View from Brazil

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View from Brazil

Leonardo Sakamoto writes about the war against indigenous people.


The Ashaninka are an indigenous people living in the State of Acre, Brazil. © Pedro França/MinC

The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has many ways of saying indigenous people cannot have the right to their land. ‘Why in Brazil do we keep indigenous prisoners in reserves like animals in zoos?’ is one of them.

The President promised there will be no more demarcation of traditional indigenous land. At the same time, he works to ‘free’ the same lands for economic use by non-indigenous persons. His words gave power to cattle ranchers, soy farmers, loggers, miners, and land grabbers. The result is more and more violence, including killings.

There will be statistics about this for the first year of Bolsonaro’s presidency from social movements in April 2020. Indigenous leaders say things are certainly worse. In one example, at the end of 2019, four Guajajara indigenous people were murdered in the state of Maranhão. One of them was a well-known defender of forests against loggers.

The government says these are not political crimes. The Indigenous Missionary Council, linked to the Catholic Church, disagrees. It thinks the violence comes from the government’s plan to extract the natural wealth from indigenous lands.

The Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Association says, ‘These crimes are part of the rise in hatred supported by the terrible government of Jair Bolsonaro. It attacks us every day and says we have no right to exist and supports the racism from which the Brazilian people still suffer.’

The president even blamed indigenous people for last year’s terrible fires in the Amazon.

About 98 per cent of indigenous lands are in the Amazon region, and almost half of the country’s indigenous peoples live there.

For example, the Guarani-Kaiowá is the largest indigenous group outside the Amazon. In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, they are forced to live in very small reservations. Mostly illegal farmers move into the state but the indigenous people cannot have the right to their 600,000-hectare lands.

As a result, they suffer from modern forms of slavery with lower and lower salaries and there are many suicides.

Elizeu Pereira Lopes is an indigenous representative. He said, ‘People are suffering from hunger in Guarani and Kaiowá. Children are going to bed hungry,’ Spensy Pimentel is professor at the Universidade Federal do Sul da Bahia. He watched the attacks in the Dourados region of Mato Grosso do Sul in recent months. He says: ‘The security guards on ranches and farms near the reservation say they only carry “non-lethal guns”. The indigenous people call them “gunmen”. But a 14-year-old teenager died after he was shot 18 times with one of these guns. Another may lose his eyesight and one of the grenades left at the site last week took the fingers off a child’s hand.’

Bolsonaro says there is an international plan to make indigenous areas independent from Brazil so that others can get their resources and wealth!

Indigenous people never campaigned to be independent from Brazil. They want to feel they are Brazilian, they want to have full citizenship and the right to their land.


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