María Lourdes Alcántara, anthropologist and coordinator of the Guaraní Youth Support Group of Mato Grosso del Sur (GAPK / AJI) and Professor of medical anthropology in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of São Paulo, reflects on the main threats to indigenous communities in Brazil after Jair Bolsonaro, a former right-wing government representative and retired military captain, assumed power.
Indigenous peoples' rights in Brazil
According to the 2010 census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, there are 896,917 indigenous persons in Brazil. The country voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2016) and has signed ILO Convention 169.
The Constitution of 1988 recognizes the indigenous peoples as the first and natural owners of the land and guarantees them their right to land. Exploration and extraction of mineral wealth on indigenous lands must be carried out solely with authorization from the National Congress after listening to the communities involved, who must be guaranteed participation in the benefits of the mining activities. Eviction of indigenous peoples from their lands is prohibited.
Indigenous peoples in Brazil
There are 896,917 indigenous persons in Brazil, distributed among 305 ethnic groups. The principal indigenous ethnic group is the Tikúna, who comprise 6.8% of the total indigenous population.
There are around 274 languages. Among indigenous persons over the age of five, only 37.4% speak an indigenous language, while 76.9% speak Portuguese.
502,783 individuals out of the indigenous population in Brazil live in rural zones and 315,180 in urban zones. Currently, there are some 713 indigenous areas, with a total area of 117,387,341 ha. This means that 13.8% of the lands in the country have been reserved for indigenous peoples. The majority of these territories are concentrated in the Amazon.
Brazil is the country in South America with the largest known concentration of indigenous peoples in isolation in the states of Amap., Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Acre, Amazonas, Goiás, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins. Currently, there are 107 records of the presence of indigenous peoples in isolation in the Amazon region.
Election of Jair Bolsonaro as President
Following the Presidential elections in Brazil in October 2018 Jair Bolsonaro, former captain of the Brazilian army and candidate of the evangelist party, assumed the Presidency on January 1, 2019. Claiming to represent rural Brazilians and promoting the priorities of his evangelist party the government of Jair Bolsonaro’s policies and agenda directly threaten the constitutional rights and freedoms of Brazil’s indigenous peoples. The Frente Parlamentar da Agropecuária, Brazil’s largest parliamentary group, represents the vested interests of companies and major landowners in the country. The group represents businesses that move over 118 million US $ in agricultural and livestock products and who support Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda to open up lands and resources, previously safeguarded to exploitation.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda directly threatens indigenous peoples, particularly its recent unconstitutional revocation of the legal processes of demarcation related to indigenous lands. These processes helped recognize and protect indigenous land holdings. This revocation means that at any time, official reports, declaratory ordinances and indigenous land permissions which have been issued can be reviewed and revoked. Further, supporting the interests of the Frente Parlamentar da agropecuaria, the economic exploitation of the traditional lands of the indigenous and quilombola peoples, is given free rein. Bolsonaro’s support and actions are being used to justify brutal attacks against these peoples further accusing them of being the great obstacles for the development of the country.
In addition to questioning the acquired and recognized rights related to these processes of demarcation, the Fundação nacional do índio (FUNAI – National Foundation for Indians), the federal body directly linked to the demarcation of indigenous lands is being functionally deactivated. The budget approved in 2018 is insufficient to ensure the minimum conditions that give continuity to its tasks. Further, to curtail efforts to protect indigenous lands, on the first day of his mandate, (January 1, 2019) the government of Jair Bolsonaro approved a decree that assigns the responsibility of certifying the protection of indigenous territories to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is well known to defend the interests of business’ that want access to previously restricted and protected indigenous lands.
Recently, IWGIA has released the report “Isolados no Brasil”. The publication presents the current knowledge about the indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon who live in isolation or have only sporadic contact with surrounding communities. Moreover, the report recommends a number of immediate measures to protect these indigenous peoples’ survival.
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Around 250 Guarani-Kaiowa Indigneous people are at risk of eviction from ancestral lands they recently occupied in the Brazilian midwest. If evicted they will be forced to live in precarious conditions by the side of a highway. On 25 November 2009, the Guarani-Kaiowa community of Kurussú Ambá, reoccupied a small part of their ancestral lands on farmlands by the Rio Verde river in the midwestern Brazilian municipality of Coronel Sapucaia. Until then, they had been encamped by the side of the MS-289 highway. On 10 March, a local judge issued an eviction order. Lawyers working on behalf of the Indigenous community lodged an appeal against the decision in the Regional Federal Court, but this appeal has not yet been heard. The Guarani-Kaiowa community of Kurussú Ambá could be evicted at any time