The election of Brazil's far-right president could devastate the Amazon, and indigenous groups are calling for a 'sacred corridor of life' to protect it
- Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president-elect, has voiced plans to cut down more of the Amazon, which is the largest rainforest in the world.
- Indigenous communities are calling for the creation of a "sacred corridor of life and culture" that would span the Amazon from the Andes mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
- The indigenous alliance, which is pushing for government-level representation at the United Nations' Convention on Biodiversity, said it will fight for the protected area even if government officials oppose it.
As scientists around the world worry that Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro will destroy more of the Amazon rainforest, a group of indigenous communities is calling for the creation of a nearly 500-million acre protected area from the Andes mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
The alliance, named COICA, presented its idea for a "sacred corridor of life and culture" at the United Nations' Conference on Biodiversity in Egypt last week. The proposed area would become the world's largest protected space, equal in size to Mexico.
"We have come from the forest and we worry about what is happening," COICA vice president Tuntiak Katan said, according to The Guardian. "This space is the world's last great sanctuary for biodiversity. It is there because we are there. Other places have been destroyed."
COICA does not recognize national borders that were put in place without indigenous people's consent, but the alliance includes members from about 500 cultures in nine countries. The alliance wants to collaborate with NGOs and other indigenous groups, and it's seeking government-level representation at the UN Convention on Biodiversity.
The group's proposal comes amid a large shift in Brazilian politics that could potentially devastate the Amazon forest. Jair Bolsonaro, the recently elected president, has said that development in Brazil is being hampered by too many environmentally protected areas, and he will soon control nearly two-thirds of the Amazon.
Bolsonaro has voiced plans to cut down more of the rainforest, and critics are worried that he will "institutionalize genocide" in the Amazon. Soil in the Amazon is not good for farming, but scientists found that an area the size of Delaware - more than 1,900 square miles - was cleared in 2017. The scientists estimate that even more will be bulldozed through while Bolsonaro is in power.
"I think we are headed for a very dark period in the history of Brazil," Brazilian climate change researcher Paulo Artaxo told Science. "There is no point sugarcoating it. Bolsonaro is the worst thing that could happen for the environment."
Previously, Colombia released a similar proposal to protect the Amazon from the Andes to the Atlantic. The project, supported by Ecuador, was supposed to be discussed at an upcoming climate conference. With the elections of Bolsonaro in Brazil and rightwing populist Iván Duque in Colombia, however, the project's future is uncertain. COICA's proposal is larger and broader than Colombia's, The Guardian reported.
COICA said it will push for the implementation of a protected area no matter what Bolsonaro and other politicians do. The group has little political power, though, and may come under attack by the mining and agribusiness industries.
"We know the governments will try to go over our heads," Katan said, according to The Guardian. "We need a defensive strategy, a communications strategy. This is nothing new for us. We have faced challenges for hundreds of years."