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A Brazilian special-forces unit fighting to save the Amazon

253 points18 daysnewyorker.com
EL_Loco17 days ago

Brazilian here. I'm 100% for combating and arresting illegal miners, loggers and farmers, but I also know how big the rainforest is, how long the borders are, and how little personnel there is to do the work. Most people don't have a sense of how vast that region is: the brazilian part of the Amazon rainforest is about half the area of the U.S. Now look up how many soldiers and federal police officers are working there. It's daunting, feels like the drug war, only fifty times worse, because there's no solution anywhere close to something like legalization.

kjkjadksj17 days ago

At least with mining and logging it leaves evidence in aerial imagery, unlike a clandestine lab. Maybe one day the amazon can be automatically patrolled by drones that mark targets for these smaller squads.

motoboi17 days ago

There is a satellite-based surveillance system. What is missing (or was) is will to actually enforce.

definitelyauser17 days ago

> patrolled by drones that mark targets for these smaller squads.

Surely it could be scaled better with satellite imagery? Assuming it can be updated "reasonably frequently". I imagine drones would run into maintenance problems, especially in such "remote" regions.

kazinator17 days ago

Plus, they can't be running in supplies on foot, under the canopy, or getting the stuff out!

matheusmoreira11 days ago

Also a brazilian. I don't really care about it. I'd rather they used that vast amount of land for something that's more economically relevant. If you told me I could push a button to get state of the art semiconductor factories but the side effect was the destruction of the amazon... I wouldn't even think twice.

bentt17 days ago

Making this the topic of the next Call of Duty would be a great move for the rainforest and bring a ton of awareness.

diggan17 days ago

And also ensure they can continue their journey to having 1TB large game assets, as suddenly hundreds of 3D modellers need to create thousands of new foliage models each.

gambiting17 days ago

>>, as suddenly hundreds of 3D modellers

Creating realistic looking trees is one area that has now been almost entirely automated with tooling - there are some absolutely incredible tools for generating whatever kind of tree you want in any number of permutations. So really this would be more like 2-3 people just in charge of verifying the output and making sure it's stylistically consistent.

Apocryphon17 days ago

They also didn't spend that much effort last time they had a Brazilian level

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG6lJ6rz-Rs

AdmiralAsshat17 days ago

As someone who went through grade-school in the 90s, with all of our "Save the Rainforest" campaigns, all I can think is: a fat lot of good that "awareness" did...

catskul217 days ago

But how would we know though right? I mean without having an A/B comparison.

Sure it didn't stop the destruction, but I don't think that was ever in the cards. But it might have helped by some amount even if small. 1%? 2%? 6%?

If it reduced destruction by 2%, would that have made the campaign worth it?

I think there's a chance it did do some good in that it was in enough awareness to end up somewhere on a foreign policy agenda higher than it might have otherwise been, and thus policies might have been negotiated in trade agreements, treaties, company due diligence source tracing, etc.

schoen17 days ago

In my grade school we were asked to donate money to buy part of the rainforest in order to stop it from being cut down.

I thought this was a brilliant idea, and it wasn't until the first time I visited Brazil (which is, somehow, 20 years ago now) that I learned that it wasn't really helping at all. In part, it's not that easy to "buy part of the rainforest". But more importantly (as the article describes), small-scale miners and loggers don't usually respect those property claims (or designations of areas as protected parkland).

tmpz2217 days ago

The last few Call of Duty games has featured Mexico and involves raining fire down on forested environments with an AC-130 gunship. So maybe not the best example of environmental protection.

IlikeMadison18 days ago

The French do the same against illegal gold miners in French Guiana Amazon. They have approximately 1,000 soldiers compared to up to 9,000 illegal prospectors. I can't imagine how a single unit will be capable to curb anything when you look at the size of Brazil's Amazon.

SEJeff18 days ago

Wireless sensors, synthetic aperatire radar, aerial surveillance all are things that exist. These things have existed since Vietnam and are significantly better now than they were then. The record for Lorawan sensor mad range was ~1,300 km / 830ish miles. You could partition the rainforest into grids and use these sorts of sensors if you wanted to be excessively thorough. Not easy or cheap, but very doable with today’s technology and a bit of customization.

