Category Archives: Brazil

Slaves to deforestation: Labor abuses fuel Brazil’s Amazon destruction

Brazilian labor inspectors and police find workers in slavery-like conditions in the makeshift camp where they were living while building structures with illegally logged timber, in the state of Para, Brazil, June 25, 2021. Handout/Magno Riga

RIO DE JANEIRO, – When labor inspectors arrived in a rural area of the Brazilian Amazon state of Para in late June, they expected to rescue illegal loggers working in slavery-like conditions. But the trees were already cut down and the loggers gone.

Instead, the officials from Brazil’s anti-slavery mobile enforcement group found four men and a boy of 15 building fences and cattle sheds nearby with the illegal timber, on the orders of a local farmer who kept them in a ramshackle camp.

“They had no water, they had no bathrooms,” said Magno Riga, the inspector in charge of the rescue. “They told us they had never been in such a precarious condition.”

Deforestation surged in Brazil after right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, giving a green light to mining and agriculture in protected parts of the Amazon and weakening environmental enforcement agencies.

But while the forest loss itself sparked international outcry among foreign governments and the public, little attention has been paid to the labor abuses underpinning the practice, legal specialists told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Historically, Para is the state where workers are most often found in slavery-like conditions, accounting for at least 13,259 of a total of 56,000 people found across Brazil since 1995.

The state is also a hot-spot for deforestation, topping the list for Amazon region states since 2006, government data shows.

“The relationship (between deforestation and slavery) is permanent,” said Lys Sobral Cardoso, who leads anti-slavery efforts at Brazil’s Labor Prosecutor’s Office, an independent body of public officials.

“It has been that way for 20 to 30 years,” she added.

CATTLE AND MINES

While there is no hard data on deforestation and slave labor, more than 1,324 workers have been rescued from slavery-like conditions while felling wood from native forests since 1995, said Mauricio Krepsky, head of the government’s Division of Inspection for the Eradication of Slave Labor.

But there are likely many more such cases going undetected, said Krepsky, as inspectors find it hard to get information and rescue workers in remote areas where most deforestation occurs.

“Many workers do not report (their employers) for fear of not getting more work or even of being murdered,” he said.

In 2019, when deforestation jumped, 12 workers were rescued in Para and 17 in Roraima, both Amazon states, with several more rescues carried out since.

Traditionally, unscrupulous farmers have used slave labor to clear land for cattle, which feeds Brazil’s powerful meat-packing industry – but recently mining is also attracting attention from the authorities as a driver of deforestation.

“We do not have consolidated data saying that there is deforestation in all (illegal) mining areas, but in all cases in which I worked, there was deforestation,” said Cardoso, who has worked on about 20 such cases.

As illegal logging and gold mining – both highly profitable industries – have expanded in the Amazon, labor officials have stepped up efforts to tackle the slavery issue.

In 2018, Brazil set up the Labor Prosecutor’s Office to fight abusive working conditions in illegal mines.

On July 28 this year, more than 100 federal police officers drove to a farm in Para, near the city of Ourilandia, to investigate reports of a huge illegal gold mining operation.

“The whole area was deforested illegally,” said labor prosecutor Edelamare Melo, who took part in the raid.

During the operation, federal police arrested six men found responsible for the illegal mining and apprehended machinery. Melo interviewed about 50 workers who were left in the mine but many others fled as soon as they saw the police arrive.

Besides living in flimsy sheds without walls, the workers had no protective gear and drank water left over from the mining process, which Melo said was likely contaminated by mercury.

“All this forms the conditions for slave labor,” she added.

Slavery in Brazil is defined as forced labor but also includes degrading work conditions, long hours posing a health risk or work that violates human dignity.

NO ALTERNATIVES

Three workers from the raided illegal gold mine were sent to a halfway house for rescued slaves in Maraba, in Para state, run by the Comissao Pastoral da Terra (CPT), a Catholic charity that has pioneered anti-slavery efforts in Brazil.

