ALTAMIRA, Brazil – Representatives of the indigenous community in the Xingu River region, one of the most deforested areas of Brazilian Amazonia, said this Saturday that loggers are devastating not only environmental reserves but also indigenous territories, while refusing to give them a say in the matter.
“They’re ripping out wood from our land. When we complain, they threaten us,” the cacique Wanggot, leader of the Yuru village of Arara ethnicity, told EFE at a meeting of various indigenous peoples in the Amazonian city of Altamira.
The leader invited the press to visit the Arara reservation to check out their complaints about the invasion of lumberjacks, goldminers and fishermen on their reservations, and help them make sure that “justice is done.”
Wanggot said that a group of indigenous people from his village, with the help of environmental prosecutors, recently went to one of the invaded areas to remove the lumberjacks’ haul – but very soon the loggers showed up bearing arms and took it all back.
We’re weak and our land is small. We can’t lose it or share it with individual goldminers (as President Jair Bolsonaro proposes). We’re afraid because if we lose it, how will we support our families?” asked the leader, who noted that the situation could get very much worse because members of his community say they are ready to defend themselves with guns.
The complaints were made at the 3rd Mid-Xingu Peoples Fair, an event organized by the government-run National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) to allow natives of the region to approach residents of Altamira to air their demands and display their culture
In the Mid-Xingu region live some 5,000 indigenous people of nine different ethnicities, including the Arara, Assurino, Arawete, Parakana, Juruna and Xikrin.
Their complaints coincide with the report this Friday by the NGO Environmental Partner Institute (ISA), which says that 533 trees per minute were cut down in the Xingu basin over the past two months.
The study, based on satellite images, reported that between May and June this year, 39,000 hectares (96,000 acres) of woodland were wiped out in the basin of the Xingu River, one of the main Amazon tributaries that flows through endangered jungle areas in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Para.
The destroyed woodlands, equivalent in size to some of Brazil’s largest cities, are 44.7 percent more widespread than the area destroyed in the same two months last year.
While the Xingu River basin in Mato Grosso had 7,000 hectares deforested in each of the two months, 99 percent of it illegally, in Para that destruction leaped from 10,611 hectares in May to 21,462 in June.
The region was also hit hard by construction on the Xingu River of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, the third largest in the world. Its dam flooded a vast jungle area while thousands of workers poured in for its construction and operation.
For the ISA investigators, however, the current deforestation in Xingu is principally the result of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro taking office. He relaxed the policy of fighting environmental crimes while his provocative statements have encouraged farmers and individual goldminers to cut their way through the Amazon rainforest.
This week Bolsonaro fired Ricardo Galvao from the post of director of the National Space Research Institute (INPE), the agency responsible for monitoring and releasing data on the deforestation of Amazonia, after accusing him of harming the country’s image with allegedly fake information about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Since INPE announced that deforestation increased by 88 percent in June, the president has accused his officials of acting in bad faith, of being unpatriotic and of serving the interests of the opposition parties.