In the four decades that have passed since he helped found the Jardin de l 'Now Fernando Viana has been at the forefront of the chaotic rush for precious ls in the Brazilian Amazon.
Bitter feuds over the jungle mines scattered around from this outpost by the river. Lead-riddled corpses thrown outside the rowdy wooden brothels he once ran.
"Stabbing. Balls. Shoot everywhere. So many shots. It was wonderful, mate. An explosion! "Chuckled the mischievous former police chief, who for years ruled this corner of the wild west of Brazil with his .38 revolver.
In recent months, however, an unusual calm has descended on Jardim do Ouro after troops arrived in town, as part of a campaign ofhe crackdown aimed at convincing the world that Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil is cleaning up its environmental law.
"Everyone is fleeing the forest… because the mines have been closed" , said the now 75-year-old former Garden of Gold sheriff as he surveyed his eerily submissive community through eyes clouded by cataracts.
Amid rising global alarm over climate emergency and data the decimation of Amazon under the ultra-conservative president of Brazil, the army moved to the action with a two-month offensive against illegal gold miners and loggers. The mission, which began in July and ends this week, was accompanied by apublic relations blitz in which the Bolsonaro administration claims: "It is in our nature to preserve ".
Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, a key ally de Bolsonaro and cabinet member, said his government was determined to show the world a new, greener face after three years in which deforestation rates and global outrage have skyrocketed .
" I recognize that there has been a deterioration in the image of [Brazil] due to the deforestation figures and what the government is doing now is increasing its monitoring capabilities so that these statistics can be reversed, "the infrastructure minister said during a recent visit to the region. "The fight against deforestation will be stepped up," Freitas insisted, trumpeting the recent environment application budget doubling.
Campaigners are skeptical that the crackdown, which comes on the eve of the November Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, will have a significant impact long term as long as Bolsonaro remains in power. Deforestation peaked in 12 years under the leadership of a leader who critics say has emboldened Amazon outlaws with his anti-environmental words and actions .
“This softening of the rhetoric doesn't convince me… [and] I really don't think the world will buy this so easily,” said Suely Araujo, the former director of the company. Brazilian environmental agency Ibama.
Araujo, now public policy specialists for the environmental group Observatorio do Clima, said the Brazilian government had clearly understood the importance of Cop26 "and decided to see if this [green makeover] would hold up". Bolsonaro's controversial Environment Minister Ricardo Salles was recently forced government into what some saw as an attempt to appease the international community after it was linked to illegal racketeering of loggers .
"But the boss is still there. It 's the president who runs and he has a crude and outdated 50 year view of environmental policy, as if development means cutting down the forest and replace it with gold mines, "Araujo said.
Whoever you aretthe lasting impact of the repression in Brazil before Cop26, it had a real and immediate effect in Jardim do Ouro, where many illegal miners found themselves unemployed after their bosses interrupted operations for fear that their equipment be destroyed.
"I am in a state of decadence", complains Tulio Pinheiro, an unemployed miner in a state of drunk, as he stumbled down the dusty main street of the settlement a recent lunch after spending the previous night dozing on a pool table because he didn't have the funds for a room in a local flophouse.
As a green army truck drove into town with sweaty troops armed with guns, Pinheiro stormed into town. approached the commander to complain. “Everything is stopped. When will the operation end? inquired the minor. The officer laughed evasively.
Pinheiro, 33, said he knew exactly who to blame for his plight: not Bolsonaro, but US President" Joe Bye ", who lasted warned of" significant economic consequences "If Brazil continued to destroy the Amazon.
" He's an environmentalist, he is, "the miner blamed, saying that the president of Brazil had been forcefully to take action by his US counterpart. "Bolsonaro does not support this ... If it were up to him, none of this would happen, " Pinheiro said.
Custodio da Silva, who runs a shop near the river ferry that takes miners into the forest and brings gold and timber, shares this point of view , although he is a left-wing supporter of the Brazilian workers movement. party (PT). "Damn, Trump was much better! This crazy operation happened after the arrival of Joe Biden," said Silva, whosesales plummeted when impoverished miners left the city.
In Moraes Almeida, a nearby town, an influential rancher and businessman also claimed that Bolsonaro was forced. " He does not have a choice. He has a knife to his throat, ”Ubiratan Filadelpho said of international pressure. "It's the whole world against Bolsonaro when it comes to this environmental issue.
Signs of the devastation caused by decades of Unbridled exploitation is everywhere in Jardim do Ouro and the surrounding state of Para, one of the nine that make up the Brazilian Amazon.
The Jamanxim River, which winds past Viana's waterfront bungalow, flows an ominously milky brown: the result, locals say, of mining pollution. When Viana arrived in 1981, the region's tropical rainforests were largely untouched. QuarYears later, like much of the Amazon, they have been replaced by a sprawling patchwork of dirt roads and cattle ranches - and destruction continues.
Twenty miles upstream, in a supposedly protected area near the Jamanxim State Forest, the buzz of a chainsaw was heard despite the military presence. The machine killed itself as the Guardian journalists approached, but enormous damage had already been done. Satellite imagery has shown that a 541 hectare swath of jungle has been cut down here in recent months - the equivalent of some 650 football pitches. At least 4,147 km² of forest was destroyed in the state of Para between August 2020 and last July, an area more than 2.5 times the size of Greater London.
Araujo, the former chief of Ibama, said army operations could temporarily slow down such destruction.tion but would never solve the problem on its own, especially given Bolsonaro's "destruction program ".
"As soon as they leave, it's all coming back to what it was, "she said.
A return to business as usual is exactly what many in the Jardin d 'Or would like. Claudionor Silva, a friendly northeastern resident who appeared to be ten years older than his 56, said he had taken a job in one of the gold mines illegalities in the region in April, after Covid torpedoed his job as a street vendor. Five months later, he was fired again.
"How will- do I support my family now? ”the father of four wondered as he sat next to an idling excavator that, until recently, had torn chunks of Amazon soil.
Benedito Ademar Leitão, a local preacher, hassaid he feared his already tiny herd would shrink further if the crackdown forced redundant residents to migrate. Deep down, however, the man of the church sympathized.
"God did not create the universe to be destroyed like that, "said Leitão, 63, a former miner who traded gold for God after a brawl at an alcohol-fueled bar in which he was shot in the hip and almost died.
"When he created Adam, where did he put him? In the garden of Eden," the pastor as another army truck rushed towards town. "And what did he say to Adam? To take care of him.