Like most workers rescued from activities linked to deforestation, they were from neighboring states with few employment opportunities, said Geuza Morgado from the CPT.

“We’ve had cases of people being rescued for a second or third time,” said Morgado. “The standard story is that in their towns there are no jobs, so they need to migrate.”

The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, the CPT and Para’s State Commission for the Eradication of Slavery (Coetrae-PA) have all run programs among workers to raise awareness of their rights and slave labor in Para and neighboring states.

But the impact is limited due to a dearth of other job opportunities, said Leila Silva, a social activist in Para and Coetrae-PA member from 2013 to 2020.

“They don’t have access to an alternative,” said Silva. “To break (the cycle) we need effective public policies.”

States and cities should offer job training to rescued workers so they can build a better life, she said.

“Some want to study, but they have no access to a school. So they go back to the slavery cycle,” she explained.

Riga, who rescued the four men and the teenager in Para, sees little chance of a brighter future for them and others trapped in similar slave-like conditions.

“There’s a huge demand for this sort of work, and they live off of it,” he said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210823120004-rbvx7/

Dispute over COVID-19 deaths pits indigenous Brazilians against gov’t

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Indigenous Leader Sonia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe looks on after meeting with the parliamentary front in defense of the rights of indigenous people at the chamber of deputies in Brasilia, Brazil February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

RIO DE JANEIRO, – The government agency created to protect Brazil’s indigenous people is out to destroy them, a prominent native leader said on Thursday after Funai asked the police to investigate her for fake news.

Police subpoenaed Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition APIB, at the request of the native affairs agency Funai, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting indigenous people from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bolsonaro’s Funai does not recognize the indigenous movement, and has no dialogue with those who diverge from the government’s position”, Guajajara said, referring to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019.

“They want to end the indigenous culture in the country once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Funai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency said in its submission to the police that it had invested 26 million reais ($4.9 million) to fight the pandemic in indigenous lands, including distributing food and setting up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands.

Funai was set up in 1967 to coordinate and implement government policies to protect the indigenous population, especially isolated and recently contacted people.

That function has been curtailed under Bolsonaro who has criticized indigenous people for having too much reservation land and advocates commercial mining on their lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman, Marcelo Xavier, to run the agency.

“Inside Funai there are many serious civil servants who are trying to do a job that corresponds to the interests of indigenous peoples,” said Guajajara.

“But Funai’s management no longer serves those interests.”

INTIMIDATION

Funai asked that the police investigate Guajajara last week for “perfidy and the crime of slander” because of APIB’s documentaries about the lethal impact of the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis on native people.

“The biased content of fake news … reveals serious illegality. Although possible criticism is tolerated, what in fact happened was an authentic abuse of freedom of expression,” Funai wrote in its submission.

On Wednesday, a judge halted the police probe into Guajajara, saying in court documents that its main goal was to “silence political demonstrations” by APIB.

Funai is not the only government agency under Bolsonaro to be accused of turning against indigenous people that it is mandated to protect.

Sesai, the agency responsible for providing medical care to indigenous people, has come under fire for allegedly underreporting COVID-19 deaths.

While Sesai reports about 663 deaths due to COVID-19 among indigenous people, a tally by APIB shows 1,063 fatalities among the country’s 900,000 native people.

“When the pandemic started, it exposed how bad indigenous health was,” said Eriki Paiva from the Terena peoples in the centre-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of the groups with the most deaths, according to APIB’s data.

“It saddens us that beyond not doing the basics, they have now used intimidation tactics against our leaders.”

Sesai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Funai has also rejected APIB’s tally.

“(The) data presented was inflated, with the intent to manipulate, almost doubling the number of deaths among indigenous people,” Funai wrote in its submission to the police.

