrophic. If Bolsonaro is elected and governs Brazil for another four years, with so many allies in Congress, then the unimaginable will happen: we will feel nostalgia for the horror we are experiencing today, even more than we currently feel nostalgia for the dire situation we experienced a few years ago when it seemed things could not get any worse. For a brutally clear-eyed picture of how much worse things could get if Bolsonaro is reelected, we asked the Amazonian quilombola Natalha Theofilo to tell us what it is like to live in exile in her own country, with a target on her head and those of her four young children. The result is a powerful testimony. Please give it a read.

Do the 51 million who chose Bolsonaro in the first round know what happens to Munduruku women? To Munduruku children? To Munduruku men? To the animals and plants that live in the Tapajós River? To the land, water and air of the Amazon region? And if they know, do they care? Or is it that they have not yet realized that, in an interconnected world, poisons in one place will spread and eventually reach their bodies or minds along with those of their sons and daughters? Gabriela Carneiro da Cunha tells us how, shortly before the first round of the elections, this indigenous tribe had to hold a “Mercury Meeting” on the banks of the Tapajós, a river that was famous for the intense blue of its waters but has now changed color on account of the illegal gold-mining encouraged by Bolsonaro. Shortly before the first round, Munduruku mothers were informed by researchers from the respected Oswaldo Cruz Foundation that mercury contamination has spread from fish, which is the basis of the community’s diet, to their breast milk.

Reporter Talita Bedinelli shows us that, in São Paulo, which is the largest electoral district in Brazil, women like Ana Mirtes have to choose between voting or eating. Ana and her 10-year-old son are among the 33 million hungry people for whom voting is a lower priority than finding food. Under Bolsonaro, Brazil has returned to the World Hunger Map. Is there any chance of democracy when there is hunger? This question cannot be ignored in the second-round debate.

The wonderful Pablito, our journalist who does his stories in the form of comics, reminds us that each person’s vote affects a lot more than just human beings. When destroyers of nature are elected, all of the inhabitants of our home planet are affected. That is what Guariba, the howler monkey tells us. Guariba reminds us how far our choices in the ballot box have an impact. Guariba reminds us what is forgotten – and who is forgotten.

That’s about it, as teenagers say. I don’t know what your plan is. Here at SUMAÚMA, we are going to continue doing journalism on the side of nature, of which we are also a part, and we will make every effort to show what is at stake to those who did not turn up at the polls, to those who invalidated their vote or cast a blank ballot, to those who voted for Simone Tebet, Ciro Gomes or other candidates. We will get less hours’ sleep this month, we will eat faster, we will postpone reading books and entertaining ourselves with movies, TV series and soap operas, we will even postpone talking with friends, because they already understand. We only have one thought in mind: let’s ask people to vote for Lula, because we like to live and we like to let live. We hope you have the same plan.

The Tapajós River used to be an intense blue, but it is now changing color due to mercury contamination. Photo: Juliano Salgado

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