On Monday, indigenous groups gathered in the Brazilian capital to protest a bill introduced by the federal government that would legalize mining on their lands.
Carrying banners that read “Get out of here, invaders! Agrobusiness gets out, miners get out! Bolsonaro, resign! “Approximately 100 indigenous people from six states across Brazil demonstrated against the legislation, which was backed by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and mining lobbyists.
Since the bill, known as Bill 191, was rejected by Brazil’s Congress last June, lobbyists have been calling for its reintroduction. Last week, farmers and miners launched a concerted pressure campaign, meeting with government officials and urging Congress to revisit and pass Bill 191, which would for the first time control mining, including oil and gas projects and hydroelectric dams, on indigenous lands.
Indigenous groups in Brasilia were also protesting proposed bills that would grant Congress (rather than the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI) the power to demarcate protected traditional lands and demand that the federal government follow a Supreme Court decision last August to ban miners from indigenous lands. In Brazil, there are about 450 delineated indigenous territories.
Bill 191 was signed by President Bolsonaro in February of last year. During the ceremony at the Planalto Palace, he said it was a long-held “dream” to release indigenous reserves for mining. “I hope that this dream through the hands of Bento [Albuquerque, Minister of Mines and Energy] and the votes of parliamentarians will come true. The indigenous are human beings just like us,” he said.
He has long argued that indigenous lands’ natural resources should be put to use for indigenous groups and the country’s economic well-being. He identified indigenous lands as having “trillions of reais underground” in a social media rant in April 2019.
“The indigenous cannot continue to be poor over a rich land,” he said.
However, on Monday, Brazil’s national “Day of the Indigenous,” indigenous activists stressed that they disagree with Bolsonaro’s idea of profiting from wildlands and do not believe it would help them. “We are here to ask for respect from the federal government, that they respect our rights. This government is killing us, they want to annihilate our rights and territories,” said activist Eliseu Kaiowa of the Guarani Kaiowa land In a video shared on the Facebook page of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples in the Southern Region.
Members of the Munduruku indigenous community wrote an open letter on Monday warning that Bill 191 “would only bring more devastation to our people and our forest.” According to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the official governmental institute that tracks deforestation in Brazil, 2,052 hectares — the equivalent of more than two thousand soccer fields — were deforested in Munduruku territory last year.
Munduruku members who report illegal mining on indigenous lands have been accused of being threatened by illegal miners. Last month, a representative of a Munduruku women’s group told CNN that miners had sent her audio messages threatening to kill her and her family in their house. The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Para State, which includes Munduruku territory, has stated that it has repeatedly alerted federal authorities to illegal gold-mining in the region, and has been requesting courts to compel federal forces to intervene to “prevent a violent assault by illegal miners on indigenous people” since 2017.
Increasing gold prices during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report published Monday by Brazil’s National Committee in Defense of Territories Against Mining, have led to increased illicit gold mining in indigenous territories in the Amazon rainforest and other Brazilian lands.
During Bolsonaro’s presidency, deforestation has increased dramatically. While the President has signed numerous executive orders and laws to protect the Amazon, he has also cut funding for government-run environmental protection and monitoring programs and sought to open indigenous lands to commercial farming and mining, actions that have damaged his standing among environmentalists in the region.
His administration’s newly announced proposal to minimize deforestation in the Amazon has been panned by critics due to its “modest” goals.
Bolsonaro is scheduled to attend a world leaders’ environmental summit convened by US President Joe Biden on April 22. Bolsonaro said in a letter announcing his attendance that he is committed to ending illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, but that it will take “huge resources” and that “the United States government, the private sector and the American civil society will be very welcome.”