LÚCIO FLÁVIO PINTO
Covering corruption in Brazil’s lawless Amazon
|Lúcio Flávio Pinto reports from the lawless and isolated Amazon region of Brazil, one of the most dangerous beats in Latin America. As publisher and editor of Jornal Pessoal in the northern state of Pará, he covers an area that is almost twice the size of Texas and is home to corrupt ranchers and land speculators.
He has reported on drug trafficking, environmental devastation, and political and corporate corruption. In return, he has been threatened and subjected to a wave of spurious lawsuits. A powerful local media owner, also a local politician, attacked Pinto in a restaurant in January, beating and kicking him. The assailant’s bodyguards provided cover during the assault.
Writing columns and directing coverage in his small bimonthly paper, Pinto has challenged the self-dealing and domination of a prominent media company. In retaliation, the company’s principals have unleashed a barrage of legal complaints.
Judges, politicians, and business owners have also filed criminal and civil complaints against Pinto, who has exposed illegal corporate appropriation of timber-rich land, as well as corruption involving land titles.
Read an interview in Caros Amigos (em português):
Following are transcribed excerpts from a videotaped interview with Pinto, airing as part of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Awards Dinner:
A: Well, the difficulty, in general, that a journalist faces in the Amazon is that he’s isolated. His headquarters are far, if he’s a correspondent, and the region itself–be it in Belém or Manaus–it’s the long distances. So, in general, he’s by himself and he’s like a firefighter, because the Amazon is always going through social fires, economic fires, environmental fires. So, he feels unprotected. He feels permanently exposed to the actors behind those developments, and many of those actors are violent, aggressive people who don’t live by the rules of civilized coexistence. So, I believe this is a very serious problem for journalists to do the journalism that the Amazon needs.
Q: What is happening in the Amazon that makes it a center for so many illegal activities? Why is there so much crime in the region?
A: A criminal seeks impunity and the Amazon is an excellent place to go unpunished. So, I think it attracts criminals because the arms of legality and modernity take a long time to come to the Amazon, and that’s why it attracts that marginal fauna. … An important figure in the history of the Amazon was a minister in the military regime, the most powerful minister in the military regime, Delfim Neto–currently a federal legislator for the state of São Paulo. He used to say, “The Amazon is living the time of the bandit. It’s wild and primitive, a land for pioneers. So, first bandits have to come and tame the land, the rest will come later.”
Q: Why do you think the Amazon has become one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism in Latin America?
A: If you want to do serious journalism, you have to do a journalism of denunciation, a journalism that sees what is happening. So here, where the only ethics is the ethics of the criminal, it’s crucial that journalists point to the real facts, and the real facts are in contradiction with [official] discourse and rhetoric.
So, journalists are always running risks, because journalists are always displeasing people. And, unlike in a major city such as Rio, São Paulo, or New York, where a journalist sometimes doesn’t run into the person he denounced, here you run into–sometimes the same day–the person you said was a thief. And that person doesn’t like to be called a thief. So, journalists are always facing major and immediate risks.
Q: Why do Brazilian media ignore or fail to investigate issues as important as environmental degradation, rainforest devastation, and political and corporate corruption in the Amazon?
A: Well, there was a time when Brazilian media, which is concentrated in the South and Southeast, had a stronger presence here: regional offices, correspondents in state capitals. Today that has virtually disappeared. So, press coverage is episodic: when there’s an accident or a conflict, when there’s a traumatic development, the Brazilian press covers it. So, because it’s not a systematic coverage, the media do not have an in-depth vision of the Amazon, they have an exotic vision. There’s a discontinuity in the press coverage of the Amazon. … The media don’t realize, for instance, that some goods currently produced in the Amazon are in world markets. The state of Pará is the world’s single largest producer of iron ore. And that is not covered. The state of Pará has the world’s largest bauxite mine. And that is not covered either, because it’s not exotic.
Q: You say that your main feeling about the Amazon is hopelessness. Why?
A: My feeling of hopelessness is more in retrospect. It’s hopelessness considering what has happened, what we have lived through in the Amazon. But in order to stay here, to keep reporting the news, to keep trying to establish the truth, I have to be optimistic and hopeful.
When I started working as a journalist, the deforestation of the Amazon was less than 1 percent. Today’s it’s 18 percent. There was never a people in the history of mankind who destroyed as much rainforest as has been destroyed in the Amazon, in less than half a century. What was destroyed in the Amazon was 400,000 square kilometers. So, that’s shocking, and not because mine is a poet’s vision, or an ecologist’s vision, it’s because the rainforest is the Amazon’s reason of being. Could you imagine if Egypt wanted to fill the Nile River with silt? It would finish off Egypt. Egypt is a product of the Nile, and we are a product of the rainforest.
Q: Why do you continue to fight to change things for the better?
A: We still have that chance, of making a different history in the Amazon, a history in which the settlement model in the region is based on the rainforest. All peoples in the history of mankind destroyed the forests, they were homo agricola. We, who have the world’s largest rainforest reserve, we can be for the first time people of the rainforest. That’s not what’s happening. On the contrary, we are the ones who have destroyed the rainforest the most. Even so, we still have a unique chance in the history of mankind. The moment the Amazon is devastated–and the consequences will be terrible–we will be just like all the other. That’s why it’s worth it trying to make a different history.
