“Government intentionally tries to destroy indigenous people”, says ex-president of Funai

“Government intentionally tries to destroy indigenous people”, says ex-president of Funai

Former president of Funai commented on the weakening and gradual dismantling of the agency in recent years

© Sérgio Lima / Poder 360
Former president of Funai commented on the weakening and gradual dismantling of the agency in recent years

If in previous governments there was disapproval of specific actions linked to traditional peoples, in Jair Bolsonaro’s government criticism is directed at so many areas that the indigenous issue ends up being diluted amid greater and more general disapproval.

This is the assessment of jurist Carlos Frederico Marés de Souza Filho, professor of Agrarian and Socio-environmental Law at PUC-PR (Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná). He was president of Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio) between 1999 and 2000.

For the jurist, the environmental policy of the current management simply does not exist. “Even the minister [do Meio Ambiente] says he wants to destroy, so there is no one in the government who is in favor of the environment“, He says.

In an interview with DW Brazil, Marés also comments on the weakening and gradual dismantling of Funai in recent years, talks about the role of the federal government in containing the advance of coronavirus and the recent fires in indigenous lands and explains how the demarcation of lands has gained more air in the political process instead of technical.

DW Brasil: You were president of the Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai) between 1999 and 2000. In essence, what has changed since then regarding the indigenous issue in Brazil?

At the turn of 1999 to 2000, indigenous peoples were very exposed in the media because of the 500 years [do descobrimento]. There was, then, this very large exposure and, consequently, a very large articulation. Precisely in 2000, there was a police crackdown on the indigenous movement at the 500th anniversary party in Porto Seguro (BA), which is why I resigned from my post. I couldn’t agree with such an action.

As for Funai, in the past 20 years, it has been deteriorated from the point of view of possible action. Until 2016, more or less, although she was weak, she still had money, employees and, therefore, action. But for the past four years she has lost all of that. There were many retirements without replacement of staff and a significant deterioration of the policy. An example is the protection of indigenous peoples called “isolated”, Which demand only a very distant approach. This is a correct policy and it does not cost much. But in the last few years, and especially in the first two years of management [Jair] Bolsonaro, this policy has been broken. It is a disastrous, deadly policy. The correct thing is to protect the areas of isolated peoples and not let anyone in.

The difference, then, is that there has been a functional and political worsening. Funai has ceased to be an intermediary between the government and indigenous peoples and is itself opposed to this population. The current government encourages entry into indigenous lands, illegal land occupation, and Funai does nothing. And there is no point in the indigenous people running to Funai because Funai “run with them”.

At the end of August, President Bolsonaro said in a live that there are “evolved indians”In Brazil, who could have“more freedom over your land“…

I cannot attribute this to ignorance because the name is racism. This speech is racist and genocidal. It is an enemy stance of the indigenous people, because he thinks that the indigenous peoples get in the way. When he says that indigenous people should have more freedom, I fully agree, but what is the freedom that indigenous people want? Let no one enter your land, let nature not be destroyed, let there be no gold digger, logger there. Indigenous peoples have little strength to enjoy this freedom and it is precisely the Brazilian state that has to guarantee it. The state needs to hear the indigenous people. The Yanomami [grupo que vive na floresta amazônica, na fronteira entre Venezuela e Brasil], for example, I know what they will answer: get the miners out of our lands.

The indigenous people want freedom, but not to bring white people to their land, but to prevent exploitation. And what the president wants to say is that indigenous lands must be freer for anyone who wants to invade.

A report recently released by the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi), linked to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), pointed out that in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government (2019), invasions of indigenous lands grew 135%. Is it an exaggeration to say that the current government is failing to protect indigenous peoples?

“Failure” is a kind word. The government is not failing, it is intentionally trying to destroy indigenous peoples. And that is genocide.

To date, 36,000 cases of contamination by covid-19 have been recorded among indigenous people, according to data from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib). Do you believe that the establishment of sanitary barriers in indigenous lands by the Federal Government, foreseen in a Provisional Measure published on the last day of the 1st, will effectively help to contain this scenario? Furthermore, didn’t the government take long to take action on it? The pandemic started in March.

This delay was intentional. These sanitary barriers were very easy to make six months ago. Some peoples even made barriers on their own, but even so there was a missionary who wanted to enter [nas terras], government people, people to deliver medicine. There is a great deal of tension in relation to the coronavirus and indigenous peoples.

In September alone, more than a hundred fires spread over indigenous lands in the Pantanal region.

In August, there were 200 outbreaks. Although fires are expected for the region at this time of year, aren’t the numbers too high? What is the role of the Public Power to protect indigenous lands?

The great drama that lives in the Pantanal, as well as the Cerrado and the Amazon, is irregular deforestation. Whenever an episode like these fires happens, we have to ask ourselves: does anyone take advantage of this? Is fire good for someone?

In these three biomes, there are those who take advantage of fires, who are those who want to occupy land, who are people who are not from there. They are not indigenous people, they are not traditional peoples, quilombolas. Now, for those who want to expand their land, the fire is good. I also remember the Cerrado because it is a region that is less talked about, but that is being severely punished by the opening and cutting down of native vegetation to make way for large monocultures.

Can we then say that today the demarcation of indigenous lands has become a political and not a technical process?

The answer is yes, although the political character has always been present. Indigenous people have guaranteed in the Federal Constitution the right to the land they occupy. They have that right with or without demarcation. The demarcation is a measure that the Constitution determined for the Brazilian State so that there is better protection of the land. The idea, therefore, is not to define what that land should be, but to give protection to the land that already belongs to the people. However, the forces opposed to indigenous peoples know that, once demarcated, it is more difficult to invade the land, kill Indians, and set fire. So, politically, they will be against demarcation. This action against indigenous peoples is a political action, and ends up transforming the demarcation into a political act.

Already in government [Michel] Fear, but with more strength from the Bolsonaro government, came a very strong political will not to demarcate. Even more: try to reverse the demarcations that have already taken place. And here this addendum applies to both indigenous lands and quilombolas. Before he was even elected, President Bolsonaro declared that he would not demarcate any more inches of indigenous land.

For you, what are the main differences between the way the Bolsonaro government deals with the indigenous issue in relation to previous governments? The governments of the Workers’ Party (PT), for example, received much criticism that they should have demarcated more land.

The Bolsonaro government receives criticism in so many areas – development, human rights, etc. – that the indigenous issue is “just” one more thing. In the PT government there were strong criticisms of environmental policy, but they were always localized. The question of [usina hidrelétrica de] Belo Monte, for example, from the Xingu River, from the Jirau Hydroelectric Plant. There were specific actions. Now, under the Bolsonaro government, environmental policy does not exist, it is one of destruction. Even the minister [do Meio Ambiente, Ricardo Salles] he says he wants to destroy it, so there is no one in the government who says he is in favor of the environment. In other governments at least there was someone to defend. In this sense, environmental criticism ends up being diluted amid a bigger and more general criticism.

It is customary to oppose the right of indigenous peoples to national development. Wouldn’t this opposition be, in itself, contradictory?

To say that the protection of indigenous peoples is contrary to national development is a lie. We cannot admit national development with destruction of nature, and indigenous lands preserve nature. Anyone who is against this is outdated. One of the world’s biggest concerns is food. But does the lack of food mean that we have to invade indigenous lands? They are not the place to produce food. It is necessary to think about development linked to the preservation of nature. Destroying indigenous lands will worsen the condition of the water, generating reflexes across the country. We depend on the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest. Anything that destroys nature harms our development. It is not, therefore, a mere contradiction, but a lie.

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