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Seen here in 2008, this uncontacted indigenous community in Brazil's Amazon may be fierce in defence of its lands. But they don't stand a chance in the face of bulldozers, chainsaws, automatic weapons, and the new diseases brought by loggers, miners and f

Seen here in 2008, this uncontacted indigenous community in Brazil's Amazon may be fierce in defence of its lands. But they don't stand a chance in the face of bulldozers, chainsaws, automatic weapons, and the new diseases brought by loggers, miners and farmers. Photo: © G. Miranda / FUNAI / Survival.

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Brazil: Government to abandon tribes to 'genocide' by loggers and ranchers

Oliver Tickell

26th April 2017

Brazil's extreme right wing government is preparing to open up the rainforest territories of dozens of uncontacted indigenous tribes to 'free for all' development by defunding the protection they currently receive, according to information received by Survival International, which warns: 'The reality is these cuts could sanction genocide.'

The cuts in budgets to protect uncontacted tribes are nothing to do with money - the sums involved are tiny. It's a political move which sees uncontacted tribes as a barrier to profit, targeting rainforest which has been off-limits to development.

All the government units currently protecting Brazil's uncontacted tribes from invasion by loggers and ranchers could be withdrawn, according to information leaked to Survival International.

The move would constitute the biggest threat to uncontacted Amazon tribes for a generation.

Agents from FUNAI, the country's indigenous affairs department, perform a vital role in protecting uncontacted territories from loggers, ranchers, miners and other invaders.

Some teams are already being withdrawn, and further withdrawals are planned for the near future. Thousands of invaders are likely to rush into the territories once protection is removed.

Indigenous activist Sonia Guajajara said: "By cutting down the FUNAI budget, the government is declaring the extinction of indigenous people."

Brazil's 'coup' government appears bent on genocide

There are estimated to be over 100 uncontacted tribes in Brazil, well over two-thirds of the global population of uncontacted people. Many of them live in indigenous territories, which total over 54.3 million hectares of protected rainforest, an area about the size of France.

These territories are guarded by just 19 dedicated FUNAI teams. It is possible that all 19 teams could be eliminated from the Brazilian state budget, despite the fact that money spent maintaining these teams is equal to the average salaries and benefits paid to just two Brazilian congressmen per year.

The proposals are the latest in a long list of actions from the Temer government, which came to power in 2016 after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in what has been described as an "blatant political coup" that could have catastrophic consequences for indigenous peoples.

Paulo Marubo, an indigenous man from the Javari Valley in Brazil's Amazon said: "If the protection teams are withdrawn, it will be like before, when many Indians were massacred and died as a result of disease ... If the loggers come here, they will want to contact the uncontacted, they will spread diseases and even kill them."

Campaigners have suggested that the government's close ties to Brazil's powerful ranching and agribusiness lobbies - which consider indigenous territories to be a barrier to their own expansion - could be part of the reason for the proposals.

Protests this week to defy unelected government's plans

Major indigenous protests are taking place this week in Brasilia against government proposals to water down protection for indigenous rights.

The plans represent a huge threat to Brazil's indigenous peoples, who have made their opposition clear. If implemented, these plans could block the protection of their territories, meaning violent land conflicts - which are already killing Indians nationwide - could escalate and lands stolen from the Indians might never be returned.

This is a clear violation of Brazilian and international law, which could result in the destruction of entire peoples together with their unique languages and cultures.

One such scheme known as PEC 215, and several other plans, would give anti-Indian landowners the chance to block the recognition of new indigenous territories - and might even enable them to break up and steal existing ones.

This would be disastrous for Brazilian tribes like the Kawahiva, because land is the key to their survival. Without it, none of their human rights can be realized. Tribes such as the Guarani fear this would mean they'd never recover the land that was stolen from them. Adalto Guarani told us:

"Please help us destroy this! It's like a bomb waiting to explode, and if it explodes, it will put an end to our very existence. Please give us a chance to survive."

Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. Whole populations are being wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said: "Cuts in government budgets to protect uncontacted tribes are clearly nothing to do with money - the sums involved are tiny. It's a political move from agribusiness which sees uncontacted tribes as a barrier to profit and is targeting rainforest which has been off-limits to development.

"The reality is these cuts could sanction genocide."

 


 

Oliver Tickell is contributing editor at The Ecologist.

 

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