Brazilian Indigenous Activists Protest Cabinet Reshuffle

Hundreds of people took to the streets across Brazil on January 31 to protest President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies on indigenous rights. Led by the Association of Indigenous People of Brazil, they demanded that Bolsonaro respect their basic human rights and protect them from targeted abuse.

AFP reports that the protesters marched under the slogan “Indigenous blood, not a single drop more.” Activists want indigenous rights enshrined in the constitution to be protected and for violence against indigenous people to be prosecuted. According to the Association of Indigenous People of Brazil, there have already been six recorded invasions of indigenous land in January alone. Survival International, an NGO, claims that these targeted attacks are a “declaration of open warfare” by Bolsonaro’s government.

During the president’s first month in office, he announced several measures directed at weakening civil rights designated for indigenous people. His first measure moved responsibility for demarcating indigenous lands from Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Department (FUNAI) to the Ministry of Agriculture. According to LatinNews, critics believe this move is a direct attempt to end the creation of new indigenous lands, as the Ministry of Agriculture is notoriously anti-indigenous. CNBC reports that the Ministry of Agriculture has a reputation for being strongly pro-agribusiness and will most likely permit the development of protected lands.

Bolsonaro also transferred oversight of FUNAI from the Ministry of Justice to the recently created Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights. According to the Globe, this new ministry will be led by evangelical preacher Damares Alves, who has a long history of anti-indigenous behavior. A recent report by Época revealed allegations that Alves kidnapped an indigenous child in 2005 and now claims that the child is her legally adopted daughter. Alves reportedly took the child out of her village for dental treatment and then proceeded to never return the girl to her family. El Pais discovered that, in a past sermon, Alves stated that had she not “adopted” the child, the girl would have been killed in an indigenous custom of infanticide, although there is no proof that such a custom exists among indigenous groups in Brazil. In light of Alves’ history, indigenous activists claim that the transfer of FUNAI to the ministry run by Alves is another direct attempt to weaken indigenous rights.

According to LatinNews, besides these acts, Bolsonaro has repeatedly promised that he will end the establishment of new indigenous lands and attempt to open up these areas to mining and agriculture developments. Meanwhile, according to AP, the recent dam collapse in Minas Gerais on January 25 and the ensuing pollution threaten the livelihood of indigenous communities in the area.

Although indigenous people make up slightly less than one percent of the Brazilian population, FUNAI estimates that 13 percent of Brazil is designated as indigenous territory. However, this number might decline during Bolsonaro’s presidency as indigenous rights come under attack by the government.