By Christian Poirier, Program Director at Amazon Watch
The election of the extreme right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency represents a profound setback for human rights and ecological preservation in the world’s fourth largest democracy. His reckless plans to industrialize the Amazon in concert with Brazilian and international agribusiness and mining interests could bring untold destruction to the planet’s largest rainforest and the peoples who call it home.
While this moment portends dire implications for the entire planet – particularly in regards to global climate stability – Brazil’s indigenous peoples feel the immediacy of these threats unlike any other community. Mr. Bolsonaro’s divisive and revolting rhetoric routinely targets indigenous land rights and cultural integrity, framing them as impediments to the country’s progress.
“Our fear is that this situation will worsen. He foments hatred and violence against indigenous peoples with a discourse claiming that we are an obstacle for development, ignoring our contributions to environmental balance. We know our titled territories help to stabilize the climate and that our preservation of these ecosystems offers collective benefits,” declared Dinamã Tuxá, a coordinator at Brazil’s Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (APIB).
Bolsonaro has clearly signaled that his administration’s policies will be tailored to the needs of the agribusiness and mining sectors, which are vying to expand their operations into the Amazon’s protected areas and consolidate control in other regions. His cabinet choices empower some of Brazil’s most conservative and virulently anti-indigenous leaders with high government posts such as Chief of Staff and Minister of Agriculture.
Joênia Wapixana, the first female indigenous representative elected to Congress, spoke to this looming assault on native land rights: “The demarcation of lands and protection of indigenous peoples are supported in [Brazil’s] Constitution. They are duties of the State, and are not dependent on the will of any government.”
However, the Bolsonaro administration appears poised to attempt to dismantle these rights through legislative means, or through creating a fait accompli wherein the security of indigenous peoples and their territories sharply deteriorates. His proposals to ease firearm possession aim to serve the interests of large landowners and empower land grabbers and rural mafias, who increasingly operate with impunity. As a result, spiking violence and land invasions will fall disproportionately on indigenous peoples and other environmental and human rights defenders, whose existence is already under serious threat.
“We are very worried,” said Alessandra Korap Munduruku, Coordinator of the Munduruku people’s Pariri Association. “We Munduruku people need our land to be titled. When the president says he will not title one centimeter of indigenous land, it hurts those of us who have long fought to defend our territories from the invasion of loggers and miners. When he talks of ending the ability of [environmental enforcement agency] IBAMA to issue fines and prohibits federal police from accompanying their inspection actions we suffer and are scared, even to leave our homes.”
In response to these mounting assaults, Amazon Watch recently released the hard-hitting Complicity In Destruction report, naming key ruralista leaders and exposing the international corporate and financial entities enabling their regressive political agenda. The report’s focus and findings have proven particularly timely in the context of Brazil’s lurch to the extreme right, given the key role foreign markets will play in advancing or moderating Bolsonaro’s disastrous plans for the Amazon.
To respond to the manifold threats of a government entirely antagonistic to their cause, Brazil’s National Indigenous Movement requires solidarity from a range of global partners. Amazon Watch’s Complicity In Destruction campaign aims to answer this call by building leverage over strategic corporate and political actors, while helping to raise worldwide awareness of indigenous-led resistance to Bolsonaro.
And resistance will be fierce: if the incoming administration thinks it can shred Brazil’s Constitution and silence dissidents is certainly mistaken. Brazil is replete with vigorous social movements born from multifaceted struggles for justice against the cruel legacies of colonialism and authoritarianism. Its National Indigenous Movement is among the country’s best-organized and most effective forces for social change precisely because it leverages support from a wide array of partners, including international allies like Amazon Watch.
“The destructive agenda announced by Jair Bolsonaro is highly aggressive to all those who struggle for justice, especially for the most vulnerable population,” said Sônia Guajajara, Executive Coordinator of APIB. “We indigenous people have resisted for 518 years to overcome the colonial structure and we will continue resolute in our fight for our right to exist as original peoples. Our work to demarcate our territories will continue to be urgent and we will not desist. This is our struggle!”
For more information please contact Christian Poirier (email@example.com). Christian is the Program Director at Amazon Watch, which works to protect the Amazon and our climate by supporting indigenous peoples (amazonwatch.org).