Lalo de Almeida (São Paulo, 1970) he devoted a large part of his career as photojournalist To denounce and document violations against Amazon. A work titled Amazon Dystopia, which led him to win the World Press Photo 2022 Award for the Long-Term Project. The Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) is hosting an exhibition of all the images winning the prestigious award until December 11, and de Almeida visited Casa Seat on Friday to explain his vision of the reality of this region. Hours before the conference, EL PERIÓDICO from the Prensa Ibérica group attended.
He commented in an interview that Brazilians know more about the United States than the Amazon. What is this region and what does it mean for Brazil?
Brazil is a continental country, with an enormous dimension, and the south is always separated from the north, from the Amazon region. Southerners never recognized it as part of their identity. They treated it like a colony, where everything was extracted, wood, gold, energy, etc., without thinking about the people who lived there, in conservation. In fact, the environmental issue has never been a topic of discussion in Brazil, not only about the Amazon, but in general. I think that is changing now. People are feeling the impact of the climate crisis and are starting to see the problem. When there is water rationing in São Paulo because it does not rain, they realize that it is due to deforestation and more and more voices are screaming against the destruction of the Amazon. But culturally it is a very distant relationship. Traveling to the Amazon is expensive, most people from Brazil can’t travel and those who prefer to go to Miami.
Does the school know the wealth that the presence of this region represents to the country?
little bit. No conscience. This is changing because the world’s agenda is also changing. But there is no culture to protect the Amazon. For many years, it was considered a green desert, a wild place, by angry Indians, without appreciating the culture of the indigenous people, without talking about what it really is. There are 30 million people living in the Amazon, and more than 500,000 indigenous people with very different cultures, it has enormous wealth. And this is not passed on to the Brazilians, who have a lot of prejudices on the issue of indigenous peoples and the culture of the Amazon.
In 2012 he started a project that was awarded the World Press Photo Award. How has the Amazon evolved in this decade?
It started in 2012 with the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant. I accidentally went to cover the issue in the newspaper I work for and when I started to see what was happening, I understood the process of occupying the Amazon. I saw with my own eyes what I read in the history books, and how these processes were repeated, and in this way to treat the Amazon as a colony, as for 500 years. You become aware of the social and environmental impacts. Belo Monte was the starting point to start filming other projects, and other occupations, such as the Transamazon Expressway. Around him are all kinds of crimes and offenses, the search for gold, the illegal extraction of wood and mldr;
What did the arrival Jair Bolsonaro For the government of Brazil in 2019?
The process of destruction did not start with Bolsonaro, but he got on the accelerator. He completely destroyed the environmental watchdog agencies, the agencies that take care of the indigenous people, and his rhetoric was very devastating. He sees the environment as an obstacle to development. This has greatly increased illegal activities in the people living in the Amazon. These people feel empowered, as if they have a safe behavior to do what they want. If the president supports me, who will be against it, they wonder.
And how do these work?
In most cases, they are local politicians who have money to invest and take advantage of poverty and cheap labour. It is somewhat the same logic of drug trafficking, which takes advantage of cheap and young labor, with no future prospects, who find in this a means of survival. Most of the workers are poor and illiterate and live under a system of semi-slavery. In fact, the problem in the Amazon is not an environmental problem, it is a social problem. If we do not solve the problem of poverty, this will continue forever.
Government Lola Will you be able to reverse all this damage?
I think the government will at least point in the right direction. But it won’t be an overnight change, it will be a long process. In these four years, Bolsonaro has succeeded in instilling this mindset in the people out there. You have managed to completely flip the values. Government agencies that existed to protect the environment or indigenous communities are seen as enemies of the people. The same goes for journalists. Instead, the people who commit these crimes are seen as bringing development to the region. This is why the new government should not follow a control model that shuts down illegal businesses and leaves people without a livelihood, we should look for a different model that brings income to people who live in the jungle. Otherwise we’ll shoot the blind, keeping something that will never end. But I think Lola would change everything. Indeed, during the eight years of his rule, this was the period in which deforestation in Brazil decreased the most.
Have you had problems doing your job because of the accusation against journalists?
In the past four years, the situation has become very tense, not only with the press, there has been a lot of conflict in general. After working for many years in the Amazon, places began to appear that it was no longer possible to go. I started protecting myself by avoiding certain situations. I remember having to escape once because a Bolsonarista was chasing me with a machete to take a picture of his truck loaded with illegal lumber. He didn’t know I was a journalist, he thought I was an NGO worker, another archenemy of Bolsonaro. And he came out behind me, shouting “Onigiro, son of a bitch.”
how did he live election trip From last Sunday?
I almost died. It was like a nightmare. In the first round it looked like Lula would win, he had a chance. He did not win but many politicians, deputies and senators were elected to Bolsonaro. The most conservative, and the craziest, people were chosen. We spent a month suffering. On election day I was just recovering from Covid, and I spent 10 hours sitting in front of the TV counting minute by minute. When Lula’s victory became known, it was a huge relief.
Do you think the country has been divided in two?
Yes exactly. What scares him the most is not the presence of a madman like Bolsonaro, but half of the country supports that madman.