The end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 finds Indigenous Peoples in Latin America shaken by an escalation of political and social conflicts that threatens the effective implementation of their rights. We examine some of the main events that have taken place over the last days and weeks in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, their implications for Indigenous Peoples and the resistance agenda of Indigenous movements and organisations in the face of intensifying conflicts in the region.
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. It is estimated that there are 115 peoples living in isolation,1 of which 28 are confirmed and the rest are in the process of being identified.
502,783 individuals out of the Indigenous population in Brazil live in rural zones and 315,180 in urban zones. A total of 505 Indigenous Lands have been identified, covering 12.5% of Brazilian territory (106.7 million hectares). 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.
BY MIRIAN POTIGUARA FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS
The country owes a great internal, social and historical debt: the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples. Reparations began to be made for this reality with the 1988 Constitution, a series of public policies aimed at recognition of their rights and the demarcation of Indigenous Lands. In recent years, however, faced with the setbacks experienced under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, the Indigenous movement has opted for resistance, organization and political participation through candidacies. The State needs to be aware that the Indigenous struggle is focused on historical reparation.
Photo: Ricardo Stuckert
BY RICARDO VERDUM FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS
The National Indian Foundation is an active agent of a political strategy to expose peoples in voluntary isolation to contact with outsiders. The Piripkura people, the Pirititi Indigenous Land and the Ituna Itatá Indigenous Land demonstrate the connivance of the indigenist body with the economic and political power that seeks to profit from their natural resources: agribusiness, logging and illegal mining.
Illegal mining in Yanomami Indigenous Land. Photo: Bruno Kelly / HAY
BY MARIA ALCANTARA FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS
After his involvement in the search for indigenist, Bruno Pereira, and British journalist, Dom Phillips, the legal representative of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Yavari Valley (Univaja) spoke about the new landscape that is emerging with the arrival of Lula Da Silva to power, the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and the return of political dialogue. The Marubo lawyer narrates the violence being experienced in the north-west of the Brazilian Amazon and explains the protection mechanisms developed in the Indigenous territories given the absence of a State presence in recent years.
What opportunities and challenges do Indigenous Peoples in Brazil foresee with Lula’s new government?
Last Sunday, with a narrow margin of less than two points, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva beat Jair Bolsonaro and was elected president of Brazil. Bolsonaro leaves office with a dark legacy concerning his policies that have negatively affected, among others, the indigenous issue.
BY INDIANARA RAMIRES MACHADO FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS
As never before, leaders from all over the country came together for a show of force against Jair Bolsonaro's anti-Indigenous and genocidal policies. It is no longer just symbolic violence or covert racism: it is direct violence. The Indigenous peoples want to be protagonists of a new development model and, to that end, they seek to increase their representation in the national Congress. Unity with city workers and family farmers is a fundamental requirement for us to move towards a more just society.
Photo: Midia NINJA