Hours after taking office, Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has launched an assault on environmental and Amazon protections with an executive order transferring the regulation and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry – which is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby.
The move sparked outcry from indigenous leaders, who said it threatened their reserves, which make up about 13% of Brazilian territory, and marked a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.
“There will be an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people,” said Dinaman Tuxá, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil (Apib). “Indigenous people are defenders and protectors of the environment.”
Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader who stood as vice-presidential candidate for the Socialism and Freedom party (PSOL) tweeted her opposition. “The dismantling has already begun,” she posted on Tuesday.
Bolsonaro defended the measure in a tweet on Wednesday. “More than 15% of national territory is demarcated as indigenous land and quilombos. Less than a million people live in these places, isolated from true Brazil, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. Together we will integrate these citizens,” he posted.
Previously, demarcation of indigenous reserves was controlled by the indigenous agency Funai, which has been moved from the justice ministry to a new ministry of women, family and human rights controlled by an evangelical pastor.
During last year’s election campaign, Bolsonaro promised to end demarcation of new indigenous lands, reduce the power of environmental agencies and free up mining and commercial farming on indigenous reserves. His measure also gave the agriculture ministry power over new quilombos – rural settlements inhabited by descendants of former slaves.
“We have to take out the ideology and look wisely at how we discuss global warming,” the new agriculture minister, Tereza Dias, told the Guardian.
Silas Malafia, an influential televangelist and close friend of Bolsonaro, said developed countries who centuries ago cut down their own forests should pay if they wanted Brazil to preserve the Amazon.
“We’re going to preserve everything because the gringos destroyed what they had?” he said.
Tuxá, the indigenous leader, said: “We will go through another colonisation process, this is what they want.”