Agribusiness takes Brazilian power

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Agribusiness takes Brazilian power


Header/Thumbnail image: Gregg Newton / Reuters

The few people who have the power in Brazil are taking and ignoring the rights of indigenous people and small family farmers. Vanessa Baird writes.

The man behind the large locked gate says, ‘No. There is nobody you can talk to here.’

He seems sad. The place seems sad.

We talk and soon he lets me into the grounds of the Museu do Indio – Rio de Janeiro’s indigenous museum.

‘In March, there were people to speak to. But now it’s closed,’ he says. ‘They said it was for repairs, but they have stopped the repairs.’

And he says no one has paid the staff.

Now I understand. The museum is there to educate the city people about indigenous culture, and to celebrate it. The Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) – the government agency for the protection of indigenous people – runs the museum.

But after the coup there is little interest in protecting indigenous people or their rights. Now they see indigenous people as a problem. They stand in the way of profits and a strange idea of progress.

The Temer government has attacked FUNAI. In May, they took away the job of its director, Antonio Costa, because he refused to give jobs to friends of ministers who had no interest in indigenous protection. The agency is not receiving any money.

Xmaya Kaká Fulni-ô agrees to give me an interview.

He comes from Pernambuco in the northeast of Brazil. He is an ambassador for his Fulni-ô community and sells its handicrafts.


Xmaya Kaká Fulni-ô: ‘Now the landowners can attack us and the government does nothing.’ Picture: Vanessa Baird

Xmaya is very worried about what is happening in the rural areas. The government, he says, is not protecting its indigenous people. It is worse than that. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), an NGO associated with the Catholic Church, is looking at the increasing violence towards indigenous people. There were 48 murders in the first seven months of 2017.

In May, they killed 10 people when they tried to evict them from their land in Pau D’Arco, in the northern state of Pará. They are investigating thirteen police.

Hired gunmen and ranchers attacked an indigenous camp in Maranhão. They injured ten Gamela indigenous people – two had deep cuts in their hands. Powerful landowners led by the Sarney family control this northeastern state. One of them, José Sarney Filho, is Temer’s environment minister.

Since Temer’s takeover, agribusiness and ranching interests are evicting more indigenous people from their lands through intimidation and violence. The Guarani-Kaiowá people often suffer most. Their home state of Mato Grosso do Sul is in southwest Brazil, on the border of Paraguay. It has the country’s highest rate for murder of indigenous people. It is at the front of the growing agribusiness. And, after years of violent arguments about lands with ranchers and soy and sugar cane farmers, the Guarani-Kaiowá people are fighting for their indigenous land rights.

Local landowners are stronger now. There are videos online of hired gunmen driving through Guarani lands and shooting at unarmed civilians. Last June, after a violent attack in a Guarani community a health-worker died and they wounded six others, including a 12-year-old boy.

A few weeks later, in the northern state of Bahia, Raimundo Mota de Souza Junior, leader of Brazil’s Small Farmers Movement, was killed. He was a supporter of agro-toxin-free farming. He was also a Quilombola – his family were Africans who were slaves but ran away and started farms in the Brazilian countryside.

Father Paulo César Moreira of the CPT said: ‘In Brazil it seems Ok for everyone to kill. Why? Two reasons – criminals go free and the government of Michel Temer.’

Leonardo Sokomoto from the human rights NGO, Repórter Brasil, says ‘They seem to think, “Right, we’ve got our people in power. Now, we can do what we like”.’

Beef and guns

The bancada ruralista, or agribusiness lobby, is the most powerful political force in Congress today. Also it seems that some of its people helped with the coup.

Elsinho Mouco works for Temer. He said earlier this year that the big meat-processing company, JBS, which supports the bancada ruralista, helped with money for the coup against Dilma Rousseff.

Temer always does what the rural lobby wants. He attacks the land rights of indigenous people. He wants to break up conservation areas and he tried to give over 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres) to rich land thieves. And he has also acted to weaken environmental licensing laws for projects beneficial to agribusiness.

Temer chose Blairo Maggi as his agriculture minister/.He is a billionaire and owns a very big soy business, and police are investigating him. His company, Amaggi, was involved in a business which destroyed 115 square miles of Amazon forest.

And it seems he also used slave labour. It also seems that the company gave $5.3 million to a rancher, AJ Vilela. He is the leader of a violent gang of Amazon deforesters.


Blairo Maggi is at a beef dinner in Brasilia, He is a soy billionaire and now the agriculture minister,. Picture: Adriano Machado / Reuters

Maggi and at least eight others in Temer’s government are named in the Operation Car Wash corruption investigation. With 27 other senators, Maggi asked for a change in the constitution which before helped indigenous lands. This was a shock to Brazil’s indigenous groups, who worked for many for their land rights.

About 13 per cent of Brazil’s land is for the 900,000 indigenous people. Taking this away would give the agribusiness lobby a lot more power.

How to stop the land thieves?

This story is about land theft. But the Brazilian and international media did not notice the move to help thieves steal land more easily. On 12 July – the same day that Lula was sentenced to prison – Temer signed a bill to make it easier for rich land thieves to make their thefts legal.

Indigenous groups and the environment will be the biggest losers. It’s also likely to mean the loss of millions of acres of Amazonian rainforest.

Deforestation is happening very quickly in the Brazilian Amazon – with a 29-per-cent increase in 2016. Norway gives money to Brazil’s environmental programme but it says it will not continue to help if the deforestation continues.

In July, about 800 members of the MST occupied farms owned by Temer and others as part of a day of action against the rightwing land reforms and the killing of peasant farmers. Their protest was ‘Corrupt People! Give Us Back Our Land’.

In Brasilia earlier in 2017, marines stopped indigenous protesters from taking part in a Congress committee meeting that concerned them. On 9 August, the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous activists were back in Brasilia and protested outside the Supreme Court.

A week later they won when the Supreme Court said yes to two indigenous groups in a land dispute with the state of Mato Grosso. The Court gave them their land rights and said no to the state. But this is only a small beginning.

In Rio’s empty Museu do Indio, Xmaya says he is sure that his country’s indigenous people need international help.

He says sadly, ‘There is no respect for us here in Brazil. People do not respect our values – to love, to take care of Nature, to look after it, not to just use it. They don’t care about us, they don’t see us. Temer’s government does not like indigenous people. Under Lula it was better. FUNAI worked, we had healthcare, we had schools. We had our indigenous land. Now the landowners can attack us and the government does nothing. It says to them, “you can do anything”. It has abandoned us.’

For the Amazon rainforest, ‘the lungs of the world’, the effects of Brazil’s policies are very bad. This coup goes further than Brazil.

It’s not just a coup against Brazilians – but also against the planet.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).