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Amazon fires — LAB Newsletter September 2019

Dear LAB Supporter and Friend,

11 September 2019

Amazon fires caused by land-grabbing on an industrial scale

Amazon burned — at Terra Nossa, near Altamira, Pará. Neighbouring land occupied illegally by grilheros, was untouched. Photo: José Cícero da Silva/Agência Pûblica.

In addition to our website, LAB’s Facebook page provides a daily stream of summaries and links to articles published elsewhere. In this and future newsletters we will mention some of these, with the rubric ‘Read FB’ to distinguish them from posts on LAB’s website.

Today is the 46th anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile

While the events of that day brought untold suffering, killings, disappearances, torture and a 17-year military dictatorship to the people of Chile, they also kindled intense interest in Latin America across the UK, fuelled by the arrival of hundreds of refugees. LAB, founded in 1977, was one of the indirect results. A fine tribute to the solidarity movement of the 1970s is the film Nae Pasarán, directed by Felipe Bustos Sierra, which tells the remarkable story of the boycott of jet engines for General Pinochet’s airforce, maintained by the trade unionists at the Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride (Details here…). For today only (11 September) you can watch the film online for free by entering the code NuncaMas.

The Amazon: fire or theft?

Headlines and photos highlighting the fires in the Amazon have drawn worldwide attention on an unprecedented scale. Yet some of reports, especially when they use terms like ‘flash-fires’, and propose remedies such as sending fire-fighters or aircraft, fundamentally fail to comprehend what is taking place.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro, determined to please his Bancada Ruralista backers, vowed to halt or reverse the demarcation of indigenous lands and ecological reserves; attacked those agencies, especially FUNAI and ICMBio, which defend indigenous rights; and denigrated the much admired work of INPE to measure deforestation from satellite data. In vast swathes of the Amazon, grilheros – opportunist land-grabbers – took the hint and began setting fire to tracts of forest. Land thus burned and cleared can be sold at many times its uncleared price, usually to cattle farmers. These, in turn, will sell the land on in a few years to those anxious to plant soya, who can claim to be making legitimate and profitable use of land ‘already cleared’, as meticulously demonstrated by Sue Branford in LAB book Amazon Besieged.

The present catastrophe is graphically described in a despatch from Elias Flexa, who lives in Porto de Moz, Pará, on the Xingu river (Read more…). LAB partner Christian Aid is co-sponsor of a petition, demanding that the rights of Amazon peoples be put first, as they will be the forest’s strongest defenders (Read more…). The arrival in New York of the extraordinary young climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has been closely followed in Brazil. Greta has been attacked and ridiculed on social media. A group of distinguished Brazilian mental health experts published and open letter defending her (Read more…). They were echoed by a group of young Brazilians, belonging to Engajamundo and Friday for Future, who issued a statement, published in El País’ Brazil edition, under the title ‘We young people are Greta Thunberg’s  ‘useful idiots’ (dupes): when we speak of actions to overcome the climate crisis, there can be no limits to our actions. This is an emergency and we need to act now, at this moment’ (In Portuguese, Read FB…)

The president’s routine verbal attacks often seem Trumpian in their excess, yet they serve to monopolize news and distract attention from the radical changes be is bringing about. His attacks on experts and academics have been extended to massive cuts in funding for university study and research (in Portuguese, Read more…). There may be method in his madness, suggests Jan Rocha (Read more…). Meanwhile, the British Marxist geographer David Harvey, reminds us that the tide of populism is temporary. ‘The greatest danger you confront,’ he warns, ‘is pessimism’. The video of his interview is in English, with Portuguese sub-titles (Watch here…)

The fires occurred not only in Brazil, but also in Bolivia, where the Morales government has controversially promoted policies which encourage land clearance (Read FB…).

Members of the AfroRaiz Collective of young afro-indigenous performance-educators from the Brazilian Amazonian fishing community of Cabelo Seco, on the outskirts of Marabá, Pará, are touring Germany, Austria, Belgium and Poland in September. They advocate a sustainable future through powerful dance and percussion. (Watch their video here…)

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Alejandro Giammattei won the 11 August presidential election with the recently formed far-right party Vamos. Prospects are bleak and he seems unlikely to deliver, or even consider, the measures and commitment necessary to promote a more egalitarian society. In a piece written in the run-up to the poll, Christian Aid’s programme officer in Guatemala, Nathalie Mercier, discussed the context (Read more…).


LAB’s next major book, following on from Voices of Latin America, will be The Heart of Our Earth – Community Resistance to Mining in Latin America, by Tom Gatehouse. Target publication date is  May 2021. The book is part of a joint project with Christian Aid, War on Want, London Mining Watch, MiningWatch Canada and OCMAL. We will soon be launching a major fund-raising effort to enable the author to work full-time on the project and travel to the region to collect interviews. More details soon.

One of the topics the book will cover is the destructive dangers of tailings dams, hundreds of them built in haste and with little or no monitoring for safety, in countries across the region. In Chile, as documented in Voices of Latin America, a huge dam at El Mauro, Caimanes, is a constant threat to the communities downstream, in an area prone to major earthquakes. In Brazil, on 25 January this year, a huge tailings dam at Brumadinho in Minas Gerais collapsed, killing over 230 people. Christian Aid has been working with its partner Movimento dos Atingidos por Baragens (MAB) to obtain compensation from Vale, the mining company, and resettlement for all affected. (Read more…)

As part of this project, War on Want has published The Rivers are Bleeding: British Mining in Latin America, which documents 56 UK mining operations and the massive destruction they inflict in communities, ecosystems and the planet. (Read more…)

Voices in Wales

LAB was present at Wales’ own Latin America Festival, called El Sueño Existe, held in Machynlleth every other year since 2001. We had a lively session on our latest books, Amazon Besieged and Voices of Latin America; LAB writers Louise Morris and Rachel Simon spoke at sessions on women; and we sold over £300-worth of books and there was lots of interest in LAB’s work.  Jeremy Corbyn was at the festival and spoke movingly of his lifelong commitment to Latin America (he first went to Chile in 1969). Many of the sessions were recorded on video (Watch here…).

If you would like to organize a LAB-book event or panel discussion, please contact us at:


The first-ever London Cartonera Book Festival will be held from 17-20 September 2019, as part of a UK-wide festival to celebrate the grassroots ‘Cartonera’ publishers movement from Latin America. (Read more…).

Best wishes,

The LAB Team


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