Lúcio Flávio Pinto remarks
I am an ordinary Brazilian who has never worn a tuxedo. I wish I could be there among you wearing a stylish outfit. A dinner jacket highlights some of our best qualities. It shows us at our most glamorous.
At this ceremony, however, the outfit is, above all, a symbol. A symbol of a link between the rich and the developing world. You are honoring four people who have worked hard to diminish–even eliminate–the distance between rich and poor, who have worked hard to build a bridge between the few who have so much and the many who have so little.
I come from a region that has 18 percent of this exhausted planet’s freshwater and one-third of its tropical rainforest. In these forests you will find the greatest biodiversity on the planet, a volume of genetic information that we are currently incapable of even measuring and yet are unwilling to preserve. Despite this great gift, we prey on our own riches.
We should not, however, disdainfully blame the settlers of the Amazon. It has been this way throughout human history. The history of physical expansion of human society is the history of deforestation. Our culture is a culture of deforestation.
However, we now have a unique opportunity to use what we have learned from this destruction as well as our knowledge of nature to write a new story in Amazonia, focusing on sustainability and not eradication.
This chapter of Genesis that the Creator did not write but rather assigned to those he has created — is still possible. Yet as time passes, it becomes increasingly less probable. If it is feasible at all, it will be done only with the help of people of good will throughout the world.
On this day that I could not wear my black tie and come to this beautiful ceremony in the world’s capital, I am caught in a sordid web created by those who want to suffocate my critical (investigative) journalism, a journalism which remains committed to turning the truth into a weapon of freedom. I wish to make an appeal to you from the jungle, in the spirit of Jack London, the great reporter who wrote from many of the world’s frontiers. Extend your bridge to this part of the world. Join us in building a new civilization and culture in this Eden that the great creator delegated to humanity.
May our drafts of this chapter be turned into well-written pages in which intelligence creates a new better and more just world. This what everybody always wanted–whether they are wearing a dinner jacket or a t-shirt. It does not make a difference.
Sou um brasileiro comum, que jamais usou um black tie. Mas bem que gostaria de estar neste momento entre os senhores envergando um traje a rigor. Ele realça ou superdimensiona algumas das nossas qualidades. É nossa vitrine glamourosa.
Nesta festa, porém, o traje é, sobretudo, um símbolo. É um traço de união entre o mundo rico e o mundo pobre. Os cidadãos afortunados que aqui se encontram concederam, referendaram ou estão a aplaudir quatro cidadãos que têm empenhado seu engenho & arte para diminuir – se não acabar – com a distância entre ricos e pobres. Têm colaborado para construir uma ponte entre os poucos que têm muito e os muitos que nada têm.
Sabemos nós que os senhores são uma boa platéia, uma plenária bem vestida e bem alimentada de ouvidos sensíveis, de olhos perspicazes. Mas querendo contribuir para que todos possam vestir-se bem, comer bem, pensar bem, fazer o bem.
Venho de uma região que abriga 18% da água superficial doce desse nosso maltratado planeta e um terço das florestas tropicais que nele ainda restam. Nessas matas há a maior fonte de diversidade de vida, um volume de informações genéticas que ainda somos incapazes de dimensionar – e mais incapazes ainda de preservar. Apesar dessas duas grandezas básicas, temos nos notabilizado como predadores justamente dessas que são nossas maiores riquezas.
Não se lance culpa execrável sobre os colonizadores da Amazônia. Foi assim em toda história da humanidade. A história da expansão física da sociedade humana é a história da devastação de suas florestas. Nossa cultura é a do desmatamento.
Agora, porém, temos a oportunidade única de usar a experiência da destruição e os conhecimentos já acumulados no trato com a natureza para escrevermos na Amazônia uma história inédita, centrada na manutenção da floresta e não na sua extirpação.
Esse “capítulo do Gênesis” que o criador não escreveu, transferindo-o para a responsabilidade de sua criatura, ainda é possível. Mas a cada dia essa possibilidade se distancia do plano da realidade. Se ela for exeqüível, só o será com a participação dos homens de boa vontade do mundo inteiro.
Neste dia em que não pude vestir meu black tie e vir a esta bonita festa, na capital do mundo, atado que me encontro nas teias sórdidas montadas pelos que querem sufocar meu jornalismo crítico, comprometido em transformar a verdade na arma de libertação, mando-lhes o apelo das selvas, à maneira de Jack London, o grande jornalista de outras fronteiras no mundo: estendam suas pontes a este lado do mundo. Embarquem no desafio de construir uma civilização e uma cultura da floresta nesse Éden que o grande criador delegou à nossa criação – humana, demasiadamente humana.
Que os ensaios de garranchos sejam substituídos por uma página bem escrita, na qual a inteligência crie um mundo novo, melhor e mais justo, como nós todos desejamos. Com black tie ou em mangas de camisa, não faz diferença.