Amazonian indigenous community wins 24-year lawsuit against illegal loggersBy Sophie Hirsh
Dec. 23 2020, Updated 3:56 p.m. ET
Editor's note: We are re-sharing some of the best moments and most important stories of 2020. Although it was a difficult year for nearly all of us, there were also shining moments of light and signs of hope. This was one of them.
After more than two decades, the Amazon rainforest’s Ashaninka indigenous community has finally won a lawsuit against the timber companies who illegally deforested the tribe’s land in the 1980s. Brazil’s Cameli family, who owns the timber companies, was ordered to pay the Ashaninka tribe a $3 million settlement, which will be used to protect the Ashaninka tribe and the Amazon.
As reported by Mongabay, between 1981 and 1987, the Cameli family’s timber companies illegally cut down thousands of trees on the Kampa do Rio Amônia Indigenous Reserve. During that time period, the Cameli family deforested a quarter of indigenous reserve’s land, which is located on the edge of the state of Acre, Brazil. The reason? To sell wood to the European furniture industry.
If the name Cameli sounds at all familiar, it’s because it’s the same family as Gladson Cameli, current governor of Acre, Brazil, and his uncle, Orleir Cameli, who held the same position in the 1990s, according to Mongabay.
The Ashaninka tribe first lodged this lawsuit in 1996, as per Mongabay. The case made its way through Brazil’s judicial system, and got as high as Brazil's federal Supreme Court in 2011 — but at that point, the case stalled, according to Latin Post.
On April 1 of this year, the case finally came to a close in Brazil’s Attorney General's Office. There, representatives for the National Indian Foundation, the Advocacy General of the Union, the estate of Orleir Messias Cameli, the Marmud Cameli company, and the Ashaninka Association of Rio Amônia all came together (while keeping 6 feet apart, due to COVID-19 mandates) and signed the settlement agreement, according to a press release put out by the Attorney General’s office.
The Cameli family was ordered to pay $14 million Brazilian real (about $2.4 million USD) directly to the Ashaninka community, and another $6 million Brazilian real (about $1 million USD) towards the Human Rights Defense Fund. In addition to monetary reparations, the Cameli family was ordered to issue an official apology to the Ashaninka family, according to Latin Post.
Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is a huge issue — and one of the main reasons why the Amazon was on fire last year.
As explained by the WWF, over the past 50 years, humans have clear-cut 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest in order to develop it. Cattle ranching (raising cows for beef and dairy) accounts for about 80 percent of that deforestation. The remaining 20 percent of Amazon deforestation is attributed to humans cutting down land for timber (for wood and paper products), palm oil, soybeans to feed livestock, and more.
Developers often set fires in the Amazon rainforest to quickly clear land for developments. "[Developers] cut the trees, leave the wood to dry and later put fire to it, so that the ashes can fertilize the soil," Ane Alencar, scientific director of IPAM Amazonia, explained last year, as per Mongabay.
The indigenous tribes of the Amazon Rainforest are the most directly affected by fires in the rainforest — and Brazil’s government is not concerned with protecting them. As Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch told Green Matters last year, President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is “doing everything it can to not obey the existing laws in the short term, and to weaken them in the long term."