Note: my grandfather invented some of the rf sensor technology designed to be airdropped by the US military over the forests of Vietnam for this exact thing. It worked well for what it was designed for.

namaria17 days ago

> Not easy or cheap, but very doable

Wait until you find out about budgets, especially when allocating for things that big chunks of the population aren't even supportive of.

defrost18 days ago

The larger prospectors will be tied to hard to move assets (cyanide leach pools, crushers, screens) in semi cleared areas near rivers. The unit will have helicopeters and possible access to sat imagery.

The plan would be to gather intel, map, and move through, one group at a time with enough soldiers (50 to 100) to deal with smaller unmiliterised enclaves.

tnjm17 days ago

Probably true - but having a great many soldiers in an area where there are an extremely isolated people such as the "uncontacted" Yanomami also poses its own risks. If they're focusing on the most sensitive areas with highly trained personnel and making use of the impressive knowledge and expertise in Brazil's Indian affairs department, FUNAI, much could be achieved. The situation in French Guiana is quite different, with perhaps only small numbers of Wayãpi living in isolation.

Brazil is rolling back the free-for-all that was established under Bolsonaro, but if they're handling it delicately, that's likely good news.

rmbyrro17 days ago

They should have a lot more troops involved, for sure, but GEF can be very efficient by leveraging surveillance tech.

Brazil deployed SIVAM [1] about 20 years ago. At the time it was a state-of-the-art radar surveillance system. Not sure how they kept up with tech advances, but it still gives a significant edge to the GEF unit.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Surveillance_System

charles_f17 days ago

It seems like the largest cause of deforestation of the rainforest is farming(1). Prevention of illegal destruction is probably a good idea, but if this is to replace it by its legal counterpart...

1: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation_of_the_Amazon_...

cute_boi17 days ago

And many of them are for animal feed.....

CWIZO17 days ago

The vast vast vast majority is for animal farming. It's staggeringly inefficient.

djohnston18 days ago

This is where drones and spies seem like the right approach. It can’t be hard to get a labourer on site with a cellphone or even just a tracker no?

bluepizza18 days ago

These communities are insular and lawless, not to mention hours away from any significantly sized town. They know who belongs there and who doesn't.

The spy would have to be internal people who are turned, which is not easy either because these folks are not educated, and would have trouble hiding their new income or acting within the confines of a information providing program.

Not impossible, but unfortunately, our government doesn't have the resources.

Regarding drones, the area is impossibly large. If we had enough cash, live satellite monitoring and deployed army stations for every zone would be the ideal solution.

wavefunction18 days ago

"live satellite monitoring" are you talking about launching a geosynchronous spy-satellite as well as the analysis, communications and command structure to make use of the satellite information? Along with stationing thousands of troops deep in the jungle with no existing supporting infrastructure? And that being cheaper than deploying some loitering and FPS suicide drones? You could probably hike out with a "solar birdhouse" of FPS drones, attach it to a tree and deploy an FPS drone as needed while running 24/7 zones of loitering drone surveillance for very cheap.

The real issue would be distinguishing between "illegal and prohibited" and "illegal but allowed" and "not illegal" activities in these communities since they rely so deeply on their environments for everything.

bluepizza17 days ago

It's really a lot of land. Amazon forest is estimated to have an area five times the area of Alaska.

Drones are a drop in the bucket.

My point was exactly about the fact that "cheap" doesn't cut it, unfortunately.

gruez17 days ago

Did you mean "FPV" (first person view) drones?

raverbashing18 days ago

And you think there's phone signal on the middle of the jungle? Sometimes hundreds of miles from the nearest asphalt road?

Check google maps and see how you'd get to and from here (notice, getting up here would be the "easy" part of the journey - there's even "street view" https://maps.app.goo.gl/2XEL3J3aJWoLEGY58 )

bamboozled17 days ago

Starlink, it's enabled lots of awesome nasty shit.

gruez17 days ago

Unlikely, given that isn't even a partner in Brazil yet

https://www.starlink.com/business/direct-to-cell

mmaia17 days ago

Starlink is available in Brazil and dominates the broadband market in Amazonas. Antennas are commonly found with illegal miners. [0]

0- https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/articles/cv2edkw84zmo (Portuguese)

https://www.starlink.com/map https://www.starlink.com/br/business https://www.starlink.com/br/residential https://www.starlink.com/br/service-plans

joshuaissac17 days ago

> Unlikely, given that isn't even a partner in Brazil yet

The article mentions thrice the use of Starlink by the miners:

> Cabral said; they must have been warned that the G.E.F. was coming. He pointed to a white rectangular antenna on a tall pole in the center of the camp and said, “Starlink”—Elon Musk’s portable satellite-communications system.

