Over 1,000 Fires in Minas Gerais, Brazil Over Four Days — Is Agribusiness Responsible?

Over 1,000 fires have broken out in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais over four days. Agribusiness in the area may be the culprit.
  • Esquerda Diário | 
  • September 26, 2021
Smoke from fires near São Félix do Xingu, in Brazil’s Pará state. | VINÍCIUS MENDONÇA/IBAMA

Over 1,000 fires have broken out in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. Semad, Minas Gerais’s environmental regulation agency, reported that these fire outbreaks are located within 17 conservation areas managed by the state.

According to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), between January and August of this year, the state of Minas Gerais broke the record for forest fires, recording 4,514 outbreaks. This is more than double the 2,198 outbreaks that were recorded over the same time period in 2020.

Minas Gerais is a leading producer of beef and dairy, as well as crops like coffee, sugar, and corn. Residents suspect that the fires may have been caused by agribusiness interests that are trying to secure more land in the region. Industrial agriculture is a major driver of deforestation, and cattle ranchers in particular set fire to forests in Brazil to illegally clear the way for grazing and to expand their businesses. By some estimates, cattle ranching is responsible for around 80 percent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. 

Before the fires, the state of Minas Gerais itself carried out audits of the most vulnerable conservation units. Minas Gerais residents also suspect that the government is tacitly supporting agribusiness: President Jair Bolsonaro has also repeatedly worked to loosen environmental regulations in favor of private sector interests. 

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Last Tuesday, Bolsonaro spoke before the UN and simply lied, claiming that, “no country in the world has environmental legislation as comprehensive as Brazil.” In reality, the amount of deforestation in the Amazon in August alone was at its highest levels in ten years. In addition, between 1985 and 2020, about 67 percent of the marshland has been devastated by fires.

Bolsonaro’s statements and his administration’s actions will only embolden the agribusiness sector to devastate forests and the environment even more to satisfy its hunger for profits. We must fight against capitalist-driven deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to avoid climate catastrophe. This means fighting capitalists and their governments everywhere as they put profits before lives and the environment. 

First published in Spanish on September 25 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by K.S. Mehta

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