Brazil: Bolsonaro goes after indigenous land
Brazil’s new president has an ambitious plan to open up indigenous land to commercial mining and farming, said Brasil.ElPais.com in an editorial. Nearly 13 percent of Brazilian territory—some 413,000 square miles, an area almost the size of Texas and California combined—has been set aside for native tribes, including a large swath of Amazon rain forest. As a presidential candidate, the “ultra-right-wing” Jair Bolsonaro vowed to cede “not one more centimeter” of public land to Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people. And after his inauguration last week, he got to work on that promise. First he stripped the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) of the right to decide on lands claimed by indigenous people, handing the task to the agriculture ministry. The new agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina Dias, is a fierce advocate for farmers’ rights. Then Bolsonaro put FUNAI under the aegis of a new minister in charge of a hodgepodge of issues: human rights, women, the indigenous. That minister is an evangelical pastor who co-founded a group that advocates taking disabled children away from tribes so they won’t be put to death.
Bolsonaro says his plan will benefit the indigenous, said Germany’s DeutscheWelle.de. His government views the tribes “as business partners,” and he says Indians want to “earn money, trade, mine gold, harvest precious wood, and rent out land” just like other Brazilians. Bolsonaro claims the tribes are being “exploited and manipulated” by nongovernmental organizations. “Together,” he tweeted, “we’re going to integrate those citizens.” The indigenous themselves, though, will have none of it. Leaders of the Apurina and Aruak Baniwa communities have already penned an open letter saying they won’t assimilate or open their lands to agribusiness.
Bolsonaro’s proposals reveal his ignorance, said Leão Serva in Folha de São Paulo. The law that made Indians the stewards of our Amazon lands isn’t some hippie claptrap, but the work of Jarbas Passarinho, a former member of the 1964–85 military dictatorship who recognized that the Indians were ideally suited to preserve Brazil’s environment and water resources. “Satellite photos prove that the model worked,” because the rain forest, which belongs to all Brazilians, is intact only in the Indian regions. “Outside, all is flattened, deforested, and burned.” Bolsonaro says he simply wants Indian lands to be leased to farmers—but that has been tried in the past, and it always leads to conflict. By the second generation, the farmers tend to claim ownership of the land they occupy as renters.
It’s not clear that Bolsonaro will prevail, said O Estado de São Paulo. FUNAI is a public agency created to ensure that indigenous rights are respected “as set out in the Brazilian Constitution.” The Association of Judges for Democracy, a judicial advocacy group, has released a brief arguing that the government has no right to strip FUNAI of its jurisdiction over indigenous lands. Brazil’s indigenous people are going to fight this—and they’ll have justice on their side. ■