The Brazilian Legal Amazon is equivalent to 59% of the national territory and 66% of the Amazon basin. The prior vegetation and deforestation (1970) was composed of 4,200,000 km2 of rainforest and 800,000 km2 of lower forest adapted to drought conditions. In 2000, almost 15% of the forest had disappeared (551,000 km2). Today the deforestation advances by 19,000 km2 a year.
The construction of highways opened the Amazon to the indiscriminate exploitation of its natural resources: lumber, minerals, hydroelectric energy, fuel, cattle raising, soy crops. In 20 years, lumber production in the Amazon —in the hands of multinationals such as Nevada Manhattan, Janus Internacional, Kiani— came to cover from 14-85% of the total amount. The exploitation of Bauxite (for the production of Aluminum), iron, gold and other minerals also produced a ferocious environmental degradation, contamination and sedimentation of the waters. Mining consumed a great deal of energy, obtained from vegetable carbon and the construction of huge hydroelectric dams (see sidebar).
Once the lumber has been cut down in the forest, the lands are occupied by the landowners in order to convert them into soy bean fields or pasture land. Intentional fires liquidate 80 thousand km2 a year, with the consequent contamination of 620 million tons of carbonic gas. The large-scale single-crop agricultural and forestry industrial plantations (soy and eucalyptus) provoke more deforestation, loss of biodiversity, contamination, scarcity of water and prevent the regeneration of the forest. The expulsion through blood and fire of the peasants and indigenous peoples is the work of irregular armies of businessmen and landowners that can count on the federal government looking the other way. 67% of the lands belong to 4% of the owners, who use as slave manpower the peasants expelled from their parcels of land. They work in the ranches in exchange for food, tents and tools, at exorbitant rates of credit which can never be paid. If they attempt to escape they are assassinated by the private armies. In the last decade, two thousand peasants and seringueiros (latex extractors), many coming from the Northeast or from the slums of Río and Sao Paolo, were assassinated.
The most important factor in the deforestation today is soy bean. The “soy bean king” is Blairo Maggi, governor of the State of Mato Grosso and owner of the Maggi Group, principal producer of soy beans on a world-wide scale. Maggi, with the blessings of the PT government, and financed by the World Bank and the IFC, disposes of a network of 900 farmers obliged to sell him their produce under conditions he stipulates. In his first year as governor (2003), deforestation doubled (Europa Press, March 9).