Burning Season: the Chico Mendes’ Story

The Burning Season is a film that features Chico Mendes’ struggle, together with other rubber tappers, to save the Amazon forest. The movie presented many issues or problems. Some of which are deforestation, social conflict, and social inequality. However, these problems are just the many aspects of one major issue which is poverty and the prospect of development. Poverty is the least common denominator of Third World countries. And alleviating it is the basic reason why most of these countries strive for development.

However, eradication of poverty in the name of development has an indirect impact on environment and vice versa. Third World countries as depicted in the movie suffer from environmental degradation due to the relentless exploitation of natural resources by the foreign companies. This exploitation causes low development carrying capacity of natural environment that eventually results in the low income and poverty. Ironically, this exploitation was initiated by the national government in the name of development. The issue may have transpired because there was a differing concept of development shown in the film.

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The Brazilian government tried to modernize the area for they view development as the procurement of foreign investments and the creation of ranches and roads while the natives view development as their subsistence from the forest. The government, in pursuit of its own goal overlooked the needs of the natives. What made the situation much worse for the natives is their government’s unresponsiveness to their condition. Instead of addressing their needs, their government encouraged the ranchers by supplying them with police to protect them during clearing operations.

The question of whether a development program is proper or appropriate is one of the facets of the issue. In pursuit of development, as illustrated in the movie, the Brazilian government opened its country to foreign investors – most of which, coupled with local ranchers, engaged in cattle ranching. However, the land was not empty. It was occupied by natives who lived and depended on the forest for their existence. Furthermore, although there are potentials for profits in cattle ranching, its creation imposes threats to the lives of those who inhabit the forest.

The creation of ranches resulted to the loss of job and way of life for the natives – that is rubber tapping, as the forest was cut and burned. Additionally, the natives were displaced from their land, without a job to sustain their needs, as more sections of the forest was cleared for more ranches and for the construction of roads – which the Brazilian government views as an indicator of development – which will facilitate easier access to the ranches and areas to be exploited. Social inequality is another facet of the issue and is closely related to the issue mentioned above.

An illustration of this depicted in the movie is the uneven distribution of power. The wealthy foreign investors and local ranchers took control of the land while the natives, although they were inhabiting the land long before the construction of ranches and roads took place, were brushed aside. Also, the privileged ranchers acquire more goods or profits while the disadvantaged rubber tappers have to make use of what little portion of the forest was left for them. Moreover, the natives were deliberately excluded from the decision-making process.

It was the government and the privileged sectors who solely control the decision-making process while the natives’ side of the issue was overlooked which led to the unequal distribution of benefits. Environmental degradation versus industrialization is another issue. The clearing of forests for the construction of roads and ranches resulted to irreversible damages to the ecosystem. There is destruction of the local flaura and fauna. Additionally, the burning of trees resulted to emission of materials causing pollution. Environmental degradation is a serious problem. The effects of this on people living in the area might are of great concern.

Local people are affected; their way of living is altered mainly because most of these people depend on the natural resources from their environment to suffice their daily needs and to survive in their everyday life economically speaking. However, Brazilian Government said that industrialization is the key to development, but it also appears that industrialization threatens the environment in a way that the environment is being exploited and polluted. The technology being used, as foreign companies said it seemed, was fully directed to development in a way that the environment will not be sacrificed.

Still, these two things would never be complimentary to each other; it would not be put together without harming the other. These issues are regarded as development problems or dilemmas as it oppose the true essence of development. Though the state has the sovereign to exploit their own resources in the name of development, it must also be considered that the right to development does not refer merely to the increasing economic accounts of the state, rather it also refers to the ensuring that increasing living standards is done in an ecologically-suitable manner.

Unfortunately, as seen in the film, the exploitation by the foreign companies defeats the existing polices on environmental sustainability and defeats the right of local people to sustainable development. The natives did not benefit from the development projects as the privileged ranchers manipulated the goods. Moreover, the development programs were conceived without the participation of the natives. Also, human rights were violated as the natives were displaced from their lands and lose their jobs. The problems illustrated in the movie could be resolved by the creation and implementation of proper policies on land use and ownership.

The government should also conduct research on how the land could be used without harming the ecosystem. Environmental protection and development could simultaneously exist. One example is the creation of forest reserves that will be awarded to the natives. In these forest reserves, the natives could acquire their needs – rubber, foods, etc. – without permanently harming the forest. There should be enough initiatives and actions on the part of government to realize the full potential of rubber tapping as well as the possibility of rubber making, as a source of livelihood.

However, if it is inevitable to have projects that have potentials to harm the environment, laws should be passed and implemented to protect the environment. Skills training and the creation of other livelihood for the natives is also beneficial. Moreover, the natives should be consulted when creating these policies so that they will be empowered, their needs would not be overlooked or pushed aside, their rights are respected, and the fair distribution of benefits would be realized.

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