Brazil sees week of 'attacks' on indigenous rights - congresswoman

by Fabio Teixeira | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 7 February 2020 21:20 GMT

Indigenous people of the Yudja tribe sing and dance during a four-day pow wow in Piaracu village, in Xingu Indigenous Park, near Sao Jose do Xingu, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, January 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

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A push to open indigenous land to mining, and the appointment of a former missionary to handle uncontacted tribes has provoked anger

By Fabio Teixeira

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Brazil's indigenous people have endured a week of "attacks" as a former missionary was appointed to manage the country's uncontacted forest tribes and a push to open protected land for development moved ahead, indigenous campaigners said.

This week, Brazil's government appointed Ricardo Lopes Dias, who worked for a decade as a missionary in an indigenous reservation in Amazonas state, to run the office of Brazil's indigenous affairs agency that manages the country's as-yet-uncontacted forest communities.

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro also announced a bill that would allow commercial mining on protected indigenous lands, in a move that shocked indigenous leaders.

"The government is trying as much as possible to interfere with indigenous, social and environmental rights in Brazil, and doing it with maximum visibility," said Joenia Wapichana, Brazil's sole indigenous congresswoman.

"Instead of working to improve education and health ... (Bolsonaro) spends his time attacking indigenous people," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

Brazil's president has vowed to encourage economic development in the Amazon to lift indigenous groups from poverty and improve the lives of 30 million Brazilians who live there.

But environmentalists fear his plans will speed up destruction of the world's largest rainforest, which is a crucial bulwark against global climate change and regulates rainfall in South America's agricultural regions.

Invasions of protected forest reserves by illegal loggers and miners have increased since Bolsonaro took office last year, leading to violent clashes.

At least eight indigenous leaders were killed last year in circumstances that have not yet been clarified.

UNCONTACTED TRIBES

Bolsonaro also has pushed to "integrate" indigenous people into Brazilian society.

On Wednesday, Dias, who formerly worked with a Christian religious group committed to opening churches on indigenous land, was appointed to head the office responsible for uncontacted Indians, rights groups said.

Dias' appointment suggests a hands-off approach to the remote groups - seen by some previous officials as the best way to shield them and protect their unique lifestyle - may be fast changing.

The appointment was criticized by employees of FUNAI - the country's indigenous affairs agency - who released an open letter on Monday before Dias was formally assigned the post.

The FUNAI workers' association noted that Dias was "devoid of any experience in indigenous politics" and the move represented "yet another act against indigenous rights".

FUNAI did not reply to a request for comment. (Reporting by Fabio Teixeira @ffctt; Editing by Laurie Goering. 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 www.trust.org)

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