Earlier this month, Paulo Paulino Guajajara was shot and killed by a band of illegal loggers that have been threatening the forests of the Amazon and the Indigenous tribes of Brazil for decades. Additionally, his fellow tribesman, Laércio Guajajara, was also shot but his wound was not fatal. Paulo’s death and what could have been the death of Laércio, show the real danger that the Indigenous people of Brazil face in the wake of new governance. Global News reports that Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council found 135 Indigenous people were murdered in 2018, which is about 23 per cent higher than that of 2017. If changes are not made, this number will only rise as 2019 comes to a close.
Paulo and Laércio make up a small sect of the Indigenous people of the Amazon called the “Guardians of the Forest,” which was established in 2012, according to The Guardian. These people have a very specific mission, which is to ward off illegal loggers from further destroying the Amazon forests. To accomplish this, members of the Guardians of the Forests use handguns and sneak into loggers’ areas and destroy their camps. Reuters reports that they station about 180 men around the land at night waiting to ambush the loggers to bring them to the nearest federal station that is hundreds of miles away. The land bordering their reservation has been cleared by the loggers and it is clear that they plan to persist until the whole forest is stripped.
While protecting the Amazon forest is the goal and mission of the Guajajara tribe at large, the Guardians of the Forest is the sect that takes these bold measures. According to The Guardian, The Guajajara and the Awá tribe have their home in the Araribóia indigenous reserve which houses 5,300 indigenous people and is 4,130 sq km. The threats that these indigenous communities face, such as falling to the same fate of Paulo Paulino Guajajara, makes the Guajajara tribe considered one of the most endangered in the world. The potential of danger, however, does not shake their fervour. Paulo reported to Reuters before his death, “I’m scared at times, but we have to lift up our heads and act. We are here fighting[…]We have to preserve this life for our children’s future.” Not only would the destruction of the Amazon tragically impact the lives of the indigenous people of Brazil, but would also have serious effects on climate change affecting the lives of people everywhere.
Reuters reports, “more than 2,400 square miles of the Brazilian Amazon have been cleared so far in 2019, an area larger than the U.S. state of Delaware and nearly twice that registered by satellites in the same period of 2018, preliminary data shows.” Additionally, PBS reports that deforestation has jumped 29 percent in 2016 and an area the size of Yellowstone National Park was lost. All these statistics serve to show the unfortunate truth of the decline of the Amazon due to lack of care from the administration. Perhaps the best example of the administrator’s lack of care is the Washington Post’s report that President Bolsonaro told the UN that the Amazon is not on fire, when in fact the fires have been up 50 per cent this year according to Reuters. Further, he rejected 22.2 million dollars given to help fight the fires in the Amazon under the principle that he would not have any foreign aid and that “Brazil’s sovereignty” must be respected. According to NPR, he has recently alienated Germany and Norway who are the two largest contributors to the Amazon fund. This choice will cost the Amazon tens of millions of dollars.
President Bolsonaro’s actions and ignorant attitude has triggered a global response. Al Jazeera notes that a group of Indigenous people protested outside the European Council in Belgium fighting against the fires in the Amazon. Bolsonaro is not only acting indifferent towards the destruction of the Amazon when he should be passionate in his efforts to preserve it but he also an active, direct participant in its destruction. He plans to make new policies that allow the Amazon to be cleared for various economic developments such as the agricultural industry. In this process, he plans to weaken the legal protections of the indigenous people in preserving their rights to their land.
Bolsonaro has been described as having authoritarian tendencies and fascist inclinations, according to The Guardian. His racist ideas have permeated into his speech and policy. Here are a series of Bolsonaro’s quotes provided by The Guardian that accurately display his racist attitude: “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians,” “Indians smell, are uneducated and don’t speak our language,” and “If I become president, there will not be one centimetre more of indigenous land.” These hateful words demonstrate his bigoted attitude and make his current policies and plans a surprise to no one. This hateful influence has led to more violence unto these indigenous communities and, specifically with respect to the Guardians of the Forest, has spurred an increase in the invasion of their reservation by illegal loggers. It is clear to see the truth in the statement that Reuters includes in their report which is: The Bolsonaro government has indigenous blood on its hands.
Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that if hate is being channelled through the governing body and administration, it will infect policy, culture, and society as a whole. When people with hateful inclinations see bigotry and hatred demonstrated in their leader they will act out of those feelings and feel justified in doing so. Indigenous communities have been the target of racist acts for ages, and continue to be in countries all around the world today. This issue in Brazil is one clear example of how indigenous communities are being neglected and persecuted in the 21st century. The way that Bolsonaro poorly attempts to mask his racist plan is by invalidating the life of the Guajajara people. He sees no problem with destroying their home because he does not “have an interest in keeping indigenous people living like cavemen,” as the Washington Post reports him saying. The Guajajara people have chosen to not back down in the face of hate but instead, rise up in courage to fight for their land and future generations. PBS reports that in April more than 3,000 people stormed the capital for protests, representing over 100 different tribes.
The spirit of these people should inspire us in our fight to preserve the rights of our neighbour and work in stronger efforts to preserve our earth. In order for the indigenous people of Brazil to be protected and their way of life to be respected and preserved, there must be a change in administration. Brazil must have a leader that understands the importance of the Amazon to today’s environmental politics. Simultaneously, it must also have a leader that values the richness of cultural diversity and practice and works ceaselessly to preserve it. Brazil’s future, and eventually the future of everyone around the world, could be seriously altered by a continuation with the current administration if efforts are not made to preserve the Amazon and the people who have made their homes there.