The Amazon Rainforest is often referred to as the ‘Lungs of our Planet,’ still imagined as the unspoiled home of isolated, disconnected tribes. A thick, green stain on the map — the world’s largest — laid there by the hand of God, with no sign of man’s.
From up close though, it’s way more than woods, mines and dams: cities have grown out of the jungle, into a green favela. Fields are burning, and the dark, steady stream of the Amazon river a safe conduct for cocaine. The riverbanks are littered with trash, and bodies.
In Brazil, the Amazon region is by itself bigger than the entire European Union and hosts a population the size of Romania. It’s one of the richest parts of the country, in terms of natural resources, yet one of the poorest. Where the trees are carved into crosses.
“Terra Vermelha,” which means red earth, is an ongoing project that documents the growing social crisis in Brazil’s Amazon region, in the states of Pará, Amazonas, Rondonia and Roraima.
The first part of the project focuses on rising violence in the Amazon’s urban centers, mostly related to the drug trade, and was documented with great access by following police operations.
In the region’s main cities, homicides rates are among the highest in the world. The poor live in precarious shantytowns, where militias and gang warfare rule the streets. The prisons are overflowing, and gangs can easily gain their control. Outside those urban areas, the world’s highest number of environmental and indigenous activists is systematically killed, perpetuating a cycle of impunity.
The second part covers the construction of new towns and the recently expanded cities like Altamira — famous for its hydro-power dam, and for being Brazil’s murder capital in 2017. It documents the violence that comes with rapid and unregulated urbanisation, and consequential social problems such as drug addiction and prostitution.
The third part of the project focuses on rural violence, such as the land conflicts between cattle ranchers fighting with landless peasants and environmental activists over territory.
Peasants illegally chopping down trees on slave wages or working in illegal gold mines, while mega development projects such as dams and mines destroy local ecosystems. Entire communities are being displaced.
Deforestation, unregulated development, pollution. All of these scenarios are driven by the same forces; poverty, weak institutions, corruption and savage self-interest. More than in other places, in the Amazon region it becomes clear that land is worth more than human life. And on the path towards the destruction of the planet, the first and closest step for mankind is still its own annihilation.