What a powerful, visceral movie! I could not finish it, but my friend told me the end. Having spent a good deal of time myself in Brazil, I can relate deeply to the attitudes represented in this documentary. Both that of the ranchers, the workers and the PDS participants.
There are several groups of actors in this movie. The ranch and sawmill workers that want to make a living cutting trees and tending to cattle that will become dinner on the plates of middle and upper class Brazilians. There are the ranch owners like “Taradao” (“Sleazy” in English) that care most about maximizing their profit at the expense of the trees and soil of the Amazon (the lungs of the world, second only in carbon sequestration to the deep ocean).
Next we have Americo Leal, literally, Americo (taken from America) Loyal. Americo is the lawyer defending the man that killed sister Dorothy. He claims that Dorothy was not a nun. She was an agent of the U.S. government sent to the Amazon in disguise as a nun to start an uprising in the Amazon so that we North Americans could ultimately take over the Amazon and enjoy the wealth of its resources. This man makes me ashamed of the human race.
And then there is Sister Dorothy and her landless followers that want to live sustainably…or so they claim. One of Dorothy’s opponents says that her plan for the PDS (Sustainable Development Project) is not “sustainable.” What he means is that the small-scale agroforestry style plan put forth by sister Dorothy will not create new logging and ranching jobs for people like him. Ah, the ever sacred claim of new jobs. This sounds very familiar. It is a claim not infrequently made by American politicians when they are trying to get elected. But exactly what kind of jobs is he talking about?
Most of the jobs created by the logging and ranching industry would be low paying jobs with few benefits. They would probably be better than working the drive thru window at McDonald’s, but ultimately, not any more sustainable economically or ecologically. Why? Where are these workers going to work when they cut down the last tree in Sector 55? Then they will move on to Sector 56. Then they will move on deeper into the Amazon until they reach….? The Pacific Ocean. Sounds a bit like Manifest Destiny. Well, here’s a hint for the ranchers and loggers of Para: I live in California, the continental limit of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the forest cover is only a fraction of what it was 200 years ago. The state’s economy is bankrupt and half of the state parks are being closed due to the budget crisis.
If the future they want for the Amazon is a treeless, eroded landscape something like the American southwest then keep on cutting, my friends, because that is exactly where this model of development is headed.
How quickly history is forgotten. There were bands of savage Indians living on these lands for thousands of years without clearing forests and smashing a branding iron into a cow’s rear end. Yet somehow these ranchers and loggers believe that clearing some of the most medicinally import forests on the planet at the speed of spinning steel and roaring Caterpillars is better than the ideas put forth by the PDS. I urge you to get on a plane and go to the Brazilian frontier and see for yourself what we humans are doing to our fellow species.
There is a better way. Sister Dorothy knew this and she took it with her to her Amazonian grave. We can no longer sacrifice the other inhabitants our of planet for our short term gain and material comfort.