Until World Gets Internationalized the Amazon Belongs to Brazilians Alone

A sunset in the Amazon

In October 2000, I published an article entitled “A Internacionalização da
Amazônia” (The Internationalization of the Amazon) in the Brazilian newspaper O
Globo. In it I repeated my response to a question posed by a US student in
September of that year during a State of the World Forum event held in New York.

Seated on the floor in front of the table I occupied, he stood up to ask his question. He did not sit down and waited for me to stand up and when I began by saying that I was opposed to the idea, he continued, “I don’t want your answer as a Brazilian but, rather, as a humanist.”

I reoriented my reply and said that as a human being I was in favor of the internationalization of the Amazon, but only after we also internationalized everything that is important for humanity.

The oil reserves should be internationalized because they are as important today as the rainforest will be tomorrow. The nuclear arsenals should not stay in the hands of the United States and the few other countries; they should be internationalized.

The city of New York itself, headquarters of the United Nations, should not belong only to the United States. Speculative financial capital, which causes hunger and unemployment and destroys entire countries with damages greater than the burning of the Amazon, should not remain in individual hands either.

I defended the idea that even the principal museums of the world should be international. After all, they are the guardians of humanity’s cultural heritage just as much as the Amazon is of its natural heritage.

Even the children of the world should be internationalized, which would prevent some of them from dying or working just because they happened to be born in a poor country.

And I concluded by saying that, as a humanist, I defended the internationalization of the world, but as long as the world treated us as Brazilians, the Amazon should be ours. And only ours.

For some reason that I cannot explain, the article was a favorite of readers and began to circulate on the Internet. It was spontaneously translated into several languages and was included in Professor Carlos Figueiredo’s anthology Cem Discursos Históricos Brasileiros (One Hundred Historic Brazilian Speeches).

The Internet versions, however, contain some mistakes: that the event took place in a university when in fact the location was a ballroom in the New York Hilton Hotel on 6th Avenue. Only in November 2007 was I invited to speak about the matter at the University of Texas – Pan American.

That the article was published in US newspapers after having been ignored by Brazilian newspapers, when in truth it was O Globo that published it. Even that the author was Chico Buarque – I would be extremely pleased if I could exchange the authorship of all my articles for that of any one of the beautiful songs that he has composed.

In my travels in Brazil and abroad people often ask me if I am, in fact, the author of that speech.

A few weeks ago I went to visit the Brazilian base in Antarctica. During a stopover in Punta Arenas – on the shore of the Straits of Magellan at the extreme south of the continent – Major Brigadier Intendant Eliseu Mendes Barbosa, of the Aeronautics Command, called me to the hotel lobby to show me the porter, who was speaking about the article without having the slightest idea that the author was a guest in the hotel.

As soon as I had returned to Brazil, a radio station in France put me on the air, live, to discuss the article with the radio host and people commenting over the Internet.

The TV host Ana Maria Braga read the article at the beginning of her program on the National Day of the Environment. The actor Antônio Abujamra also read it in the middle of his play “A Voz do Provocador” (The voice of the provocateur).

The fact is that an article published one certain day in O Globo traveled around the world, thanks to the Internet and to some readers who decided to take the time to share it with other people, creating a process of successive reproductions like a chain reaction.

That power of the Internet only goes to show that the world really needs to be internationalized. But, until this happens, the Amazon is ours! Only ours!

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his new website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.


Buarque’s original article on the internationalization of the Amazon was published by Brazzil Magazine here: https://www.brazzil.com/content/view/7063/73/ in a bilingual version, with the Portuguese and English texts appearing side by side. We republish the piece below:

And the World for All

Written by Cristovam Buarque

During a recent panel discussion in the United States, I was asked what I thought about the idea of internationalizing the Amazon Rain Forest. The young man who asked this question began by saying that he wanted me to answer as a humanist and not as a Brazilian. This was the first time that anyone has ever stipulated a humanistic perspective as the point of departure when asking me a question.

In point of fact, as a Brazilian I would always argue against the internationalization of the Amazon Rain Forest. Even though our government has not given this patrimony the care that it deserves, it is ours.

I replied that, as a humanist who fears the risks posed by the environmental degradation that the Amazon is suffering, I could imagine its internationalization, just as I could imagine the internationalization of everything else of importance to humanity.

If, from a humanist perspective, the Amazon must be internationalized, we should also internationalize the entire world’s petroleum reserves. Oil is just as important for the well being of humanity as the Amazon is for our future.

The owners of the reserves, however, feel that they have the right to increase or decrease the amount of oil production, as well as to increase or lower the price per barrel. The rich of the world feel that they have the right to burn up this immense patrimony of humanity.

In much the same way, the wealthy countries’ financial capital should be internationalized. Since the Amazon Rain Forest is a reserve for all human beings, an owner or a country must not be allowed to burn it up.

The burning of the Amazon is as serious a problem as the unemployment caused by the arbitrary decisions made by global speculators. We cannot permit the use of financial reserves to burn up entire countries in the frenzy of speculation.

Before we internationalize the Amazon, I would like to see the internationalization of all the world’s great museums. The Louvre should not belong merely to France.

The world’s museums are guardians of the most beautiful pieces of art produced by the human genius. We cannot let this cultural patrimony, like the natural patrimony of the Amazon, be manipulated and destroyed by the whims of an owner or a country.

A short time ago a Japanese millionaire decided to be buried with a painting by a great artist. Before this could happen, that painting should have been internationalized.

While I was at the meeting during which I was asked about internationalizing the Amazon Rain Forest, the United Nations convened the Millennium Summit, but some presidents of countries had difficulties in attending due to U.S. border-crossing constraints.

Because of this, I said that New York, as the headquarters of the United Nations, should have been internationalized. The city, or at least Manhattan, should belong to all humanity. As should Paris, Venice, Rome, London, Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, Recife – each city, with its unique beauty, its history of the world, should belong to the entire world.

If, to minimize the risk of leaving it in the hands of Brazilians, the United States wants to internationalize the Amazon Rain Forest, we should internationalize the United States’ nuclear arsenals. If only because the country has already demonstrated that it is capable of using these arms, causing destruction thousands of times greater than the deplorable burnings done in the forests of Brazil.

In their debates, the United States presidential candidates have defended the idea of internationalizing the world’s forest reserves in exchange for debt relief. We should begin by using this debt to guarantee that each child in the world has the opportunity to go to school.

We should internationalize the children, treating them, all of them, no matter their country of birth, as patrimony that deserves to be cared for by the entire world. Even more than the Amazon deserves to be cared for.

When the world’s leaders begin to treat the poor children of the world as a patrimony of humanity, they will not let children work when they should be studying, die when they should be living.

As a humanist, I agree to defend the internationalization of the world. But, as long as the world treats me as a Brazilian, I will fight for the Amazon Rain Forest to remain ours. Ours alone.

Cristovam Buarque is an economics professor at the University of Brasília, Brazil, and the founder of the Missão Criança, an NGO dedicated to keeping the world’s poor children in school. He was the Workers’ Party governor of the Federal District of Brasília from 1995 to 1998. This article was originally published as “O mundo para todos” on October 23, 2000, in O Globo (Rio de Janeiro).

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.


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