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Brazil Experts Warn South Florida The Amazon Crisis Not As Distant As It Seems

A NASA satellite photo from earlier this month shows smoke from the record number of fires burning across Brazil's Amazon rainforest region this year.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The haunting pictures of smoke in Brazil this week have made the world aware of the emergency level of Amazon deforestation. Brazil experts here warn South Floridians this crisis is not as distant as it seems.

Since taking office in January, right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has called for increased development of the Amazon. Fires there are up 85 percent this year – destroying more than 7,000 square miles of rainforest. Their smoke is blocking out the sun as far away as São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.

Tracy Devine Guzmán, a Latin American Studies professor at the University of Miami and an expert on the Amazon and its indigenous communities, points out Amazon forest destruction worsens global warming – meaning threats like sea-level rise that affect South Florida.

“We’re talking about unprecedented deforestation – I’ve read up to a soccer field and a half every minute in the past couple weeks," says Devine Guzmán. "And I think South Floridians have an acute sense of what environmental disaster means – and that precisely what needs to happen is a sense of connectedness” for the world to confront the Amazon problem more effectively.

Devine Guzmán, the author of “Native and National in Brazil: Indigeneity After Independence,” fears the Amazon’s accelerated rate of deforestation also entails a more menacing threat to the region’s indigenous people.

“I’ve never seen things as bad as they are now," she says, "because President Bolsonaro has made indigenous people fodder for what he considers to be the economic development of the country.”

Bolsonaro – who has broad support in South Florida’s large Brazilian community – claims the Amazon fires were started by activists who oppose his government. But he’s so far offered no proof.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.