INTERVIEW -Indigenous leader pushes EU to block Brazil deal over native community deaths

by Fabio Teixeira | @ffctt | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 4 November 2019 19:39 GMT

Indigenous Leader Sonia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe is pictured at the Terra Livre camp in Brazil, April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

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At least three Guajajara guardians have been killed in conflicts with illegal loggers since 2012

By Fabio Teixeira

RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Europe must press Brazil to end killings of indigenous people by refusing to sign off on a major trade deal, a community leader said on Monday after a young member of the country's protected Guajajara tribe was shot dead by illegal loggers.

Sonia Guajajara, the head of APIB which represents many of the country's 900,000 native people, urged lawmakers to refuse the deal after an indigenous warrior was killed and another injured in an ambush by illegal loggers on Friday.

"(Signing) this deal would be turning a blind eye to what is happening in Brazil. It would be institutionalizing genocide," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sonia said the EU deal would grant countries from the South American trading bloc Mercosur greater access to markets in the European Union, which could result in farmers and loggers invading indigenous lands to drive production.

Mercosur includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

"It facilitates trade ... for companies that will want to exploit indigenous lands even more," she said.

"We are asking governments here not to sign the deal as it stands," said Sonia. "We are planting a seed ... showing how much these territories are important to the world's well-being."

Indigenous leaders are touring 12 European countries to denounce attacks on Brazil's native communities.

The group was set to meet members of the Belgium Parliament on Monday and also expects to meet with the European Parliament. They have already spoken with lawmakers and representatives of companies from seven other countries.

The deal reached in June after 20 years of negotiations was hailed by Brazil as a major diplomatic victory. But it was criticized by environmentalists and French president Emmanuel Macron after large swaths of Amazon rainforest were burned by illegal loggers and farmers.

France and other countries could form a blocking minority to prevent the deal from going into effect.

Brazil's Justice minister Sergio Moro said at the weekend that "no efforts would be spared" to catch those responsible for last week's murder.

The governor of Maranhao, Flavio Dino, said he would create a special police force to protect indigenous people in his state, where the killing took place.

Sonia welcomed the move but said that was too little after Brazil's right wing president Jair Bolsonaro's repeated vows to open indigenous lands to economic development.

Indigenous communities have reported increasing attacks since Bolsonaro's election in 2018.

"Invaders feel empowered by (Bolsonaro's) rhetoric," Sonia said, adding "A crime like this cannot go unpunished."

The man killed on Friday, Paulo Paulino was like Sonia part of the Guajajara, among Brazil's largest indigenous groups numbering some 20,000.

In 2012 they set up the Guardians of the Forest to patrol an indigenous reservation threatened by illegal logging. Since then at least three Guajajara guardians have been killed in conflicts with illegal loggers.

Despite the deaths, Sonia believes her people are winning the war against deforestation, noting "Cases like this have an enormous impact, and people are watching."

(Reporting by Fabio Teixeira; Editing by Chris Michaud. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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