In his first day of office last week, Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro confirmed widely held fears that he would use his powers to increase the rate of deforestation in the Amazon.
Within hours of taking office, Bolsonaro transferred responsibility for recognizing indigenous lands to the ministry of agriculture, reported the New York Times.
According to EcoWatch, the agriculture department has strong ties with the agribusiness lobby and other business industries that would like to gain access to indigenous lands, particularly in the Amazon.
It’s likely to have disastrous consequences both for trees and indigenous communities in the Amazon.
Bolsonaro has reportedly compared indigenous communities living in protected lands to animals in zoos.
“There will be an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people,” executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil (Apib) Dinaman Tuxá warned, according to The Guardian. “Indigenous people are defenders and protectors of the environment.”
— Dom Phillips (@domphillips) January 2, 2019
Deforestation is already increasing in Brazil, which last year saw its highest rate of tree logging in over a decade.
The government has already slowed the pace at which it recognizes indigenous lands in the Amazon in recent years. The new government looks set to accelerate this trend.
It also gives the ministry more control over the management of public forests.
Bolsonaro used Twitter to defend his order last week:
“Less than a million people live in these isolated places in Brazil, where they are exploited and manipulated by NGOs,” Bolsonaro wrote, according to a translation provided by Reuters. “Let us together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”
Mais de 15% do território nacional é demarcado como terra indígena e quilombolas. Menos de um milhão de pessoas vivem nestes lugares isolados do Brasil de verdade, exploradas e manipuladas por ONGs. Vamos juntos integrar estes cidadãos e valorizar a todos os brasileiros.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 2, 2019
There were dissenting voices in Brazil. Anthropologist Leila Sílvia Burger Sotto-Maior, who used to work for Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, told the New York Times that Bolsonaro’s order was clearly an “affront to the constitution”.
Brazil’s constitution was set up in 1988 after 21 years of military rule. Part of it attempts to enshrine protection of indigenous communities after decades of exploitation. The constitution affirmed their right to live in ancestral lands.
“There’s fear, there’s pain,” Burger told The New York Times of the recent order. “This feels like defeat, failure.”
As with all environmental issues, there’s many different perspectives to consider. Check out the video below by Seeker asking the question, “whatever ever happened to saving the rainforests?”