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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

US And Brazil Agree To Promote Development In The Amazon

The US and Brazil have agreed to promote private-sector development in the Amazon and has also pledged a $100 million biodiversity conservation fund for the world's largest rainforest

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Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname signed a pact, setting up a disaster response network and satellite monitoring. Pixabay

The US and Brazil have agreed to promote private-sector development in the Amazon and has also pledged a $100 million biodiversity conservation fund for the world’s largest rainforest which has been ravaged by massive wildfires.

The developments took place during a meeting here on Friday between Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the BBC reported.

Addressing the media, Araujo said opening the rainforest to economic development was the only way to protect it, adding that claims the country was “not able to cope with the challenges” were false.

“We want to be together in the endeavour to create development for the Amazon region which we are convinced is the only way to protect the forest.

“So we need new initiatives, new productive initiatives, that create jobs, that create revenue for people in the Amazon and that’s where our partnership with the US will be very important for us,” he said.

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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

Pompeo said the biodiversity investment fund would support businesses in hard to reach areas of the Amazon.

“The Brazilians and the American teams will follow through on our commitment that our presidents made in March. We’re getting off the ground a $100 million, 11-year Impact Investment Fund for Amazon biodiversity conservation and that project will be led by the private sector.”

More than 80,000 fires have broken out in the Amazon rainforest so far this year, the BBC said.

ALSO READ: US Biologists Declares “Unusual Mortality Event” in Deaths of Nearly 300 Ice Seals Off Alaska’s Northwest Coast

Also on Friday, Finland urged European Union countries to consider stopping importing beef and soybeans from Brazil in order to put pressure on Brazil to tackle the fires.

Last week seven South American countries agreed on measures to protect the Amazon river basin.

Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname signed a pact, setting up a disaster response network and satellite monitoring.

At a summit in Colombia, they also agreed to work on reforestation. (IANS)