> “Wherever the miners have Starlink, we’re at a real disadvantage,” Finger told me. “They can warn each other there is a raid going on in the territory, and they can organize their work better.”

> The new farm had a Starlink connection, and, as the rains abated, a pilot said that he was sure the farm manager would warn the miners that we were coming.

mistrial917 days ago

Gold, weapons, heavy ammunition and Starlink antennas have become "the new normal" in seizures by Brazilian security forces in illegal mining areas, according to an Ibama spokesperson, told BBC News Brasil.

Rinzler8918 days ago

>It can’t be hard to get a labourer on site with a cellphone or even just a tracker no?

And then do what with it? I live in an EU country where illegal timber exploitation is rife, and there's not much a lone person with a drone can do.

A lot of these areas are relatively remote and the underfunded police and rangers are usually quite far away and slow to show up, even when they're not paid by the timber mafia to look the other way. And by the time authorities do show up, the mobsters have been most likely tipped off and cleared the area.

And if you're an average joe trying to directly interfere you're putting your life in danger since you're standing in the way of a multi million euro industry and there's camera footage of volunteer forest watchers being assaulted by timer mobsters on quad bikes wearing balaklavas.

If this is happening in the EU I can't imagine what it's like in other places.

mrcartmeneses18 days ago

You’re just not thinking like a Brazilian death squad

Rinzler8918 days ago

No idea what that is. Care to detail?

lobocinza11 days ago

Death squads were vigilante self-organizing groups of cops and sometimes their friends which would beat and murder "bad people". I don't think they exist in significant numbers today but in the past those groups existed in the open.

wavefunction18 days ago

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_squad#Brazil You're gonna have to read it for yourself though

mistrial917 days ago

Kosovo ?

aaron69518 days ago

[dead]

a1o17 days ago

> Illegal miners in the Amazon are increasingly well equipped, with access to Starlink systems that allow them to coördinate work and warn of raids.

What the hell, can't they be tracked down reversely by asking Starlink itself?

michelb17 days ago

Why would Starlink give out that info?

coryrc17 days ago

Requirement for being allowed to operate in the country?

skrebbel17 days ago

I remember a Musk quote that countries who want to block Starlink can “wave their fists at the sky”

pas17 days ago

Elon already gave in to China's demands regarding Starlink

flykespice17 days ago

[flagged]

mistrial917 days ago

"In May 2022, after shaking hands with then-president Jair Bolsonaro at a luxury resort in the interior of São Paulo, the businessman (Elon Musk) said he was "super excited for the launch of Starlink for 19 thousand disconnected schools in rural areas and environmental monitoring of the Amazon. .. The promise never came to fruition, according to the Ministry of Education and state secretariats."

+1
inemesitaffia16 days ago
inemesitaffia16 days ago

Location doesn't tell you operator. You can guess but you can't be sure

ymgch18 days ago

It's just for the press. Can't change anything.

2OEH8eoCRo017 days ago

This defeatist take is getting old. Why don't we abolish all police and laws because we can't change anything?

porompompero18 days ago

Exactly my thoughts, they need an army not a A-Team unit.

_heimdall17 days ago

It may not be quite that simple. Moving an army is no small feat, the logistics required is complicated and could be miserable to try to manage in the Amazon.

If they did manage to get a large enough military force in to catch most of the illegal miners, how much damage would be done to the Amazon just by the army getting in there?

blinding-streak17 days ago

> coördinates

> coöperating

The article has multiple instances of umlauts over the letter o. The first one I saw, figured it was a typo. But several more appeared. Strange, I wonder why?

aloe_falsa17 days ago

Not an umlaut, a diaeresis - it shows that the letter has its own sound (unlike the word "coop", for example).

You'd generally use it for proper nouns (like Brontë or Boötes) and rare loanwords - it doesn't seem very useful for common dictionary words, since anyone who can understand the word itself probably knows how to pronounce it.

nkrisc17 days ago

It’s part of The New Yorker’s style guide. Their use of it is sensible, it’s just incredibly rare and not really necessary in English.

