Op-ed by Beto Marubo in Folha de S. Paulo: "Bolsonaro and the Isolated Indians"

{Tribal Link note: Beto Marubo is a member of the Marubo tribe as well as of the Union of the Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA). He attended Tribal Link’s Project Access Capacity Building Training Workshop for Indigenous Peoples preceding the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2018 and is an outspoken defender of the indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation in the Vale do Javari, where his peoples live.}

Folha de S. Paulo

Op-ed section

December 13, 2018

Bolsonaro and the Isolated Indians

Signs given so far threaten to generate conflict

By Beto Marubo

The news that is preceding the inauguration of the President-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, is creating a climate of insecurity regarding the preservation of the Amazonian environment, the indigenous question in general, and in particular the situation of isolated Indians. The President-elect still seems to be in campaign mode.

Now that the election is over, it's time to calm tempers down. The President shouldn’t be provoking juridical insecurity, as is happening at the moment in the Amazon, particularly in the States of Acre and Amazonas, where the largest number of isolated Indians from Brazil and the world is concentrated.

Statements that Bolsonaro will suspend all processes of demarcation of indigenous lands and change the constitutional status of FUNAI - from an organization defending indigenous rights to an institution subordinated to agricultural interests - have created serious instability in a system that is already fragile.

The signs given so far are aimed at generating conflicts like those that marked Brazil's recent past, with many deaths and even a case of genocide.

Ever since the candidate of the PSL proved viable in the electoral campaign, a great wave of deforestation has begun. Official surveys by satellite show that forest fires have reached pre-2008 levels.

On the ground, State officials and those from the Brazilian Army, Ibama, FUNAI, and Federal and State police, have been surprised by the speed of forest cutting, attacks on indigenous peoples, and the physical structures of the State.

One fact shows the rush to create a fait accompli, in order to serve as a basis for land grabbing: in the south of the State of Amazonas, even chestnut trees were knocked over and burned, on [Brazilian] Union lands. Chestnut trees are like the savings accounts of the jungle, producing guaranteed money in each season. Whoever cuts chestnut trees reveals haste and ignorance of the forest that he is destroying.

Brazil currently has 114 records of isolated indigenous peoples, with 28 confirmations of their existence. These ethnicities, all studies point out, live far from contact by choice, usually because of the trauma from previous massacres.

Therefore, in 1987, FUNAI, as a Brazilian state agency, adopted the so-called "no-contact policy:” the establishment of bases of vigilance and protection so that the isolated ones can live in their territories without being forced into the coexistence that they refuse.

But in recent years, the Brazilian government has weakened the protection of these groups. Consequently, the roaming areas of the Indians, even when demarcated, are not effective. Worse still is the situation of those groups in lands that have not yet been demarcated or approved. Some examples:

Last year, the international press reported a possible massacre of a tribe who some call “the people of the arrow,” committed by illegal gold miners. This would have occurred in the Valley of Javari [in the State of Amazonas], my land, as a direct consequence of the reduction of budgets destined for protection, which led to the closure of surveillance bases in the Amazon.

According to Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa, his land has been experiencing the biggest crisis in recent history. More than 5,000 gold prospectors have invaded it. There may also have been an attack on an isolated group.

Some relief has come since last August, thanks to an effective action of the Army and the official indigenous-allied organization. Also in the State of Rondonia, invasions of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, with the support of local politicians, threaten groups without contact with the surrounding society.

That is why last April in New York we asked the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to assist us in having an official dialogue with our government in support of efforts to protect isolated peoples.

It is urgent that the Brazilian public opinion shows President Bolsonaro that it is necessary to make peace in the countryside and respect those ethnic groups that throughout history have shown the desire to live autonomously. We are a rare country on the planet that even has this opportunity. We can not waste it in the name of the ambition of a few opportunists.

Footnotes: 

  1. FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, is the Brazilian government body under the Ministry of Justice that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples. FUNAI is responsible for mapping out and protecting lands traditionally inhabited and used by these communities.

  2. PSL is the Social Liberal Party, the party of Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing conservative political party in Brazil.

  3. IBAMA is the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment's administrative arm. IBAMA implements laws against deforestation where the government ceases to implement and works to keep the forest from loggers, farming, agricultural farm grazing, and anything that would threaten the Amazon.