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Indigenous communities in Brazil standing up to Bolsonaro’s destructive agenda


Author(s): Pamela Machado (Freelance Journalist, Brazil) and Scott Douglas Jacobsen (Secretary-General, Young Humanists International)

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/09/30

The Americas exist in historically unprecedented moments of importance for the environment and their Member States’ responsibility to the international community for the maintenance of the environment. In many ways, even in spite of left-wing sentimentalism with phrases like “the lungs of the Earth” or right-wing denialism of the problems of anthropogenic climate change or human-induced global warming, the protection of the Amazon forests is extremely important. It is akin to keeping most of the oil in the ground in places like Alberta, Canada based on the risks to the international community because of the contributions to the global CO2 levels from burning them. The ongoing fires are a problem for the global environment and for the Amazonian tribes. Bolsonaro stands at the center of the nexus of the problems here. He is making the main executive decisions. He could stop making the decisions to destroy the Amazon without consideration for the lives of the indigenous peoples there.

The exploitation of the indigenous peoples of Brazil and the forests of Brazil has a long history, even as far back to 1500 with the conquests of the Portuguese. More than 500 years later, it seems not much has changed for them. The current political catastrophe echoes these exploitations of the timber of the Amazonian forests of Brazil with little or no regard for the indigenous inhabitants of it. Elected in late 2018, far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has a strong agenda to keep exploitation going and please his wealthy allies in the agribusiness sector. His policies clash directly with the rights of indigenous peoples.

One of Bolsonaro’s moves to weaken indigenous protections was to significantly cut funding to Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, and its main environmental agency (IBAMA). Since the start of his term in January, IBAMA had a cut of 25% in its budget. An investigation by Reuters learned that local field agents have faced restrictions to do their jobs to slow land-grabbers. The current government is also softening punishments, as of late August the number of fines issued by agency fell nearly 30% compared to the same period in the previous year. Trade is integral to the exploitation of Amazonian tribes and of the Amazon. More modern efforts, supposedly or one may hope, attempt to include things like the Paris Agreement.

Cecilia MalmströmEuropean Commissioner for Tradesaid that the EU-Mercosur treaty “does not mean that we agree with all the policies of these countries, but it is a way to anchor Brazil in the Paris Agreement.” The European Union is the number one trading partner of the Mercosur states: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Mercosur treaty was reached on June 28 of 2019 but it is still to be finalised. “The European Union and Mercosur reached today a political agreement for an ambitious, balanced and comprehensive trade agreement. The new trade framework — part of a wider Association Agreement between the two regions — will consolidate a strategic political and economic partnership and create significant opportunities for sustainable growth on both sides,” the European Commission stated, “while respecting the environment and preserving interests of EU consumers and sensitive economic sectors.” It is one of the biggest agreements ever negotiated for them. With this large treaty, EU-Mercosur, and the importance of the Paris Agreement, Brazil’s vice president Hamilton Mourao thinks it impossible for Brazil to leave the Paris Agreement. Some feel Mourao is naive, like us. And they are getting support from other indigenous communities in the Americas, including some aboriginal communities from Canada.

Some Canadian aboriginal peoples recognize the struggle of the Amazonian tribes and express solidarity with them. Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough and ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk expressed solidarity with the struggle of the indigenous peoples of Brazil. Ell-Kanayuk noted the interconnectedness of the world’s ecological systems in which events in Brazil with the fires of the Amazon can effect the status of the Arctic. New Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh called on Prime Minister of Canada to stop free trade negotiations with the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, because of the fear over the problems created in the Amazon. Bolsonaro has been characterised as an “unabashed climate sceptic.”

Indigenous communities in South America have faced further difficulties due to widespread wildfires across the Amazonian land in August. There has been international outcry calling for authorities to investigate responsible actors for fires and destruction of the jungle. Amnesty International reprimanded Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis’. Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Amnesty International called it ‘both an environmental and human rights crisis’. “The Brazilian authorities must immediately investigate and prosecute those responsible for these catastrophic fires, otherwise we will inevitably see them getting worse throughout the rest of President Bolsonaro’s time in office,” said Naidoo.

Antenor Vaz, a former consultant for indigenous peoples and employee of the Brazilian national indigenous agency Funai, said, “Most of these people are constantly fleeing, they are constantly being threatened. These people depend on the forest and as fire kills the animals they feel completely desperate with the situation.” Tainaky Tenetehar, of Guardians of the Forest added, “to make it harder, they are stopping the indigenous fire brigade from combating the fires.” This amounts to deliberate stoppage of real efforts to stop the fires not simple efforts to stop the fires. Some start fires. Some try to stop the fires. Then to compound the issue, those who work to reduce the amount of the fires have been continually fought back against in order to keep the fires ablaze. Fiona Watson, the Advocacy Director of Survival International, deliberately target indigenous communities because of the vulnerability of being remote and having few protections.

Despite being on the global spotlight recently, Amazonian tribal communities have long battled to keep their land safe from deforestation, corporate interests, agribusiness, and political battles. According to Survival, the Brazilian Amazon is believed to be the home of more than 100 uncontacted peoples. “I feel afraid. The farmers are getting too close, they are invading a lot of our land. We are surrounded,” told Katica Karipuna, from Karipuna tribe, to Al Jazeera. Katica adds that, under the rule of Bolsonaro, things got worse for her community as the president is openly favouring agribusiness and farmers. Even after protests happened on a global scale in light of the fires, the Brazilian government has rejected claims from indigenous groups that requested additional lands after fires left destruction in their homes.

“We all breathe this one air, we all drink the same water. We live on this one planet. We need to protect the Earth,” wrote Raoni Metuktire, chief of the indigenous Brazilian Kayapó people, for the Guardian. “If we don’t, the big winds will come and destroy the forest. Then you will feel the fear that we feel.”


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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