Brazil: “If we don’t die from the virus, Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous policies will kill us”

FROM THE EDITORS: The Bolsonaro government has shown an open violation of indigenous peoples’ rights either by omission or by undermining laws and institutions set to promote these rights. After all, Bolsonaro reached the presidency with ample support from agroindustry, and his anti-indigenous speeches were already apparent during his campaign. On June 22 and 23, indigenous peoples again suffered from Bolsonaro’s policy of aggression while peacefully protesting before Congress against PL 490 and other proposed legislation that seek to nullify their territorial rights. Based on the impressive communicational work of the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB), and in an effort to uplift their voices, we share below a chronicle of their latest news articles.

Rise for the Earth

About 850 representatives of 45 indigenous peoples and nationalities mobilized from various regions to Brasilia and settled the Levante pela Terra (Rise for the Earth) encampment, declaring themselves in a permanent state of mobilization to stop anti-indigenous bills in Congress. In their “Carta dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil: Levante pela Tierra” they write:

The struggle for life called us, and we arrived in Brasilia to set up our Rise the Earth camp to defend our territorial rights. We reoccupied the lawns of the federal capital after two years without face-to-face mobilizations, especially the Terra Livre Camp (the largest assembly of indigenous peoples in Brazil, which, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was held virtually in 2020 and 2021).

Our leaders, who are already fully immunized with the vaccine against the new coronavirus, are meeting at this time to echo our maracas and reaffirm that, in the midst of the greatest health and humanitarian emergency in recent years, the lives of indigenous people matter.

Terra Livre Camp has been for years an act of resistance, gathering, and celebration as well as an opportunity to raise consciousness in Brazil about the needs and rights of indigenous peoples.  

Proposed legislation

Bolsonaro’s government intends to consolidate its extractivist and agro-predatory model through a series of legislative proposals that place the very existence of the indigenous peoples of Brazil at risk. Among these, PL 490 is a bill that would eliminate millenary demarcations of indigenous territories. On its June 9 statement, the APIB states:

In practice, this project represents a new genocide against indigenous peoples. The PL is unconstitutional and could end the demarcation of Indigenous Lands in Brazil, allowing the opening of territories for predatory exploration. In addition to PL 490, other anti-indigenous proposals that threaten the environment are on the Congress agenda.

Other proposed bills include one tailored to help the illegal occupation and deforestation of territories (PL 2633/2020 or PL da Grilagem); one that would allow the construction of roads through national parks (PL 984/2019); a bill that directly attacks Convention 169 for the right to prior informed consultation (PDL 177/2021); and a law to authorize extractive projects on indigenous lands (PL 191/2020).

PL 490, approved this Wednesday by the Constitution and Justice Commission, will go to a vote in the plenary soon. Yet, a lawsuit by indigenous peoples will go before the Federal Supreme Court against PL 490 for violating the constitution. The court is scheduled to present its decision on June 30. In their statement, APIB declares:

The PL 490 is a flag for Jair Bolsonaro and the bench that claims to represent agribusiness. If approved, in practice it will make demarcations unfeasible, allow the annulment of Indigenous Lands and open them up to predatory undertakings, such as mining, roads, and large hydroelectric plants. The proposal is unconstitutional, according to the assessment of the indigenous movement and jurists.

The Chamber of Indigenous Populations and Traditional Communities of the Federal Public Ministry (6CCR / MPF), the highest body linked to the attorney general’s office, also issued a document that establishes that PL 490 violates the Constitution and repeats vices of other legislative proposals contrary to indigenous rights.  

An open letter to the Supreme Court of Brazil by more than 300 members of civil society explains the historical dispossession of indigenous territories, which became more widespread during a “civilizatory expansion” led by the dictatorship military. They insist that removing legal protections to ancestral lands would open the doors to a violent extermination of indigenous people and culture by economic interests:

Although many demarcation processes have begun, there are around 231 stalled demarcation processes and 536 indigenous requests established by working groups to identify other ancestral lands. The paralysis of a large part of FUNAI’s demarcation processes is the result of lawsuits filed by non-indigenous occupiers (farmers or state public authorities) aimed at nullifying administrative acts that declared the ancestrality of indigenous land, currently occupied by them, for commercial purposes or not.

