Brazil President slights indigenous rights



During his speech at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro was adamant that throughout his tenure, the country would be open to global investors. In a weak attempt at creating a semblance of balance between economic growth and environmental protection, Bolsonaro stated, 'It is now our mission to make progress in harmonising environmental preservation and biodiversity on the one hand, while bearing in mind that these are interdependent, inseparable pillars of our society.'

2019 Jair Bolsonaro Presidential Inauguration (Bruna Prado/Getty Images)Absent from the equation were the indigenous people of Brazil, who represent a major obstacle for the planned exploitation of territory and natural resources. In 2006, a report by Brazilian and American scientists established that indigenous territory is 'the most important barrier to Amazonian deforestation'.

However, Bolsonaro has taken immediate steps to curtail the indigenous people's legal recourses to save their territories. His first action as president was to remove the responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and grant such powers to the Ministry of Agriculture, which has vested interests in ventures pertaining to agribusiness.

Following his WEF speech, Brazil's top prosecutor issued a warning for Bolsonaro to 'respect the land rights of 900,000 indigenous citizens'.

Bolsonaro is by no means the only Latin American president to hold the indigenous populations in contempt. In Chile, former dictator Augusto Pinochet enacted legislation specifically denying the existence of the Mapuche, while having no qualms about experimenting with chemical weapons upon kidnapped individuals from the community. Subsequent left-wing and right-wing Chilean governments continued to wage war on the Mapuche through the dictatorship-era's anti-terror laws. Camilo Catrillanca, who was at the helm of indigenous resistance in his community, is one of the Chilean state's most recent victims.

Argentina's Mapuche community have also been resisting the collusion between government and multinational companies. United Colours of Benetton operates from Patagonia in Argentina, where it owns 2.2 million acres of indigenous land. In 2017, Argentinian activist Santiago Maldonado was disappeared by the police while participating in a protest with the Mapuche over Benetton's presence and land grab. His body was subsequently discovered in a river and the state ruled out foul play, but Maldonado's family are pursuing charges of 'forced disappearance' against Mauricio Macri's government.

For such governments, including Bolsonaro, the indigenous population are the impediment to neoliberal and exploitative policies. To achieve such a system, there will be a gradual, and most probably hurried, introduction of legislation that paves the way for violence and business interests to complement each other.


"Bolsonaro's government, like other right-wing governments in Latin America and considering the global rise of the right-wing, might signal yet another step in the normalisation of massacres for profit and plunder."


One such change which Bolsonaro immediately put into effect was the removal of previous justifications for gun ownership, allegedly to allow people the right to defend themselves. Less stringent gun laws, according to the president, will result in a reduction of violence. Yet, the link between state violence and citizen violence endorsed by the state cannot be ignored. It blurs the boundaries between justice, retaliation and cold-blooded killing, thus implementing the foundations for impunity if, in future, the same violence is directly applied against the indigenous tribes of Brazil.

The Indigenist Missionary Council's (CIMI) annual report published in December last year shows an increase in certain forms of violence against the indigenous people in Brazil, while specifying that 'the three branches of Brazilian government have been complicit in the pressure on indigenous territories, which allows their natural resources to be exploited and leads to violence in the villages'.

In addition, the report explains that ruralists in Brazil — a right-wing agribusiness association — are lobbying for the dispossession of the indigenous population. The current Minister for Agriculture, Tereza Cristina, is a member of the ruralist association.

State violence against the indigenous is also likely to be bolstered due to the fact that Bolsonaro, who openly lauds dictatorships, has also chosen 'six retired generals to head ministries'. From 1964 till 1985, Brazil was in the grip of a military dictatorship. In a news conference as president-elect last November, Bolsonaro declared, 'The Brazilian people still do not know what dictatorship is.'

Yet indigenous tribes will remember well the dictatorship's incorporation of the Indigenous Rural Guard (GRIN), an indigenous force created ostensibly to monitor indigenous communities. This governmental institution, however, forcibly displaced people from their lands and used torture against indigenous communities in Brazil.

Brazil's National Truth Commission, set up in 2001, established that over 8000 indigenous people were killed by the dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

Capitalist development in Brazil, as planned by Bolsonaro and as practiced in Chile and Argentina, is not a mere manifestation of progress. All Latin American dictatorships massacred people for profit. The current right-wing governments will be loath to implement a recognisable military dictatorship, yet the neoliberal politics espoused by such governments endorse the targeting of specific groups, in this case the indigenous populations, who are the bulwark of land protection. Bolsonaro's government, like other right-wing governments in Latin America and considering the global rise of the right-wing, might signal yet another step in the normalisation of massacres for profit and plunder.



Ramona WadiRamona Wadi is a freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

Main image: 2019 Jair Bolsonaro Presidential Inauguration (Bruna Prado/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Ramona Wadi, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil



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Existing comments

Shades of Duterte and Pinochet Ramona. Bolsonaro is a fascist with all the characteristics of neo Mussolini. He loves flag waving and uniforms. Salutes. Guns. The indigenous Indians could be machine gunned from helicopters just like the Angolans were in 1981 by the South African heavy gunships. Its a volatile mix and I dont believe for a minute he has any regard for indigenous rights or the environment.

Francis Armstrong | 29 January 2019  

Stray thoughts!Thank you for this article, sadly preceded by an earlier one from Ramona that similarly attracted only one post (from my colleague, Edward Fido). The question this raises for me is: how is Eureka Street to successfully support the kind of journalism that sheds the spotlight of publicity on human rights atrocities that commands a response from those who yearn for justice as the Gospels impel us to do. Today I attended Mass at a prominent and well-attended Brisbane church, where the celebrant, reflecting on the current stage of the Extraordinary Synodal (or 2020 Council) process, invoked St Paul's Epistle on Love to try and cement tolerance and unity in the parish. The sermon was read out and undoubtedly similar to all others that are proclaimed at every Mass this weekend in our archdiocese. I was reminded of what happened to the Vicar-General of Toowoomba Diocese, a man of the Left who, some years ago, was shouted down during his homily by a right-wing Latin American academic and his wife, who were regular members of the congregation. Lo and behold, after a fifteen year absence, there they were at St Ignatius's, hopefully now committed to 'no peace without justice'.

Michael Furtado | 03 February 2019  

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