[News] Jair Bolsonaro Praised the Genocide of Indigenous People. Now He’s Emboldening Attackers of Brazil’s Amazonian Communities

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Feb 16 14:05:10 EST 2019


  Jair Bolsonaro Praised the Genocide of Indigenous People. Now He’s
  Emboldening Attackers of Brazil’s Amazonian Communities

Sam Cowie - February 16, 2019

_“The Brazilian cavalry_ was very incompetent. Competent, yes, was the 
American cavalry that decimated its Indians in the past and nowadays 
does not have this problem in their country.” That’s the opinion 
<https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br/lupa/2018/12/06/verificamos-bolsonaro-cavalaria/> of 
Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, expressed on the floor of 
Congress in 1998. His views appear to have changed little since then; in 
a video message <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUgDXVbPHZs> to 
supporters 18 years later, he promised to revoke the protected status of 
an Indigenous reserve in 2019 and in the next breath added, “We’re going 
to give a rifle and a carry permit to every farmer.”

The protection of Indigenous lands is guaranteed by the Brazilian 
constitution to preserve the rights and cultures of groups that have 
been persecuted for centuries. Brazil is home to approximately 900,000 
Indigenous citizens from 305 tribes, most of whom live on reserves, but 
more than half of the locations claimed by Indigenous groups have not 
yet received government recognition. Bolsonaro, consistent with his 
throughout his career, said in a televised interview 
shortly after his election that if it were up to him, “there won’t be 
any more demarcations of Indigenous land.”

Any rollback of protections for Indigenous lands would pose a dire 
threat to the Amazon rainforest, which is being rapidly cut down 
by ranchers, farmers, and extractive industries.

Bolsonaro’s attitudes toward Brazil’s Indigenous people and their lands 
are similar to those of the military dictatorship that ruled the country 
from 1964 to 1985, during which time thousands of tribespeople were 
and thousands more were driven from their lands to make way for large 
infrastructure projects and farms.

In last year’s election, Bolsonaro campaigned hard on cuts to government 
funding for Indigenous services and freezing the expansion of federally 
protected reserves. He immediately moved to make good on these promises 
after his inauguration last month.

Meanwhile, armed bands of land grabbers, known as “/grileiros/,” have 
been staging attacks on Indigenous communities — a pattern of violence 
that has surged in the wake of Bolsonaro’s election, according to 
Indigenous leaders and allies interviewed for this article. “With 
Bolsonaro, the invaders are feeling more at ease,” Bitete 
Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, who lives on an Indigenous reserve, told The Intercept 
by telephone.

He referred to the invaders as “peons” sent by powerful bosses to cut 
down trees, burn undergrowth, and plant grass for cattle grazing — the 
first stage in the vastly profitable criminal enterprise of 
land-grabbing in the Amazon 
 From there, the lands are often sold several times over on the black 
market, meaning that poor states lose out on much-needed tax revenue 

Prosecutors have raised the alarm over four territories that have 
experienced, or are in grave danger of, invasion or attack, while 
advocacy groups say the number is at least six territories and fear that 
darker days are still to come. An investigation 
published this week by the NGO Repórter Brasil found that at least 14 
fully protected Indigenous territories are currently under attack.

      Under Attack

Last month, the image of a bullet-riddled metal plaque reading “National 
Indigenous Foundation, Protected Territory” made the rounds on WhatsApp, 
Brazil’s most popular messaging app. The sign marks the entrance to one 
of several villages in the vast Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous reserve, in a 
lawless region of the Amazonian state of Rondônia, near the Bolivian border.

Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau leaders and local advocacy groups shared the solemn 
photograph with an accompanying audio message explaining that the 
gunshots were fresh, the latest attack in an ongoing “invasion” by 
groups of grileiros.

The tribe fears that a violent conflict with gun-toting outsiders is 
imminent. Recently, armed with bows and arrows, they managed to expel a 
group of grileiros from the reserve and filmed the confrontation 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzkWkp5BOQ0>. The trespassers promised 
to return.

“They want to take the land, divide it up into lots, and raise cattle,” 
Bitete Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau said. “They are getting very close.” The 
Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau are not alone.

On his first day as president, Bolsonaro transferred the authority 
to protect Indigenous lands from Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, or 
FUNAI, a government entity tasked with the protection of Indigenous 
communities, to the Ministry of Agriculture, handing a victory to the 
powerful agribusiness sector that backed his campaign and has its eyes 
on large tracts of pristine forest. Sydney Possuelo, a veteran 
Indigenous observer and former FUNAI president,described the move 
as “the death” of FUNAI, in an interview with the Folha de São Paulo 

Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, now headed byTereza Cristina Dias, 
<https://theintercept.com/2018/11/15/tereza-cristina-ruralistas/> a 
former member Congress from the powerful “/ruralista/” agricultural 
caucus, did not respond to The Intercept’s questions about whether the 
demarcation of Indigenous lands would continue.

