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Brazil’s New President Claims Indigenous Lands

An admirer of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has suggested he will follow the U.S. president’s lead and pull out of the Paris climate change accord.

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Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro gestures after receiving the presidential sash from outgoing President Michel Temer at the Planalto Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued an executive order Wednesday making the Agriculture Ministry responsible for decisions concerning lands claimed by indigenous peoples, in a victory for agribusiness that will likely enrage environmentalists.

The temporary decree, which will expire unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, strips power over land claim decisions from indigenous affairs agency FUNAI.

It says the Agriculture Ministry will now be responsible for “identification, delimitation, demarcation and registration of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people.”

The move stoked concern among environmentalists and rights groups that the far-right president, who took office Tuesday, will open up the vast Amazon rainforest and other ecologically sensitive areas of Brazil to greater commercial exploitation.

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Indigenous people from various tribes dance as they wait to deliver a letter to Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro at a transitional government building in Brasilia, Brazil, Dec. 6, 2018. VOA

The executive order also moves the Brazilian Forestry Service, which promotes the sustainable use of forests and is linked to the Environment Ministry, under Agriculture Ministry control.

Additionally, the decree states that the Agriculture Ministry will be in charge of the management of public forests.

NGOs criticized

Bolsonaro, who enjoys strong support from Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector, said during his campaign he was considering such a move, arguing that protected lands should be opened to commercial activities.

Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people make up less than 1 percent of the population, but live on lands that stretch for 106.7 million hectares (264 million acres), or 12.5 percent of the national territory.

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Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro arrives for a meeting in Brasilia. VOA

“Less than a million people live in these isolated places in Brazil, where they are exploited and manipulated by NGOs,” Bolsonaro tweeted, referring to non-profit groups. “Let us together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians.”

Critics say Bolsonaro’s plan to open indigenous reservations to commercial activity will destroy native cultures and languages by integrating the tribes into Brazilian society.

Environmentalists say the native peoples are the last custodians of the Amazon, which is the world’s largest rainforest and is vital for climate stability.

Adding to the gloom for NGOs, Bolsonaro also signed an executive order to give his government potentially far-reaching and restrictive powers over non-governmental organizations working in Brazil.

The temporary decree mandates that the office of the Government Secretary, Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory.”

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Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro talks to the media, in Brasilia, Brazil. VOA

Good news for farm lobby

After she was sworn in on Wednesday, new Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias defended the farm sector from accusations it has grown at the expense of the environment, adding that the strength of Brazil’s farmers had generated “unfounded accusations” from unnamed international groups.

Dias used to be the head of the farm caucus in Brazil’s Congress, which has long pushed for an end to land measures that it argues hold back the agricultural sector.

“Brazil is a country with extremely advanced environmental legislation and is more than able to preserve its native forests,” Dias said. “Our country is a model to be followed, never a transgressor to be punished.”

In comments to reporters after her speech, she said that decisions over land rights disputes were a new responsibility for the Agriculture Ministry. However, she indicated that in practice, the demarcation of land limits would fall to a council of ministries, without giving further details.

Bartolomeu Braz, the president of the national chapter of Aprosoja, a major grain growers association, cheered Wednesday’s move to transfer indigenous land demarcation to the Agriculture Ministry.

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Indigenous leader Kreta Kaingang stands in front of a sign that reads in Portuguese “For the Amazon. Urgent!” during a protest against right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, in front of the Ministry of Environment in Brasilia, Brazil, Oct. 19 VOA

“The new rules will be interesting to the farmers and the Indians, some of whom are already producing soybeans. The Indians want to be productive too,” he added.

Three-time presidential candidate and former Environment Minister Marina Silva, who was beaten by Bolsonaro in October’s election, reacted with horror to the move.

“Bolsonaro has begun his government in the worst possible way,” she wrote on Twitter.

Dinamã Tuxá, a member of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, said many isolated communities viewed Bolsonaro’s administration with fear.