Cristiane Juliao, a leader of the Pankararu people in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, dismissed Funai’s claim that it set up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Funai’s presence basically involved the delivery of a basic food baskets,” she said, adding her tribe set up the barriers and Funai provided equipment, transport and funding for a short while and then vanished.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210506175032-l691x/

Catholic groups work to feed Brazilians affected by job loss, COVID-19

People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)
People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)

Sao Paulo — As unemployment increases and COVID-19 infections surge in the country, Catholic entities in Brazil are ramping up efforts to feed the increasing number of people going hungry.

“The pandemic did not only affect those who live on the streets. It has hit even those who have homes,” Fr. Revislande dos Santos Araújo of Our Lady Consolata Parish in Boa Vista, told Catholic News Service.

The priest, who started a social project dubbed Stirring the Pot in 2015 to distribute meals to drug addicts and homeless people, now also serves meals and distributes food to Venezuelan refugees camped on the streets and to Brazilians who lost their jobs.

Back in 2015, the priest cooked and distributed the meals around the neighborhoods of Boa Vista. “In the beginning, 40 meals were made per day, but at the end of the first year, with the help of donations we were distributing 70 meals,” he said.

With the arrival of Venezuelans in 2016, he explained, the initiative became a bigger project.

“We saw that many did not make it into the shelters and set up camp around the main bus station. They often did not have food to eat, so we extended our Stirring the Pot to help them, too,” he said. “With the pandemic, we offer 1,200 to 1,500 meals per day for those who live on the streets.”

In addition to the homeless and refugees, he said, his parishioners, people with very little means, are also suffering.

“We live in a poor area; our parishioners are poor people. The majority are construction workers, cleaning ladies, etc. With the pandemic, these people lost their jobs. There was a huge increase in poverty and people frequently do not have enough to eat — something that before [the pandemic] we did not see often,” he said.

“For the Venezuelans who live in tents near the bus station, we send meals, while, for the Brazilian families, we send them food packages, so they can cook at home,” he told CNS.

However, donations are decreasing.

“Those who used to donate a kilo of beans, a kilo of rice, now are asking for donations. I try to reach out, doing live events on the internet asking for help, but there are many of my parishioners who used to help and now no longer can because they are finding it hard to put food on the table themselves,” he said.

Araújo, who teaches at the city’s public schools, recalled more than one of his students reaching out to him saying, “‘My mom has lost her job, we don’t have enough to eat at home.'”

The dwindling number of volunteers and donations are also seen in other parts of Brazil. Now, a campaign promoted by the São Paulo Archdiocese along with the charitable aid agency Caritas not only aims to collect money and food for the vulnerable but also to encourage new volunteers to step up and contribute.

“Despite the solidarity, things are getting more difficult. The people who helped are now out of a job,” said Father Marcelo Maróstica Quadro, Caritas director and pastoral coordinator of the Belém region in São Paulo.

The campaign, dubbed Animating Hope, plans to collect food and financial resources to purchase food baskets to distribute to vulnerable families.

“Hunger is a reality that goes against God’s plan,” said Quadro.

He said Caritas has mapped out 450 “points of hope,” where it collects and distributes meals and food baskets. Most of the parishes around São Paulo serve as points of hope.

At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, St. Joseph Parish distributed 40-50 food baskets per month. “Now we distribute more than 300,” he added.

With unemployment rising and food insecurity increasing, the archdiocese, through Caritas, also created a Committee to Fight Hunger and introduced a number of actions to mobilize and unite parishes and parishioners.

“There are a lot of people suffering. Let us help. Let us reach out as best as we can so that these people do not have so much suffering,” Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer said during his weekly radio show.

Other entities linked to the Catholic Church have also stepped up to help. The Brazil branch of AVSI, a Milan-based organization founded on Catholic social teaching, has run three separate programs to deal with the issue: two food basket campaigns and now a program offering meal vouchers for 500 families whose children attended a day care center funded by AVSI. With the schools closed, these children are unable to eat breakfast and lunch at the center.

“We are now trying to get the day care center reopened, because many of those children depended on those meals,” said Fabrizio Pellicelli, president of AVSI in Brazil.

Situations like these are repeated throughout the country.

