The defenders of the Amazon are in mortal danger. Critics say Bolsonaro is making things worse

No clear explanation has yet been given for their disappearance, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday that he believed they were the victims of “malicious intent.” The case drew worldwide attention to the dangers often faced by journalists and environmental activists in Brazil.

Phillips, a seasoned journalist who has written extensively about Brazil’s most marginalized groups and the devastation that criminal figures are wreaking on the Amazon, traveled with indigenous expert Pereira to research conservation efforts in the remote Javari Valley.

Although nominally under government protection, the Javari Valley, like other indigenous lands in Brazil, suffers from illegal mining, logging, hunting, and international drug trafficking, often leading to violence as criminals face with environmentalists and indigenous rights activists.

Between 2009 and 2019, more than 300 people were killed in Brazil as a result of land and resource conflicts in the Amazon, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), citing data from the Pastoral Land Commission, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Catholic Church.

And in 2020, Global Witness ranked Brazil number one. fourth most dangerous country for environmental activism based on documented killings of environmentalists. Nearly three-quarters of such attacks in Brazil took place in the Amazon region, he said.

Indigenous Brazilians have often been the targets of such attacks and have also been persecuted. In early January, three environmentalists from the same family were found dead in the northern Brazilian state of Para, who had developed a project to populate the local water with turtles. The police investigation is ongoing.

After participating in the COP26 climate talks in Scotland last November, unknown assailants reportedly raided the home of environmental and indigenous leader Alessandra Corap; another indigenous activist, Txai Surui, said she was threatened online and in person after her speech in Glasgow.

old problem

The lure of valuable resources in the forest means encroachment on indigenous lands and violence against those who resist is nothing new in Brazil. But some experts say Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and actions have created a culture of impunity.

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro signed an environmental decree that sets higher penalties for deforestation, illegal logging, burning, fishing and hunting, and the government said it was “an important step in environmental legislation.”

But since he took office in 2019, the Bolsonaro administration has taken a series of actions that have effectively weakened federal environmental agencies, demonized organizations working to preserve the rainforest, and advocated for economic growth on indigenous lands, claiming that this is done for the own welfare of indigenous groups. .
His rhetoric, in particular calling for the “development”, “colonization” and “integration” of the Amazon, “virtually gave the green light” to criminal networks involved in illegal logging and mining, said Cesar Muñoz, HRW Senior Fellow for the Americas and expert on protecting the environment in indigenous communities.

And while Bolsonaro’s administration had previously deployed the country’s military to protect the Amazon from illegal logging and land clearing, Muñoz says the move ultimately sidelined the country’s conservation agency IBAMA, resulting in a loss of environmental knowledge.

IBAMA and the president’s office did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Roberto Liebgott, coordinator of the Southern Region of the Missionary Council of Brazil, an indigenous rights group affiliated with the Catholic Church, points to cultural biases and stereotypes that underlie criminal activity in the Amazon.

At least two narratives fuel the violence, Liebgott told CNN: “The first one has to do with the idea that indigenous peoples don’t have rights like other people, perpetuating the narrative of ‘savages’ and, as such, they can be attacked. attacked, exiled or killed.”

The second, he says, “has to do with the narrative that indigenous peoples don’t need land and that everything is done for them.”

Last year, the most important rainforests were being destroyed at the rate of 10 football fields per minute.
Bolsonaro’s rhetoric has also been known to promote such stereotypes, stating in a 2020 video broadcast that native Brazilians are still “developing”. In the same year, he described a long-standing “dream” to discover local reserves for mining.
Vice versa, Phillips report the focus was on the threats posed by illegal mining and pastoralism to non-contact indigenous groups, and highlighted the efforts made by indigenous peoples to conserve their environment.

Munoz says this is one of the many reasons why his and Pereira’s work is so important and why their disappearance is so heartbreaking.

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