DFHippie17 days ago

Actually, given English's crazy spelling, it's pretty useful in English.

There was a restaurant in my town -- the sign is still up but it's closed -- called "Cooper's Coop". For a while after they put their sign up I thought it was a cooperative/coöperative. If there'd been a diaresis I would have known it was the chicken coop sort of coop they had in mind.

schoen17 days ago

For non-native English speakers, it's something like

/ku:p/ for chickens

/'koʊ.ɑp/ for cooperatives

People sometimes spell the latter "co-op" (as an alternative to the New Yorker's "coöp") to make clear that it's two syllables. There's also a college merchandise shop in Cambridge, MA, called The Coop that seems to encourage people to use the chicken-oriented pronunciation as a joke.

https://www.thecoop.com/our-story

scoot17 days ago

> If there'd been a diaresis (sic) I would have known it was the chicken coop sort of coop they had in mind.

Except that there wouldn't have been a diaeresis, because (chicken) coop doesn't have one.

DFHippie17 days ago

True.

nkrisc17 days ago

Agreed that it is useful. I meant not necessary in the sense that pretty much no English speaker will ever expect it to be used.

CalRobert17 days ago

It's a great tool for discussing sales of the eggs from your coop at the coöp. But it nearly disappeared once. https://archive.is/3Oz0F

""" We do change our style from time to time. My predecessor (and the former keeper of the comma shaker) told me that she used to pester the style editor, Hobie Weekes, who had been at the magazine since 1928, to get rid of the diaeresis. She found it fussy. She said that once, in the elevator, he told her he was on the verge of changing that style and would be sending out a memo soon. And then he died. This was in 1978. No one has had the nerve to raise the subject since. """

I am grateful it persists.

As someone learning Dutch, it is VERY helpful in words like zeeën - ( zee-en - seas). Much easier to know what it is vs. zeeen. I hope it is similarly helpful for foreigners learning English.

alistairSH17 days ago

Sibling comments cover the diaeresis. Its use is extremely inconsistent in English.

I can't say I've ever seen it used for co-ordinate or co-operate. Usually these are typed with the hyphen or nothing.

But, it's more common on some words than others - Noël, aïoli, and naïve come to mind. None would ever appear with a hyphen (at least in my experience).

And zoölogical and reëlect just look WRONG to me. I don't think you'd ever use a hyphen with zoological, but might (or might not) with re-elect.

schoen17 days ago

> Noël, aïoli, and naïve

All three of those were borrowed from French, which uses the diaeresis, so this is "just" keeping the original French spelling.

> I don't think you'd ever use a hyphen with zoological, but might (or might not) with re-elect.

The hyphen only works with words where the vowels came together as a result of compounding (here, adding a prefix like re- or co- to the beginning of another word that already starts with a vowel).

At least in Noël and naïve, the vowels came together because French lost a <t> that was present in Latin between two vowels -- interestingly in both cases here a word related to "birth" (natalis and nativus).

PyWoody17 days ago

Their explanation

  > And yet we use the diaeresis for the same reason that we use the hyphen: to keep the cow out of co-workers[0]
[0] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-curse-of-...
PartiallyTyped17 days ago

I suppose to also keep the meow out of the homeöwner (ho-meow-ner)

schoen17 days ago

This feels ripe for an aphorism like "you can take the cat out of the home, but you can't take the meow out of the homeowner"!

DFHippie17 days ago

When I see "coworkers" I always think "cow-orkers". I don't know what orking is. It should be a thing.

keybored17 days ago

1. Test with a dictionary

2. This is the New Yorker (pretentiöus)

stuaxo17 days ago

The loggers and miners are using star link, the operator of that company you will know where they are.

estradanicolas17 days ago

NGO's come and claim resources on the land to mine what is rightfully Brazil's. Happening for a long time now and Lula has the pipeline open again for anyone to come in and get a piece and loot. Also, author left out how Lula was in jail for corruption before he became pres again.

alimw17 days ago

> NGO's come and claim resources on the land to mine what is rightfully Brazil's.

