The fate of the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon, hangs in the balance. In the coming weeks, Brazil’s Supreme Court will hear a case that will set a major precedent and shape the country's policy with respect to development in the Amazon and the rights of the forest's Indian tribes.
The case centers around the territory of Raposa Serra do Sol, which is located in the northeastern Brazilian state of Roraima. Raposa Serra do Sol is home to 18,000 Indians from the Macuxi, Ingarico, Patamona, Wapixana and Taurpeng tribes. In 2005, this territory was declared a reservation site for indigenous tribes.
The conflict has quickly escalated in this region as some Brazilians have refused to leave the area, claiming their right to develop the land. Specifically, some of the local rice farmers have resorted to violence in order to keep their farms. The situation is quickly deteriorating and the Supreme Court warns that the conflict could soon turn into a civil war. The court will soon decide if the government can legally continue to evict the rice farmers.
The rice farmers argue that it is not right for the government to evict people from their own land and to stop Brazilians from developing this rich area. About 12 percent of Brazil’s precious land has already been given to the various indigenous peoples. They argue that Brazilian land should be used for the betterment of Brazilians. Especially with the world food crisis, expanding Brazil’s agricultural sector into this region could greatly help the poor afford food and help the expand the local economy through much-needed jobs.
The tribes and their supporters, however, argue that their concerns outweigh the settlers’ economic reasoning. As the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon plays a major role in the environment. The forest is a climate regulator that affects rainfall in Brazil and Argentina and, some claim, even in Europe and North America. The preservation of its trees is pivotal in the fight against global warming. Already the cutting and burning of Amazonian trees account for about half of the world’s green-house gas emissions from deforestation. If Brazilians are allowed to develop this land, not only will they be kicking the Indians out of their ancestral homes, but they will also be severely hurting the already-precarious environment.