The Amazon, Undone: Death in the Forest

ENVIRONMENT, 21 Mar 2022

Terrence McCoy | The Washington Post - TRANSCEND Media Service

We Traveled Deep Into the Amazon to Investigate Deforestation. A Grisly Discovery Awaited Us.

A view from near Vila Realidade on Highway 319, which runs more than 500 miles through the core of the Brazilian Amazon.  (photo: Raphael Alves/AP)

highway 319 is speeding the destruction of the vital global resource. Along this stretch, the killings have already begun.

17 Mar 2022 – First the road was cragged and cracked. Then it was a thick slop of mud. Then a swirl of red dust. But now, after we had traveled hundreds of miles through the densest of jungle, the highway was finally good — paved and smooth — and it was here that the driver stopped the truck.

There was an unmarked dirt road branching off from the highway. It cut into the jungle and led out of sight. Lucas Ferrante, the environmental scientist leading this journey, wanted to go down the road and see what — and who — was hidden behind the trees.

“This is illegal deforestation,” he said.

The driver, who lives on the highway, told him it would be too dangerous to proceed. These rough-hewn side roads are often the work of armed criminal groups. The groups, which dominate this stretch of the forest, had unleashed a wave of fire and destruction that was transforming much of southern Amazonas state into smoldering pastureland. The way they solve problems is with violence. People disappear. Their bodies are never found. Our driver feared the trouble that following this road would bring.

Ferrante, who has spent years detailing the region’s lawlessness in academic journals, understood the highway’s dangers and uncertainties better than most. He had been threatened in anonymous calls and messages — then abducted in November 2020 and told to keep quiet.

Another researcher documenting the destruction received this text: “You’re going to burn in the fire. It will be a barbecue. Message delivered.”

But Ferrante, 33, believed traveling here was worth the risk. He had come to see this highway, a reddish gash scarring a quilt of green, as one of the Amazon’s last stands. A photographer and I had now joined him on this journey to its further reaches.


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