For the past two months, an estimated 2.5 million barrels of oil has been washing up on the North East coastline of Brazil over an area of more than 2,000 km, affecting more than 130 of the area’s beautiful beaches.
The government has been very slow to act, with President Bolsonaro joking on video that the fish are intelligent enough to swim away, and the tourist minister Marcelo Álvaro Antônio and vice-president Hamilton Mourão both denouncing any risk to locals, but one man has already died and 17 were hospitalised during beach clean-up operations organized on a vast scale by grassroots groups in the absence of Government help. Despite the tourism minister’s reassurances, huge numbers of holiday bookings have been cancelled, affecting the large number of people who earn in the summer from casual labour and beach jobs. On top of that the many fishermen’s livelihoods are threatened as they are now hauling dead and dying fish.
One of the groups helping is SalveMaracaipe – a grassroots operation originally set up to resist corporate tourist development at the Maracaipe beach, and to organise regular beach cleans, but now drawn into this disaster and helping to co-ordinate action across the huge North Eastern coast.
Real Media interviewed Mariana Maciel, who is a biologist and environmental scientist as well as a #SalveMaracaipe activist.
She explained how Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lost heavily in the North East during his election, and has since publicly denigrated the local people. So it’s no surprise the government has left it up to locals turning up in their thousands to try and remove the thick oil sludge washing up on their beaches.
It’s not clear at all where the oil is coming from. The government and corporate media have variously reported that it is Venezuelan oil dumped by a Greek or Russian vessel. The Environment Minister at one point blamed Greenpeace, and other theories suggest there is sabotage afoot to threaten oil license sales, but as the size of the disaster appears to grow, none of these add up.
Bolsonaro has been busy privatising Brazil’s oil reserves and a swathe of companies including Shell, Exxon, BP have benefitted, and are drilling offshore. If a drilling accident is the source, and no-one is admitting it, then the disaster will continue to worsen.
There is an international fundraiser to help buy safety equipment and general aid for the clean-ups, to help fund independent press, and to boost education and information-sharing.