“We are very afraid because Bolsonaro is attacking indigenous policies, rolling back environmental protections, authorizing the invasion of indigenous territories and endorsing violence against indigenous peoples,” said Tuxá.

Under the new plan, the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI will be moved into a new ministry for family, women and human rights.

A former army captain and longtime member of Congress, Bolsonaro said at his inauguration on Tuesday that he had freed the country from “socialism and political correctness.”

Also Read: Green Groups In Brazil Prepare A Climate Change Plan

An admirer of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has suggested he will follow the U.S. president’s lead and pull out of the Paris climate change accord.

In addition to the indigenous lands decree, the new administration issued decrees affecting the economy and society on Wednesday, while forging closer ties with the United States. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. President Donald Trump Suggests, Brazil Should be Able To Join The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance

Until now, Brazilian diplomacy was a zero-sum kind of relationship, not aligned with U.S. interests and "sort of hostile in certain ways, at least at the bureaucratic level"

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President Donald Trump greets Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 19, 2019. VOA

The leaders of the Western Hemisphere’s two largest economies are pledging closer trade ties and enhanced military cooperation, with U.S. President Donald Trump even suggesting Brazil should be able to join the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO).

Trump said for that to happen, however, he would “have to talk to a lot of people.”

The U.S. president, at a joint news conference with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, also pledged American support for Brazil to join the 36-member Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD), which includes most of the highly-developed economies.

Bolsonaro, speaking in Portuguese, said his visit begins a new chapter of cooperation between Brazil and the United States, adding that with his recent election, “Brazil has a president who is not anti-American, which is unprecedented in recent decades.”

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“All options are open,” Trump reiterated when asked by a reporter in the White House Rose Garden if military intervention in Venezuela by the United States is possible. VOA

The retired military officer is known as the “Trump of the Tropics” for his far-right agenda of cracking down on crime and corruption, and nostalgia for Brazil’s era of military dictatorship.

The two leaders, who met for the first time Tuesday, also discussed their mutual support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by most Western countries, including the United States and Brazil.

“All options are open,” Trump reiterated when asked by a reporter in the White House Rose Garden if military intervention in Venezuela by the United States is possible.

Trump noted that Washington has yet to apply really tough sanctions on Caracas, where Nicolas Maduro — who the U.S. president called “Cuba’s puppet” — remains in power with the backing of Venezuela’s military.

In oil-rich Venezuela there is no food, water or air-conditioning, according to Trump, while Bolsonaro said “people are starving to death” there.

“We need to put an end to this,” Bolsonaro added.

Space launches

Just ahead of the meeting between the two leaders, the United States and Brazil signed an agreement to support American space launches from Brazil. The State Department says the pact will ensure the proper handling of sensitive U.S. technology consistent with U.S. nonproliferation policy, the Missile Technology Control, and U.S. export control laws and regulations.

The two leaders “agreed to take the steps necessary to enable Brazil to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Traveler Global Entry Program,” according to a joint statement issued following the news conference.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in the Oval Office of the White House, March 19, 2019, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in the Oval Office of the White House, March 19, 2019, in Washington. VOA

‘Common ground’

The two countries have never had particularly close relations, with Brazil traditionally wary of American influence in Latin America. But now their two leaders find themselves in sync on concerns about the Maduro regime in Venezuela, Cuba’s involvement in that country, and the threat from China’s rising influence on domestic politics in South and Central America.

Also Read: Here’s Why Some Young Adults Engage in Unsafe Sex

Until now, Brazilian diplomacy was a zero-sum kind of relationship, not aligned with U.S. interests and “sort of hostile in certain ways, at least at the bureaucratic level,” former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega told VOA.

“If we can find common ground with them on some key specific initiatives,” the U.S. relationship with Brazil and South America, as a whole, can be realigned, according to Noriega, an American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow.(VOA)