Since Jair Bolsonaro took office as President of Brazil on 1 January, indigenous peoples’ lands have been under extreme threat.
Under the Brazilian Constitution, rewritten in 1988, native tribes have legal ownership of their land and the “inalienable right” to reject any development on their territory. Brazil has also ratified international instruments, including regulations of the International Labour Organisation, which defend indigenous rights including the right to free, prior and informed consultation in relation to any projects that will affect their communities.
Despite these obligations, Bolsonaro has claimed that under him, not another centimetre of indigenous land would be protected. He has announced his plan to allow mining on indigenous land without the consent of the inhabitants. Bolsonaro has also announced his intentions to fully integrate indigenous people into the mainstream society. He complained that the native people continue to live “like in zoos”, occupying extensive amounts of the national territory.
Advances into indigenous land began almost as soon as Bolsonaro took office. Earlier this year, loggers invaded the land of the Arara people, plans were made to build a power line across over 100 kilometres of Waimiri Atroari land and several other large infrastructure projects have been announced. This has left at least 14 indigenous territories under attack.
Bolsonaro’s government have weakened the responsibilities of indigenous affairs office and dismantled FUNAI, the government agency tasked with mapping and protecting indigenous lands. Bolsonaro took responsibility for the demarcation and regulation of territories away from the Indigenous Affairs Department and gave them to the Ministry of Agriculture. The environmental agency, IBAMA, is also being dismantled. Further, the government has threatened to supervise, coordinate and monitor non-governmental organisations, despite their autonomy.
Bolsonaro’s advances are however not without opposition. Raquel Dodge, the most powerful prosecutor in Brazil said: “We’re going to fight this in the courts. We’re not going to let you ride roughshod over our constitution”. The Federal Public Ministry, a group of lawyers within the government independent from the official judiciary have also announced their support for the indigenous people of the Amazon. The Brazilian Sociality Party filed a case with the Supreme Court challenging Bolsonaro’s decision to give the Ministry of Agriculture authority to decide land reservation boundaries. The court has yet to rule, but the judicial willingness to stand up for the rights of indigenous people suggests push back may occur.