[News] Indigenous People of Brazil Fight for Their Future

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Sep 25 11:34:58 EDT 2021

People of Brazil Fight for Their Future
by Nick Estes <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/nick-estes/>- September
17, 2021
8-10 minutes

Indigenous protesters from Vale do Javari. Photograph Source: Fabio
Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr – CC BY 3.0 br

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has given new license to the killing
Indigenous people in Brazil. Before he came to power in 2019, it wasn’t
clear what he wanted to build, but he knew exactly who and what he wanted
to destroy: the Indigenous people and the Amazon rainforest, respectively.

“Bolsonaro attacked a woman first, the land, our mother,” the Indigenous
leader Célia Xakriabá told me. “We have no choice but to fight back.”

Since becoming president, the former Army captain, who served under the
country’s last military dictator, has led an unprecedented war against the
environment and the people protecting it. A slew of anti-Indigenous
, escalated
against and assassinations of Indigenous land defenders, and the COVID-19
threatened the existence of Brazil’s original people, the Amazon
rainforest, and the future of the planet.

Under Bolsonaro’s oversight, about 7,700 square miles (20,000 square
of the Amazon has been deforested, mostly by fires
by the cattle and logging industries. The destruction of the Amazon
rainforest is pushing the biome toward an irreversible tipping point where
it won’t be able to renew itself and making the Amazon uninhabitable for
Indigenous people.

Meanwhile, in 2021, scientists found
for the first time the Amazon has been emitting more CO2 than it has been
absorbing. The Amazon—often touted as the “lungs of the planet
for the oxygen it creates—seems to be dying faster than it is growing.

But Indigenous people, who call this forest their home, refuse to disappear.

At the end of August 2021, red dust rose like smoke from the pounding feet
of some 6,000 Indigenous people marching
the main promenade
by Brazil’s Supreme Court, Congress, and presidential palace in the
country’s capital city of Brasilia. One hundred and seventy-six different
Indigenous groups from every region of the country arrived at the
encampment of Luta pela Vida
Struggle for Life movement) to protest against their own erasure. This
Indigenous mobilization, which is the largest in history, broke a spell of
inviolability surrounding the institutions of power that have for centuries
excluded Indigenous people or sought their demise.

“We need a union of Indigenous people,” Alessandra Munduruku from the
of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil
known as APIB, said to me. “Our lives matter.”

They have a champion in Joênia Wapichana, the first Indigenous female
lawyer and member of Congress. She’s calling for a “political renewal
of Brazilian and Indigenous rights. And she has helped spearhead the
Indigenous movement at a national and international level with APIB.

APIB is a powerful unifying tool for the Indigenous peoples of the country.
Indigenous Brazilians comprise a small fraction of Brazil’s
population—about 900,000
people survive today in a country of 211 million—yet they possess a
profound human diversity in language and culture not seen in most modern
countries. And they are now united in a common cause against Bolsonaro’s
belligerence and the powerful forces that brought him into power.

On August 9, APIB filed
lawsuit in the International Criminal Court charging Bolsonaro with
genocide. It’s the first time in the history of the ICC that the Indigenous
people of the Western Hemisphere have defended themselves, with the help of
Indigenous lawyers, against crimes against humanity in the Hague.

“We have been fighting every day for hundreds of years to ensure our
existence and today our fight for rights is global,” APIB’s executive
director Sonia Guajajara said in a statement

A coalition of right-wing forces ranging from agribusinesses, the gun
lobby, and evangelicals—collectively known as the “bull, bullet, and bible”
bloc in parliament—is backing Bolsonaro’s project of destruction of the
Amazon and its people.

Soy fields (mostly for animal feed) and cattle herds have replaced lush
forestlands and traditional rural communities. Most of Brazil’s food is
exported, largely feeding U.S. and European markets. And many Indigenous
people blame multinational corporations like Cargill, the United States’
largest privately held company, for their role in driving
destruction to produce soy.

Rural landowners, loggers, and miners terrorize and evict Indigenous and
traditional communities from their lands at the barrel of a gun. Relaxed
firearm and ammunition laws have led to a sharp rise in gun ownership,
especially among rural landowners, which has led to a subsequent rise in
gun violence. Bolsonaro’s signature finger gun gestures signal
for arming his base.

Much of this influence, including ties to evangelical churches, comes from
the United States, a country Bolsonaro and his supporters look to for

“It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the
Americans, who exterminated the Indians,” Bolsonaro once

“Indigenous extermination has already happened in your country [the United
States],” Munduruku told me. She sees a similar process unfolding in
Brazil. But the connection doesn’t end there.

“At the rate [at which] your country [the United States] consumes soy, it
contributes to the destruction of my land,” she added.

The final front of this onslaught is the very legal and political framework
protecting Indigenous territories—the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. The
Brazilian Congress has been voting
a series of bills that would undo hard-won rights such as protecting
Indigenous territories, granting immunity to illegal land-grabbing, and
sacrificing Indigenous lands for infrastructure, mining, and energy
projects. One of the bills would authorize
president to leave the International Labor Organization Convention’s 1989
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169, a major international treaty
protecting Indigenous and tribal peoples.

At minimum, APIB and Luta pela Vida are asking the government to respect
its own laws and constitution. That’s why a group of 150 Indigenous people
effigy of a large black coffin at the steps of Brazil’s Congress on August
27. Scrawled on its sides were the names of the bills aimed at their
destruction. The message was clear: Indigenous people refuse to be burned.

On September 1, the Supreme Court began hearing
in a case that could lead to either enabling or preventing the usurping of
ancestral lands from Indigenous people who were removed from their
territories after the ratification of the 1988 Constitution. On September
15, the Supreme Court suspended
case without setting a date to revisit it. APIB claims
positive ruling for Indigenous people would immediately resolve hundreds of
land conflicts in the country, and warns a negative ruling could accelerate

What is important to consider is that Brazilian democracy is fragile. As
Bolsonaro’s chances for reelection in 2022 dwindle, his supporters called
street mobilizations on September 7 to “begin a general cleansing process
in Brazil.” The targets of the rally were the Congress, the Supreme Court,
and the Chinese Embassy—and Bolsonaro supporters seemed to take their cues
from their U.S. counterparts who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

On August 10, Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo Bolsonaro shared
stage with Trump supporters in my rural home state of South Dakota, hoping
to cast doubt on the 2022 elections and draw international right-wing
support. He was joined by Steve Bannon, who called
former leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva “the most dangerous leftist
in the world” because his presidential candidacy poses
great threat of undoing what Bolsonaro has done during his presidential
term over the last four years.

The following week, in an Indigenous ceremony, Sonia Guajajara designated
the “guardian of territories,” a reminder of his obligations to Indigenous
people and the Amazon should he become president.

The Indigenous movement goes beyond Brazil and its constitution. “Our
[Indigenous] history doesn’t begin in 1988,” was one popular slogan
the Luta pela Vida camp. And the Indigenous struggle is more than
recuperating imagined halcyon days that never entirely existed for
Indigenous people.

“The future is ancestral,” Guajajara told me. And she’s calling on the
entire world to take leadership from Indigenous movements in this time of
terrible danger.

*This article was produced by Globetrotter
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