Days after signing the decree, Bolsonaro tweeted 
<https://twitter.com/jairbolsonaro/status/1080965509317828608> a video 
clip of another one of his ministers who argued in a cable news 
interview that many of the existing Indigenous reserves were established 
using fraudulent documents, and called the United Nations Declaration on 
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “spurious” and “treasonous.”

The Chamber of Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities of 
Brazil’s Public Prosecutors Office has sent anurgent memo 
to the justice minister warning that the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau and three other 
communities were in danger. The Indigenous Missionary Council, or CIMI, 
a Catholic aid group, recordedattacks and threats 
in five states.

“What we are seeing is a new phase of illegal occupations of Indigenous 
lands,” said Cleber Buzatto, CIMI’s executive secretary.

      The Bolsonaro Effect

According to Daniel Azevedo Lôbo, a public prosecutor in Rondônia, the 
region surrounding the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory is rife with criminal 
groups constantly looking to illegally exploit Indigenous territories or 
forest conservation units. In January, he said that dozens of suspected 
grileiros were planning a major invasion, and another had already taken 
place this year. Federal Police arrested one suspect 
while the rest fled into the forest.

Grileiros “see themselves as workers and producers, but they are 
criminals,” Lôbo told The Intercept. He said that land grabbers in 
Rondônia likely felt encouraged by the new administration. “They always 
look for a way to legitimize their illegal actions,” he said. “The 
government might have changed, but the law didn’t.”

The 7,200-square mile Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau reserve is larger than the U.S. 
states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Around 200 tribespeople 
of different Indigenous subgroups live in villages on the margins, and 
an unknown number of “isolated” Indigenous people who do not have direct 
contact with the outside world reside deeper within the borders.

Using satellite imagery, Brazil’s Social Environmental Institute 
concluded that only 2 percent of the reserve is deforested, as compared 
to 70 percent in the surrounding area.

Rondônia is one of the Brazilian Amazon’s most deforested states, and 
much of the remaining jungle is in Indigenous lands and federal 
conservation units, making them popular targets for criminal gangs. By 
no coincidence, the state recorded 17 murders related to land conflicts 
in 2017, one of the worst rates in the nation.

Last year, Bolsonaro won in Rondônia by a wide margin and a retired 
military police officer from Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party was 
elected governor.

The Karipuna Indigenous territory, also in Rondônia, is similarly under 
assault from land grabbers. Greenpeace’s investigative journalism unit, 
Unearthed, reported from the territory 
in 2017 after prosecutors said the tribe — with less than 60 members 
living on the site — was at risk of “genocide.” 
“They are close to the village now,” Adriano Karipuna told The Intercept 
recently. He visited the U.N. headquarters in New York last year to 
denounce a possible 
“massacre” against his people.

Federal Police have since seized tractors 
and other heavy machinery from the nearby community of União 
Bandeirantes and are investigating three suspects in connection with 
illegal logging. The Public Ministry, with the support of the Federal 
Police and FUNAI, is expected to request 
National Guard troops to defend the reserve.

FUNAI’s new president, Franklimberg de Freitas — an army reserve general 
who is currently the target of a government ethics enquiry for conflict 
of interest regarding his former consultancy gig for the Canadian mining 
firm Belo Sun — also visited Rondônia late last month following the 
recent invasions.

Next door in Mato Grosso state, prosecutors warned that they would meet 
any invasion of the Marãiwatsédé reserve of the Xavante people with an 
“energetic response.” In 2012, farmers illegally occupying the land were 
expelled by court order. Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reported 
that Nelson Barbudo — also known as “Bearded Nelson” — the state’s most 
popular congressperson and Bolsonaro ally, had encouraged the invasion, 
calling their removal “a crime against producers.”

Twelve hundred miles south, in Rio Grande do Sul state, local 
prosecutors have opened an investigation into a reported incident in 
which two hooded men made threats and opened fire at a small 
Mbyá-Guarani encampment in the capital, Porto Alegre.

In Maranhão state, Claudio da Silva, who leads a local forest guard on 
the Caru Indigenous territory told The Intercept that a group of 
farmers that was removed in 2014 following a court decision was 
threatening to come back. “With the proposals of Bolsonaro, they are 
organizing to return to the Awá territory,” he said. “We can’t just 
cross our arms.”

       From Bad to Worse

About 0.4 percent of Brazil’s population lives on federally protected 
Indigenous lands, which cover around 13 percent of national territory 
and contain some of the nation’s best-maintained forests. Climate 
scientists consider empowerment of Indigenous people and their lands as 
an important weapon in the fight against climate change. But regardless 
of who is running the nation, throughout recent history, those concerns 
have been sublimated to the short-term economic interests of major 

Before Bolsonaro, the situation was already increasingly dire for 
Brazil’s Indigenous communities as the agribusiness lobby has grown more 
powerful in state capitals and in the corridors of power in Brasília. In 
2017, under President Michel Temer, FUNAI’s budget was cut bynearly half 
and a law was passed that effectively gave amnesty 
to land grabbers who had continuously occupied lands since before 2011. 
A similar measure had already been passed in 2004.

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