“In a country like ours, everything that is planted grows,” said Quadro. “There shouldn’t be a reason for our people to go hungry. There is a lack of policies by the government to reduce food insecurity in this country.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/catholic-groups-work-feed-brazilians-affected-job-loss-covid-19

Monday Starter: Sr. Dorothy Stang’s legacy lives on in newly discovered owl

A wooden cross marks the spot in June 2012 where U.S. Sr. Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was killed Feb. 12, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. (CNS/Reuters/Lunae Parracho)

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have announced that a newly discovered screech owl in the Amazon rainforest has been named after the martyred Sr. Dorothy Stang.

Stang, a longtime champion of farmers’ land rights in rural Brazil, was assassinated in 2005 in the northern Brazilian state of Pará in the Amazon Basin. A native of the United States, Stang became a naturalized citizen of Brazil. Her death led to the creation of a reserve of more than 1 million hectares devoted to sustainable use of rainforest land by the local population, whose rights she championed.

Earlier this year, researchers from Brazil, Finland and the United States discovered, or “described,” two new species of screech owl in Brazil, and one of those species, the Xingu screech owl, received a scientific name in honor of Stang. The name, Megascops stangiae, honors Stang’s work “on behalf of poor farmers and the environment in the Brazilian Amazon region,” the congregation’s Ohio Province said in a statement.

The common name, Xingu screech owl, is a reference to an area where the new species is found, the statement said. That area is located between the Tapajós and Xingu rivers, the area where Stang worked and was killed.

Congregational leader Sr. Teresita Weind said biologist Therese Catanach, a member of the research team, contacted the congregation about naming the owl for Stang, as the team was moved by Stang’s life story.

“Sister Dorothy’s murder left a big impression on me, especially when I started research in tropical forests,” Catanach said.

Two other researchers, Brazilian biologists Sidnei Dantas and Alex Alexio, discussed what to name the owl. Dantas had visited Stang’s gravesite, and Alexio suggested one of the owls be named after Stang as “a way to raise awareness about the Amazon, being the ‘lungs of the planet,’ and home of tropical medicinal plants, birds, animals, and human lives,” the congregation said.

Good Shepherd ministry wins anti-slavery award

A ministry of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently won the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Stop Slavery Award. The award is one of several awards by the foundation that recognize companies and grassroots organizations that have “an impact in the fight to end modern slavery and human trafficking.”

Bon Pasteur Kolwezi received the award in a ceremony in February. In accepting the honors, Sr. Jane Wainoi Kabui, the program’s director, noted the role of the organization’s staff, fellow congregational members and the Good Shepherd International Foundation and their “unremitting support to our communities and shared commitment to fight modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The ministry has its roots in an initiative that began in 2012, when the congregation’s Province of Eastern Central Africa established a community development program “to combat child labor, human rights violations, and modern slavery in the copper and cobalt mining region around the city of Kolwezi in the DRC,” the congregation said in an announcement of the award.

The ministry now works in eight communities where cobalt mining is dominant.

“It has helped more than 3,000 children quit the mines and attend school, 500 families to secure alternative and sustainable livelihoods, 300 girls and women to gain new skills and make a decent living away from the mines, and educated more than 20,000 people on how to campaign for better working conditions,” the congregation said.

The project inaugurated a new Bon Pasteur Center in Kolwezi in 2019 in an initiative that includes 14 classrooms to instruct roughly 1,000 children whose families live in the nearby mining communities. The demand for that schooling has been so great, Kabui said, that “the biggest challenge has been that the center can only accommodate a given number of children, and so sometimes we have to turn children away.”

Advocacy is also part of the ministry’s work, and Kabui said in the congregational announcement that she hopes more people will “become conscious of the dehumanizing conditions the artisanal miners have to go through.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of the global news and information company Thomson Reuters. The foundation’s focus includes promoting media freedom, human rights, and more inclusive economies.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/news/blog/monday-starter-sr-dorothy-stangs-legacy-lives-newly-discovered-owl

Brazil’s top court orders probe into Facebook sale of Amazon land

FILE PHOTO: An indigenous child of Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe, looks on in an area deforested by invaders, after a meeting was called in the village of Alto Jamari to face the threat of armed land grabbers invading the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation near Campo Novo de Rondonia, Brazil January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

RIO DE JANEIRO, – Brazil’s top court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into how tracts of stolen land in the Amazon rainforest inhabited by indigenous tribes came to be put up for sale on Facebook.

Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso was responding to a lawsuit filed by charities and opposition parties that accused the Brazilian government of failing to protect indigenous peoples from the coronavirus.

In his ruling, he said some of the areas advertised for sale on Marketplace, Facebook’s classified ad space, belonged to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people, who had been exposed to the disease by illegal land-grabbers and left in a “critical situation”.

An undercover investigation by the BBC last month found dozens of plots of land in the Amazon occupied by indigenous groups advertised on the site. Many had been deforested.

Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Last week the tech firm told the BBC it was “ready to work with local authorities” on the issue.

“The decision is based on a documentary broadcast by BBC News last week, which denounced the use of Facebook for advertising and marketing land in the Amazon,” said the Supreme Court in a statement.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon surged to a 12-year high in 2020, according to government data published in November.

Environmentalists say Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened conservation efforts and raised hopes that new laws would legalise the claims of land-grabbers.

“Invasions and land-grabbing only happen because of impunity,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, from the Association of Ethno-Environmental Protection Kaninde, a non-profit organisation that assists the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau.

“So this decision from Barroso gives us hope that something will change, that the law will work.”

Barroso said the investigation should not be restricted to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, but should also cover “all other indigenous lands”.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210302182842-o72i1/

In Brazil’s Amazon, indigenous people fear surge in COVID-19 deaths

A gravedigger buries Joao Castro, 64, an indigenous man of the Satere Mawe ethnicity, after he passed away due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, January 8, 2021. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

RIO DE JANEIRO, – With hospitals overflowing and oxygen supplies running low, indigenous leader Joilson Karapana fears a second wave of COVID-19 deaths in the Brazilian city of Manaus could prove even more devastating for his tribal community.

When the coronavirus pandemic swept the Amazon metropolis last year, several of Karapana’s close relatives and members of his 50-strong tribe died from the disease and more have recently fallen ill.

“I lost my brother, my father, my cousin, my aunts and other people I knew,” said Karapana, whose community lives in Parque das Tribos – an indigenous urban settlement of about 3,000 people in hard-hit Manaus, capital of Amazonas state.

“Now we have about five or six people short of breath, with pain all over their bodies. It’s a worrying situation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Brazil’s Air Force flew oxygen cylinders into the jungle city last week as desperate relatives protested outside hospitals, saying patients had been taken off ventilators as oxygen supplies ran out.

Some of the sick were airlifted to other states as locals scrambled to buy oxygen on the black market to help their loved ones, according to media reports.

For the roughly 30,000 indigenous people who live in Manaus and rely on public healthcare, the situation is especially alarming, said Marcivana Satere-Mawe, head of the Coordination of Indigenous Peoples in Manaus and Surroundings (Copime).

“If we have to buy oxygen for our elders to survive, they will die. We have no income,” Marcivana said by phone.

The city’s government and the SESAI service, which provides health services in indigenous reservations, did not reply to a request for comment.

Amazonas’s government gave its first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Monday to an indigenous nurse in Parque das Tribos, saying frontline health workers and indigenous people in reservations would be the priority for vaccinations, a statement said.

‘MORE DIFFICULT EACH DAY’

Brazil has registered 210,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University, the second-highest toll after the United States.

The dead include 926 indigenous people, according to a tally by the indigenous umbrella organization APIB.

Grim headlines from Manaus mean some indigenous people living in reservations in the surrounding forest are unwilling to be taken to the city if they fall sick, preferring to take their chances with rudimentary local care.

“We had a case of an indigenous woman here with COVID, but she’s being treated here” said Maria Alice da Silva Paulino, an indigenous teacher at Yupiranga Village, near Manaus.