It's grimly amusing how the grabbier half of society literally cannot comprehend that not everyone is as selfishly motivated.

lobocinza11 days ago

It's a jangoist narrative but sometimes it is the truth.

gverri17 days ago

"in jail for corruption" Can you please explain to our global audience what crime he committed to be jailed for corruption?!

Can you also explain why the judge who sentenced him manipulated the law to judge a case that was completely out of his jurisdiction? Also, that Lula was the number one candidate in pools before he was jailed? And that this same judge went to become a minister of the candidate he helped elect by getting Lula out of the run?

blastonico17 days ago

> Can you please explain to our global audience what crime he committed to be jailed for corruption?!

Corruption.

lbrito17 days ago

>Also, author left out how Lula was in jail for corruption before he became pres again.

You left out a few things, like the corrupt judge that sentenced Lula during an election where he was the absolute favourite, and months later was made minister by the genocidal president he helped elect.

Thankfully a modicum of sanity is being restored and the corrupt judge is now being investigated.

lobocinza11 days ago

Bullshit. Moro vice is vanity not corruption. Lula was freed not because he is innocent but because the mafia judges nullified the process. Crime took a significant hit when Moro was minister of justice, reduction in homicides, effective border control. No wonder that criminals and their leftists supporters hate him. The current government is incapable of fighting crime and it is thriving to the dismay of millions of daily victims. I'm ashamed of being Brazilian because of people like you.

lbrito8 days ago

You are factually wrong. The homicide rate is still declining as of 2023. Also worth it to note that the military dictatorship was responsible for the explosion in urban crime and violence in the 70s and 80s, which persists to this day.

The feeling of shame is mutual and I'll add disgust. I decided to leave Brazil after Bolsonaro was elected and I heard gunshots and death calls from neighbors, savages like yourself.

The things that made the world shocked and disgusted about Bolsonaro - the promotion of violence, the ties with the milícias (mafia), the contempt with human life and dignity, the hate of the natural environment - foreigners did not understand that those were exactly the things his supporters, like you probably are, loved about him.

Bolsonaro routinely said things like "we should have murdered 30,000 people (during the dictatorship)". Those statements don't lose votes, they gain votes from an appalling, bloodthirsty, evil minority like the commentor above.

lobocinza8 days ago

> The feeling of shame is mutual and I'll add disgust. I decided to leave Brazil after Bolsonaro was elected and I heard gunshots and death calls from neighbors, savages like yourself.

You're wrongly assuming I'm a Bolsonaro supporter because in your world anyone that criticizes your idol must be a Bolsonaro supporter and evil. The truth is that both Lula and Bolsonaro are evil beyond doubt but most of their supporters are victims of polarization and disinformation rather than bad persons.

Dude, Brazil was always a savage place. Obviously it's not a good thing but you're very privileged if this is the worst you have faced and you were able to leave the country. The reality is that most Brazilian face worse and can only dream of emigrating.

> Bolsonaro routinely said things like "we should have murdered 30,000 people (during the dictatorship)". Those statements don't lose votes, they gain votes from an appalling, bloodthirsty, evil minority like the commentor above.

What do you expect from a population heavily traumatized by crime and violence where yearly homicides far exceed 30K?

I'm more worried about a minority in Brazil which openly support a socialist revolution with mass executions and all. I'm worried about seemingly educated individuals supporting a corrupt president that is friends with dictators and evil regimes like Putin, Maduro, al-Assad, Gaddafi, Xi, Iran, Hamas.

> You are factually wrong. The homicide rate is still declining as of 2023.

I'm not. In 2018 and 2019 when Moro was Minister of Justice we saw unprecedented 2-digits decline in homicide rate. In 2020 after he was fired homicide rate increased. Further declines were timid in comparison and crime is thriving despite homicides falling because the current system rewards crime and the current government doesn't care about crime.

ref: https://g1.globo.com/monitor-da-violencia/noticia/2022/02/21...

> Also worth it to note that the military dictatorship was responsible for the explosion in urban crime and violence in the 70s and 80s, which persists to this day.

Moro anti-crime measures weren't by no optic authoritarian. I don't see how those events can be relevant to this discussion besides you wanting to make false implications.

motoboi17 days ago

Nice to see that believing in fake news are not an intelligence related tract.

sremani17 days ago

I am excited about the future movie "Saving Forest Rain".

huytersd18 days ago

[flagged]

blastonico18 days ago

[flagged]