"We have already been decimated, protected and victims of the integrationist policy of governments and the National State," recalled indigenous leaders, to reject the proposals and measures of the new Brazilian government on indigenous peoples.
In an open letter to President Jair Bolsonaro, leaders of the Aruak Baniwa and Apurinã peoples, who live in the basins of the Negro and Purus rivers, in the northwestern Amazon region of Brazil, protested against the decree that now submits indigenous lands to the Ministry of Agriculture, manager of interests contrary to those of original inhabitants.
The indigenous people will probably represent the most flammable resistance to the offensive of the new far-right government in Brazil, which took office on January 1 and whose first measures tend to dismantle advances during the last three decades in favor of the 305 indigenous peoples registered in this country.
For that they have article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution, in force since 1988, which assures them "original rights over the lands they traditionally occupy", in addition to recognizing "their social organization, customs, languages, beliefs and traditions."
Added to that are international rules ratified by the country, such as Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the International Labor Organization, which defends indigenous rights and conditions projects that affect them on prior, free and informed consultation with threatened communities.
The most fierce resistance to the construction of hydroelectric plants that dam large Amazonian rivers was indigenous, especially that of Belo Monte, built on the Xingu River between 2011 and 2016 and whose turbines are scheduled to finish installation this year.
Taking away from the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) the competence to legally identify and demarcate the so-called Indigenous Lands, transferring it to the Ministry of Agriculture, means that the definition of new areas will stagnate and those already established will be put in danger.
There will be a review of the demarcations of indigenous lands made in the last 10 years, announced the new Secretary of Land Affairs of that ministry, Luiz Nabhan García, who is now responsible for the issue.
García is the leader of the Unión Democrática Ruralista, a collective of landowners, especially cattle ranchers, protagonist of frequent and violent conflicts over land.
Bolsonaro himself already announced his intention to review the area of Raposa Serra do Sol, an indigenous land approved in 2005, amid legal battles that ended in 2009 with a ruling by the Supreme Federal Court, which recognized the validity of the demarcation.
This indigenous territory covers 17,474 square kilometers and about 20,000 inhabitants of five different ethnic groups, in the northern state of Roraima, on the border with Guyana and Venezuela.
In Brazil there are currently 486 homologated Indigenous Lands, that is, with the demarcation process fully concluded, and 235 units still to be demarcated, of which 118 are in the identification phase, 43 already identified and 74 declared.
"The rulers speak, but reviewing would require constitutional changes or the verification of frauds and vices in the process that do not seem usual," said Adriana Ramos, director of the Socio-environmental Institute, a non-governmental organization with a broad and respected indigenous and environmental performance.
“There have already been setbacks in the first decisions of the government, with the decline of the indigenous body and separation of its functions. The Ministry of Health also announced changes in the policy towards the indigenous population, without presenting proposals, threatening to worsen what is already bad, ”he told IPS from Brasilia.
"The trend is to paralyze the land demarcation process, which was already very slow in previous governments" and the worst thing is that the declarations against rights "act as a trigger for violations that aggravate conflicts, generating insecurity among indigenous peoples," he warned Ramos.
In the first days of the year, and under the Bolsonaro government, loggers already invaded the indigenous land of the Arara people, near Belo Monte, with the risk of armed confrontations, he said.
The indigenous people of the Guaraní people, the second largest indigenous group in the country -behind the Tikuna, who live in the north-, are the most vulnerable to the situation, especially their communities established in the central-eastern state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
They are fighting for the demarcation of various lands and the expansion of those already demarcated into insufficient areas, and in that struggle they have already suffered the murder of dozens of leaders, while they endure increasingly precarious survival conditions.
“The serious situation gets worse with the new government. They hang us by dividing Funai and attributing the demarcation to the Ministry of Agriculture, led by ruralistas, number one enemies of the indigenous people, ”summarized Inaye Gomes Lopes, a young indigenous teacher who lives in the Ñanderu Marangatu Village, in Mato Grosso do Sul near the border with Paraguay.
Funai maintains its welfare and rights defense functions but is now subordinate to the new Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, led by Damares Alves, a lawyer and evangelical pastor with controversial opinions.
“We only have eight demarcated lands in the state and one was annulled (in December). What we have is due to many who died, without their murderers being imprisoned, ”said Lopes, who teaches classes at a school that honors Marçal de Souza, a Guarani leader assassinated in 1982, in an indigenous language.
“We look for ways to resist and‘ supporters ’, even international ones. I'm worried, I don't sleep at night, ”she told IPS in a dialogue from her village regarding the new government, whose demonstrations regarding indigenous people she considers“ an injustice to us ”.
Bolsonaro advocates the "integration" of the indigenous, with what refers to assimilation with white society, an old and outdated claim of the white elite.
He condemned that indigenous people continue to live "as in zoos," occupying "15 percent of the national territory," when, according to his data, they add up to less than one million people, in a country of 109 million inhabitants.
"We are not the ones who have a large part of the Brazilian territory, but the large landowners, ruralistas, agribusiness and others who own more than 60 percent of the national territory," countered the public letter from the Baniwa and Apurinã peoples.
In reality, indigenous lands account for 13 percent of Brazil and 90 percent are located in the Amazon, the signers of the manifesto corrected.
"We are not manipulated by NGOs (non-governmental organizations)", they responded to another accusation "fruit of prejudices" of the president.
The paranoia of some military leaders, such as the Minister of the Institutional Security Cabinet, retired General Augusto Heleno Pereira, is that the inhabitants of Indigenous Lands under the influence of NGOs declare the independence of their territories, moving away from Brazil.
The fear is mainly due, it is adduced, to border areas and, worse, to those occupied by peoples that live on both sides of the border, such as the Yanomami, who distribute their population between Brazil and Venezuela.
But in Ramos's view, it is not the groups of military descent who share power in the Bolsonaro government, such as the generals who occupy five ministries, the vice presidency and other important functions, that most threaten indigenous rights.
Many active military personnel have indigenous people in their troops and recognize a relevant role of the natives in defending the borders, he argued.
It is the ruralistas, who covet indigenous lands, and the leaders of evangelical churches, with their aggressive preaching, who constitute the most violent threats, he ruled.
For other sectors, such as the quilombolas (Afro-descendant communities), the landless peasants and the NGOs, adverse times also began.
Bolsonaro announced that his government will not hand over "an inch of land" to both indigenous and quilombolas and will treat as terrorists those who invade haciendas or other properties.
NGOs are threatened by the government with “supervision and monitoring”. But "the laws are clear about their rights to organize," as well as the autonomy of those who do not receive state financial contributions, Ramos recalled.
By Mario Osava
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez