As the coronavirus pandemic makes its way into the Amazon, raising fears of a genocide of its vulnerable indigenous tribes, the government of the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters are dismantling the rules that protect protected reserves. Major environmental officials have been fired and environmentalists and indigenous leaders fear that the pandemic will be used as a smoke screen for a new assault on the rainforest.
“Indigenous peoples are alone and we must fight against the virus, loggers and miners of wild cats. We don’t know what’s the worst, “said Alessandra Munduruku, indigenous leader of the state of Pará.
Bolsonaro, known for racist remarks about indigenous people and a nationalist argument for the development of the Amazon, it is popular with farmers, wildcat miners, loggers and land grabbers. He said Yanomami’s indigenous reservation – Brazil’s largest – was too large and attacked environmental agencies to fine people for environmental crimes.
In December 2019 it issued a decree known as MP910, which allows farmers to occupy up to 2,500 hectares within government-controlled reserves to legalize it. A previous law in 2017 it allowed for occupied land until 2011; Bolsonaro’s decree extended it until 2018.
Critics have called it the “land thieves decree”. Grabbing lands on federal reserves by deforesting them, burning dead trees and putting livestock on them to consolidate possession is common practice in the Amazon.
“The measure allows to name public areas that have been illegally deforested with the aim of obtaining land” She said Imazon, a non-profit environmental group. Federal prosecutors said it would further facilitate land grabbing, in a detailed analysis.
The decree must be approved by Congress until May 19th. Agricultural lobby lawmakers are pushing for a vote before then, in the midst of the pandemic, after proposing changes this will actually make it even simpler and cheaper to legalize the occupied land, even if the landowner looking for a title has already received a land title under the “land reform” systems and has sold it.
On April 22, Funai published a new rule to allow land thieves on indigenous reserves to regularize their land, provided that the reserve has not completed the long demarcation process. This process can take decades to complete and requires presidential approval – and Bolsonaro has promised not to delimit “an extra inch” of indigenous land.
The association of Funai employees She said the new rule “transforms Funai into a real estate notary for squatters, land grabbers and land developers in indigenous lands”.
The National Human Rights Council, an independent federal body, called for the revocation of the rule, noting that 237 indigenous reservations had yet to complete the demarcation process and six others were areas of “limited use” with reports from isolated groups that did not immunity to common diseases like flu, no matter Covid-19. Landgrabbers could now claim the title in all of these.
In a rare move, 49 federal prosecutors across Brazil called that the Funai rule was annulled for its “unconstitutionality, unconventionality and illegality”.
Daniel Azevedo, one of the prosecutors involved, said he encouraged land hoarders who expected such decrees to follow.
“The Amazon works like a stock market. What those in power in the country say really affects people’s behavior, “he said.” This conveys a message that if you deforest now in 2020 or 2021, you will soon become owners of this area, “he added.” The trend is that the forest will be heavily devastated in the coming years. “
Those defensive titles for land robbers claim that they will help regularize the chaotic situation of Amazonian land ownership. Allow farmers to name the land they occupied in the past it allows them to access credit and improve productivity by reducing the need for further expansion in the forest, farmers claim.
Senator Irajá Abreu, who leads MP910 through Congress, say the Congress site in Focus that the land thieves decree was “a good law for 99% of Brazilian families, for Brazilian producers, for people who create jobs”.
Funai said that his new rule “would correct the unconstitutionality found in the studies carried out”.
Environmentalists contested this argument. “The government has a plan and is moving forward on the forest, on indigenous peoples, for the benefit of those who want to cut down the forest,” said Mariana Mota, Greenpeace’s public policy specialist in Brazil.
Deforestation in Brazil began to rise in 2013, after a decade of decline and a year after a revision of the Brazilian forest code by leftist president Dilma Rousseff, including an amnesty for people deforested before 2008. Under Bolsonaro , deforestation skyrocketed, reaching 9,800 square kilometers in the year through July 2019.
While the new rules were raging, the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama fired Renê de Oliveira and Hugo Loss, two high-level field specialists, weeks after coordinating an operation to expel invaders in indigenous reserves in the state of Pará for fears of spreading Covid-19. The operation had In the foreground in the popular TV show Fantástico, which also exhibited pro-Bolsonaro land grabbers with political connections. Ibama’s director of protection, Olivaldi Azevedo, had already been fired.
Environmentalists have said that reducing protection and encouraging invasions of protected areas risk greater violence against those who defend them.
In March an indigenous teacher, Zezico Guajajara, was killed in the state of Maranhão, the fifth murder in the area in six months. In April, Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, a teacher from the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau reserve in the Amazonian state of Rondônia, was killed. He was part of a group that patrolled the tribe’s reservation and had been threatened.
“The invaders think they can enter the indigenous reserve because of the government’s agenda,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, of the Kanindé nonprofit group, who has worked with the tribe for decades and knew Ari. “Covid is the cover and the excuse.”