Over the past four decades that have passed since he helped found the Garden of Gold, Fernando Viana has been at the forefront of the chaotic race for precious ls in the Brazilian Amazon.
Bitter feuds over the jungle mines scattered around this riverside outpost. Lead-riddled corpses thrown outside the rowdy wooden brothels he ranlong ago.
"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 crackdown aimed at convincing the world that Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil cleans up its environmental law.
"Everyone is fleeing the forest ... because the mines have been closed," said the former Sheriff of Garden of Gold, now 75, as he surveyed his eerily submissive community through eyes clouded by cataract.
In the middle of the rise of global alarm in the face of climate emergency and data the decimation of Amazon under the ultraconservative president of Brazil, the army took action with a two month offensive against illegal miners and gold loggers. The mission, which began in July and ends this week, was accompanied by a public relations blitz in which the Bolsonaro administration claims: "It is in our nature to preserve ".
Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, a key ally of Bolsonaro and a cabinet member, said his government was determined to show the world a new, greener face after three years in the during which deforestation rates and indignanton the world have exploded .
"I recognize that there has been a deterioration in the image of [Brazil] due to the numbers deforestation and what the government is doing now is increasing its monitoring capacities so that these statistics can be reversed, ”the infrastructure minister said during a recent visit to the region. . "The fight against deforestation will be intensified," insisted Freitas, trumpeting the recent Doubling the budget for environmental enforcement.
Campaigners are skeptical of the crackdown, which comes on the eve of the November Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, will have a significant long-term impact as long as Bolsonaro remains in power. The dieforestry has peaked in 12 years under the leadership of a leader who critics say has emboldened Amazon's 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 environmental agency Brazilian Ibama.
Araujo, now a public policy specialist for the environmental group Observatorio do Clima, said the Brazilian government has clearly understood the importance of the 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 governmentinternational community after it was linked to illegal logging racket .
"But the boss is still here. The president is in charge and he has a crude and outdated 50-year view of environmental policy, as if development means cutting down the forest and replacing it with gold mines, ”Araujo said.
Whatever the lasting impact of the repression in Brazil before Cop26, it had a real and immediate effect in Jardim do Ouro, where many minors illegal immigrants found themselves out of work after their bosses halted operations for fear of their equipment being destroyed.
"I am in a state of decay", se complains Tulio Pinheiro, an unemployed and drunk miner, as he stumbled through the dusty main streetErupt from the colony a recent lunch after spending the previous night dozing on a pool table because he didn 't have the funds for a room at a local flophouse.
As a green army truck drove into town with sweaty troops armed with guns, Pinheiro 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 the US President "Joe Bye", who lasted warned of "significant economic consequences" if Brazil continued to destroy the Amazon.
"C "He is an environmentalist, he is," the miner reproached, saying that the president of Brazil had been forcefully to take action by his American counterpart. "Bolsonaro does notdidn't use that… If it were up to him, none of this would happen "said Pinheiro.
Custodio da Silva, who manages a shop near the river ferry that takes miners into the forest and brings in gold and lumber, shares this view, despite being a left-wing supporter of the Brazilian workers movement. party (PT) "Damn, Trump was way better! This crazy operation happened after Joe Biden arrived," said Silva, whose sales plummeted when impoverished minors left town.
In Moraes Almeida, a nearby town, an influential rancher and businessman also claimed that Bolsonaro was constrained. "He has no choice. He has a knife to the throat, "Ubiratan Filadelpho said of international pressure. " It's the whole world against Bolsonaro when it comes to this environmental issue. "
The signss of the devastation caused by decades of rampant exploitation are everywhere in Jardim do Ouro and the surrounding state of Para, one of nine that make up the Brazilian Amazon.
The Jamanxim River, which winds its way past the waterfront bungalow in Viana, flows a disturbing milky brown: the result, say the locals, of mining pollution. When Viana arrived in 1981, the region's tropical rainforests were largely untouched. Forty years 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. Machine killed when Guardian journalists approached, but massive damagehad already been caused. 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 but would never solve the problem on its own, especially given the Bolsonaro 's "destruction program ".
"As soon as they leave, everything comes back to what it was," she said declared.
A return to business as usual is exactly what many in the Golden Garden would like. Claudionor Silva, a nice northerner is who appeared to be ten years older than his 56, said he had taken an emplaw in one of the region's illegal gold mines in April, after Covid torpedoed his job as a traveling merchant. Five months later he was fired again.
"How am I going to 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, said 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 didlli die.
"When he created Adam, where did he put him? In the garden of Eden", the pastor lectured then that another army truck was rushing towards town. "And what did he say to Adam? To take care of him.