Systematic repression and national mobilization

Levante pela Terra camp has significant support from the social movement. On June 19, there was a mobilization of more than 30 thousand people demanding vaccination against COVID-19, food security, and against the government’s anti-indigenous agenda.

On its June 20 statement, APIB executive coordinator Kretã Kaingang stated, “If we do not die from the virus, Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous policies will kill us, and we cannot see this without resisting.” 

Two days later, pending the vote on PL 490 by the commission before Congress, indigenous protesters, including children and the elderly, were attacked by the military police and its repressive apparatus, including an armored vehicle, pepper spray, and tear gas. There were three injured and up to ten people intoxicated. More than 170 organizations signed a letter rejecting the state’s violence against indigenous resistance and rejecting any legislation that promotes:

An environmentally predatory and socially exclusive development model. In practice, they will force indigenous peoples to renounce their ancestral way of life.

The events in Brasilia were just the most recent expression of this violence organized by a repressive state, either directly by military and police forces or by turning a blind eye to criminal elements such as the garimpeiros. The journal Publica makes an excellent chronicle of that day and how violence against indigenous peoples began days before in their territories to prevent them from reaching Brasilia.

Federal deputy Mônica Seixas (Psol-SP) denounced on her Twitter account that that same day, while repressing the indigenous mobilization, Bolsonaro met with representatives of illegal mining and agro-extractivism: “While there is brutal repression against the indigenous peoples who march towards the national congress to say no to PL 490. Bolsonaro only talks with miners and agro-fascists. For the native peoples there’s only bombs and ethnocide.”

In their manifesto of the Levante pela Terra, indigenous peoples warn that:

These genocidal and ecocidal projects use the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen, increasing violence against indigenous peoples and conflicts in our territories, even among family members. The government fuels these conflicts to divide, weaken, and demobilize our peoples, organizations, and leaders. Know that we will not let this strategy overwhelm us!

A manifesto of the Articulação Nacional das Mulheres Guerreiras da Ancestralidade (ANMIGA) against PL 490 also declares:

Women are the guardians of ancestral knowledge. We will never be alone; we will always stand up to every attack on our rights. We remain mobilized, and with the strength of our ancestry, we remain firm in the fight for life and our territories. —ANMIGA

Below we reproduce an APIB manifesto on the repression.

Life is a struggle!

Brasilia June 23, 2021

We struggle with our prayers and chants. Our shields are the maracas and our ancestry. The Government welcomes the agrobusiness through the front door and the indigenous people with gas bombs, pepper spray, rubber bullets, riot police and hate!

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to mobilize the Rise for Earth camp, in Brasília, and prevent the advance of the Federal Government’s anti-indigenous agenda. For the first time in history, a president of the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) closes the dialogue and represses the indigenous movement using heavy police force in the federal capital..

We are attentive to Bill 490, which is on the voting agenda of the Chamber’s Constitution and Justice Commission (CCJ). An unconstitutional proposal that could end the demarcation of Indigenous Lands. Since the 8th of June we have been holding demonstrations against the bill vote, in the outskirts of Congress, but yesterday (22) our mobilization was repressed by the police in yet another attempt to silence our voices.

The Federal Constitution of 1988 is being torn down to violate our rights and increase environmental attacks. We decided to fight to the end to ensure not only the future of indigenous peoples, but also the future of humanity.

We know that the attacks will not stop and that we are not privileged to stop fighting. We will continue in the federal capital, swinging our maracas so that the whole world knows the importance of our lives until the last indigenous person.

We have no choice or we die from the virus or we are slaughtered by the Government’s death policy. We cannot suffer so much violence without reacting. We are in this fight for life and that is why we continue to shout: Indigenous blood, not a single drop more!

For the life and historical continuity of our peoples, “Tell the people to move forward”.

Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil

APIB regional base organizations:
APOINME – Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Nordeste, Minas Gerais e Espírito Santo
ARPIN SUDESTE – Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Sudeste
ARPINSUL – Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Sul
ATY GUASU – Grande Assembléia do povo Guarani
Comissão Guarani Yvyrupa
Conselho do Povo Terena
COIAB – Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira