According to the bishops, the Amazon continues to be negotiated as if it were private capital protected and fostered by the government. If 40 years ago it was the military dictatorship that left its mark, “today we live in an economic dictatorship,” they say.

The description came from Bishop Leonardo Ulrich, secretary general of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), at the conclusion of the 10th Gathering of the Church in the Amazon, held here July 2-6. At the gathering, the Document of Santarém prepared by the bishops 40 years ago was reviewed and an evaluation done of the presence of the church in the Amazon region during the period since then.

“A lot of water has flowed in the thousands of rivers and streams of the Amazon over those 40 years. Even so, there exist great similarities between the two periods, both marked by development, the accelerated economic miracles,” said the representative of the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI), Egon Heck, who also participated in the Santarém gathering. 

“We are neither a colony nor a periphery of Brazil,” affirmed the bishop emeritus of Porto Velho, Moacyr Grecchi, when expressing his indignation because of the politics of neo-colonialism in the Amazon, promoted by the government. 

Moacyr recalled the 1972 Document of Santarém, which he labeled “the identification card of the Church in the Amazon.” At that time four priorities for the work of the Catholic Church in the region were defined:

  • becoming incarnate in the reality of the Amazon;
  • the formation of base communities;
  • an indigenous pastoral ministry; and
  • participation in the pioneer frontiers.  

The bishop of the Prelature of Cametá and president of Regional North 2, Jesus María Bedonces, lamented that the Amazon is today still considered as being a colony, where people come, take raw material, become rich and then leave.   

“That is a capitalist model designed by the government for the Amazon that does not take into account the people who live here. For them, the people are just a detail, that sets back development,” explained Bedonces. 

The evaluation at the Santarém gathering points to the lack of necessary conditions for the survival of the forest inhabitants and which has forced them into the peripheries of the cities, where they live in undignified conditions. This movement also opened the way for national and international capital.    

“The miners allotted the subsoil for mining exploration. Sawmills moved forward through the forests with their sharp iron teeth and powerful machines. Oxen and soy move forward on the last remaining agricultural frontier, as the Amazon is used for the expansionism of capital, with the stimulus and protection of the Brazilian state,” wrote Heck of the Missionary Indigenous Council (CIMI).

The indigenous pastoral ministry was taken on as a priority by the bishops of the Regional North 1, North 2 and the Northeast, and it continues being a work on which the church in the region lays emphasis. A concern of the bishops is that there are over 70 indigenous groups that live in a situation of voluntary isolation, and which face a serious risk of extinction.

Other indigenous communities are fighting for the recognition and guaranteeing of their ancestral lands. The health services provided to the indigenous peoples is described as being “chaotic,” with alarming conditions such as in the case of the communities of the case of the Javari Valley, where 87% of the population is affected by hepatitis.  

Over the last 40 years, the population of the Amazon has increased from less than 10 million to 25 million inhabitants. 72% of the population, that was for the most part located in the interior, in riverbank settlements, is today concentrated in the urban areas.