Brazil: Bol­sonaro goes af­ter in­dige­nous land

The Week (US) - - News -

Brazil’s new pres­i­dent has an am­bi­tious plan to open up in­dige­nous land to com­mer­cial min­ing and farm­ing, said 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-rightwing” 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 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.

Il­le­gally logged in­dige­nous land in the Ama­zon basin.

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