I’ve been in the Amazon almost a week now and from the moment I arrived I stepped into a very polarized battle over the future of the Amazon. My first indication of the tension was a bumper sticker on a truck outside the airport with the words ‘Fora Greenpeace’, meaning ‘Greenpeace Out’.
Many more of these stickers were on trucks around the town of Santarém. It turns out that by showing this sticker on your car or truck, you receive a discount on petrol at a local gas station.
An editorial in the local newspaper Jornal de Santarém was also quite damning of Greenpeace, attempting to link us to everything from hunger to abortion, but of course failed to discuss the real issue, the ongoing and rampant deforestation and unsustainable development in the Amazon.
Our first protest involved simply parachuting an activist into a soy field with a message written on the parachute, and even this was enough to bring out a small group of angry farmers – the parachutist had a narrow escape.
Our next attempt to protest at the forest destruction over the weekend was to have 80 people in a deforested area to make a human banner, arranging the people’s bodies to spell out the protest message. This activity was cancelled due to the strong possibility of violence from the farmers.
Undeterred by the violence directed towards us, a team of activists on boats projected a video on soy and deforestation in front of the town of Santarém on Saturday night.
Many of the local Gauchos are actually farmers from the south of Brazil who have recently moved to Santarém in pursuit of land grabbing and profits from deforestation and farming. Their reaction was swift.
Within a few minutes a mob assembled and began firing fireworks at our volunteers. They assaulted one of our photographers, and the photographer of a local newspaper as well. This time it seems the local hooligans (who are a small minority) went too far, and the mood in Santarém has swung against them.
The subsequent editorial in the Gazeta de Santarém is quite different from earlier criticisms. It deplores the use of violence by the farmers, questions why the Gauchos are being violent towards Greenpeace, and wonders if the Gauchos will next turn on the people of Santarém with their tactics of fear and intimidation.
The Gazeta de Santarém has front-page headlines and photos of the soy producers attacking the photographer, and a quote from one soy producer saying that Santarém is only full of Indians and lazy people. Now the bumper stickers on trucks seem to be fewer and fewer. The tide may well be turning against the soy producers.
We’re keeping up the pressure on the big soy producers like Cargill over the next few days, including unfurling a protest banner in a deforested area today with the words ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken – Amazon Criminal’.
KFC is the next target in our corporate campaign after our first target McDonald’s has recently shown a willingness to end their association with Amazon destruction.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on McDonald’s but now it is their competitor KFC who will be put in the spotlight. One by one, we want to show these corporations just how much consumers are going to resist their plunder of the Amazon.
We have more activities planned in the Amazon, and we’re sure those with an economic interest in forest destruction will continue with their violent tactics.
For now however, it seems that peace is beginning to win over violence in Santarém, and it looks like there is a real chance that the Amazon may remain mostly green, if our supporters keep up the pressure.
Gavin Edwards is Greenpeace’s international forest campaigner.
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