BRASILIA – Hundreds of Brazilian Indians from assorted tribes arrived in Brasilia on Wednesday where they are intending to set up camp for the next few days to protest the policies of the ultrarightist Jair Bolsonaro government.
The Free Land camp, which has been held annually in Brasilia since 2004, is convened by the so-called Coordinator for the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib), which this year announced its decision to protest against the “threat” to indigenous territories posed by Bolsonaro’s policies on the environment and Amazonia.
“The year 2019 began in a very serious context,” reads a note disseminated in the camp, going on to complain that since Bolsonaro took office there have been “a series of coordinated attacks and invasions on indigenous lands,” as well as “persecutions and expressions of racism and intolerance” against the country’s original peoples.
Apib, which set up its camp on the central Esplanade of the Ministers, where all the main government buildings and ministries are located, also plans to protest the decisions of the current government that have altered the administrative structure for the official entities tasked with attending to indigenous issues.
Among them, the group cited the transfer of the National Foundation of the Indian (Funai) from the Justice Ministry to the new office of the Family, Women and Human Rights, headed by evangelical pastor Damares Alves.
In addition, Apib has characterized as “serious” the fact that Funai has ceased to have responsibility over the designation of new indigenous lands, that responsibility having passed into the hands of the Agriculture Ministry, the head of which – Tereza Cristina Correa – has close ties with large agribusiness firms.
In the face of this first big demonstration against the Bolsonaro government, the Justice Ministry authorized the use of the National Force, an elite unit specializing in dealing with street unrest, if there is violence.
The decision was explained by invoking the “need ... to preserve the public order ... (and) the safety of people and the public heritage” in Brazil’s capital.
Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, the Cabinet minister for the Institutional of the Presidency, admitted that the aim of the decree is to “discourage that type of demonstration, which does not make much sense.”
According to the minister, the government “doesn’t want destruction, as occurred in some demonstrations and is only trying to preempt any problem.”
However, the Indians have guaranteed the peaceful nature of their movement.
“We haven’t come to confront anyone,” but rather “to defend the indigenous peoples, their rights and Amazonia,” Lindomar Terena, one of the Apib leaders, told reporters.
Terena said that the indigenous peoples, via the peaceful route, “are not going to back off or bow their heads and say amen,” but rather are going “to fight for their rights and their territories.”
Last week, in an apparent conciliatory gesture prior to the demonstration, Bolsonaro welcomed a group of Indians to the presidential palace, although they were not part of Apib.
At that meeting, he reiterated that he intends to maintain the autonomy of indigenous lands, adding that – as far as he is concerned – if those communities want it, they can freely exploit the mineral resources on their lands, something that is prohibited at present.
“There’s no reason to live in that situation (of poverty) with the wealth that you have. The decision has to be made by you, without intermediaries. It’s going to be up to Parliament, but we’re going to seek laws to change that,” Bolsonaro said.
During the three days they intend to remain in Brasilia, the leaders of the indigenous peoples will hold meetings with lawmakers and representatives of the judicial branch, and they may be received by Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, the head of the Government Secretariat, although that has not yet been confirmed.