Journalistic account of the rush to develop the Amazon rainforest and its cost in human lives.
When Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula, became president of Brazil in 2002, he did so, writes Brazil-born, U.S.–raised journalist Arnold, by “rallying frustrated Brazilians around a call for sustainable development and a commitment to social justice.” Those planks would not apply in the backwaters of the Amazon, for Lula also pressed for development that would make Brazil economically independent and even a power. For a while, it worked: The commodities market surged, poor Brazilians entered the middle class, middle-class Brazilians became rich, and everyone was happy. Except, that is, the undiscovered, “isolated” Indians of the interior, whose territory was overrun by miners and loggers and who were forcefully reminded continually that “poison-tipped arrows are no match for automatic rifles.” There may be as many as 100 of these isolated tribes, writes the author, a greater number than anywhere in the world. Many of them are square in the path of annihilation, not just because of that rush into the rainforest for its hidden riches, but also due to a shrinking gene pool and diseases introduced from outside. Arnold chronicles his visits with scholars who are attempting to locate and account for these people without disrupting their lives, but theirs, too, is a race against time. As he observes, one Indian village that had been identified was soon thereafter abandoned and the location of the villagers unknown, even as “intelligence on the ground confirmed invaders nearby, wildcat prospectors on a quest for gold.” The prognosis is grim. And so, too, is it for civil society in that developing outback, where, as Arnold writes, “extermination groups” and a militarized police force suppress dissent, the latter “blurring lines and rewriting laws with righteous badges in their pockets and handguns in their glove compartments.”
A saddening, maddening story that draws much-needed attention to crime without punishment in a remote—but not invisible—part of the world.