Mon, Oct 07, 2019 - Page 7 News List

‘War for survival’: Brazil’s Amazon tribes despair as land raids surge

Activists say the onslaught has intensified as illegal loggers and land-grabbers take the president’s verbal offensive against indigenous communities as a green light to act

By Tom Phillips  /  The Guardian, Rondonia state, Brazil

Illustration: Yusha

More than 30 bullet holes told Awapu Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau a sinister tale.

“Their message is that they’re going to finish us off, isn’t it?” the village chieftain said as he examined the pockmarked sign warning outsiders to stay off the giant Amazon reserve he calls home.

Brazil was only 11 days into Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency when dozens of armed land-grabbers rolled up at the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory and cut a trail into the forest, claiming Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous rhetoric meant they would not be stopped.

Eventually the intruders were repelled — but not before leaving their leaden response to the government notice cautioning trespassers against straying on to supposedly protected land.

“We’re scared,” said Awapu, a 27-year-old cacique (chief) who has received death threats for speaking out against the invaders. “Nobody wants to die.”

The slow-burn assault on Brazil’s indigenous lands did not begin in January with Bolsonaro’s far-right presidency. Awapu, and activists across the country, say they are convinced the onslaught has intensified since Bolsonaro took power, as illegal loggers, goldminers, poachers and land-grabbers take the president’s verbal offensive against such communities as a green light to act.

Last month Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council rights group denounced that 153 indigenous territories had been invaded since January — more than double last year’s figure of 76 — partly blaming the surge on Bolsonaro’s “aggressive” talk.

Nor does the threat come only from illegal actors such as those behind the January raid on the Wales-sized Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau reserve in Rondonia state. Increasingly, it is coming from the government itself.

In the coming days Bolsonaro is set to unveil draft legislation that would allow commercial mining in indigenous territories, something currently outlawed, despite overwhelming opposition from voters.

“Indians don’t want to be poor landowners living on rich soils — especially the richest soils on Earth,” Bolsonaro told last month’s UN general assembly, boasting of the gold, diamonds, uranium, niobium and rare earths hidden beneath their reserves.

“Not since the dictatorship have Brazil’s indigenous peoples felt as threatened as they do now,” said Randolfe Rodrigues, a progressive senator from Amapa, another of the Amazon’s nine states.

“And it’s not just threats. It is concrete facts,” Rodrigues added, highlighting attacks on Amapa’s Waiapi indigenous community and the recent murder of an activist fighting to protect the territory sheltering Brazil’s largest concentration of uncontacted tribes.

Fatima Cleide, a prominent Workers’ party politician in Rondonia, said indigenous communities stood at a historic and perilous juncture.

“This is a war for survival? What they want is for the indigenous peoples to disappear,” Cleide said.

Bolsonaro allies celebrate his Amazonian blueprint and brand critics foreign conspirators.

Marcos Rocha, Rondonia’s Bolsonarista governor, claimed opening supposedly impoverished indigenous communities to mining would bring “dignity.”

“Indians want to grow and to develop, just like any human being. Most other countries have decimated their Indians. We want them to walk alongside us — because they are Brazilians, just like us,” he said.

The Bolsonarian congressman Joao Chrisostomo compared his leader’s plans to the creation of casinos on Native American reservations in the United States.

This story has been viewed 1787 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top