“She didn’t want to be transferred because of the deaths, the lack of oxygen.”

Sahu da Silva, a leader of the Sahu-Ape indigenous community near Manaus, said the only option was to treat people locally and hope for the best.

He said three members of his tribe were currently sick with COVID-19 symptoms.

“Whenever one gets better, another one falls ill,” he said. “We are in this fight, (but) it’s getting more difficult each day.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210119160425-37e03/

‘Nobody has done anything’: Amazon indigenous group decries illegal mining

Indigenous people of the Munduruku tribe dance during a press conference to ask authorities for protection for indigenous land and cultural rights in Brasilia, Brazil November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

SAO PAULO, – An Amazon indigenous group that earlier turned away a planned hydroelectric dam is now battling a surge of illegal gold mining in its territory during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tribal activist said.

The Sawré Muybu territory of the Munduruku indigenous people, in Brazil’s Pará state, has not been fully recognized as an indigenous reserve by Brazil’s government – one reason it is particularly vulnerable, she said.

But indigenous leaders say they have organized to try to expel those mining and logging the land, even as government officials have said they believe there is indigenous interest in mining going ahead.

Alessandra Munduruku, a law student at the Federal University of Western Pará, in the Amazon city of Santarém, and a leader of the Munduruku people, said a group of indigenous women managed to expel loggers from one village along the Jamanxim River last year.

But in late August fire destroyed part of Karo Ebak, a rural cultivation area along the river, she said, ruining houses and sheds that served as meeting points for the Munduruku community.

“We have been denouncing (the invasions) for a long time, and nobody has done anything,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The office of Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service said it had received the complaint and had launched an investigation at the Itaituba Attorney’s Office but noted “we cannot give more details because the investigation has just started”.

‘IRREVERSIBLE’

The latest damage comes a few weeks after Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, visited the municipality of Jacareacanga, one of the cities – along with Santarém, Itaituba, and Trairão – that edge the area where the Munduruku people live.

On August 5, Salles accompanied an operation by environmental protection agencies against illegal mining on Munduruku indigenous land, and met with a small group of indigenous residents in favor of mining.

In a video published online of Salles talking with indigenous mining supporters, one complains about the destruction of mining equipment.

After the meeting, the Ministry of Defense stopped operations against illegal mining in the area, though the ministry press office said they were resumed a day later.

Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service, however, last week appealed for the country’s Federal Court to require the government to urgently resume operations against illegal mining in Munduruku land, saying damage was ongoing.

“The situation is so serious that … if the rate of invasion observed since the beginning of 2020 continues without interruption, it is possible that the situation will collapse and become irreversible,” the service said in a press release.

The Ministry of Environment did not respond to repeated requests for its position on mining in indigenous territories and on Munduruku land.

Alessandra Munduruku said those in favor of mining did not represent the majority view of indigenous people in Munduruku territory.

“The minister says that he negotiated with the indigenous people. How can you say that, if we are almost 14,000 and he spoke with only a half dozen?” she asked.

A group of 18 Munduruku indigenous chiefs subsequently sent a letter to the Federal Prosecution Service saying they rejected gold mining in their territory, she said.

Luísa Molina, an anthropologist and researcher in the Sawré Muybu territory, said Salles’ trip to Jacareacanga suggested the government is “trying any way to regularize mining on indigenous land”.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has promoted plans to introduce or expand mining and farming in protected and indigenous land in the Amazon region, human rights defenders say.

Maurício Torres a geography professor at the Federal University of Pará, called the weakening of environmental inspections under the Bolsonaro government “a huge incentive for the looting of indigenous lands”.

He said rising gold prices, linked to economic downturns and stock market instability, had helped drive invasions of indigenous land by gold miners.

HYDROELECTRIC DAMS

The Sawré Muybu indigenous land, which covers about 178,000 hectares (440,000 acres) in the Tapajós River basin is recognized as indigenous territory by the government but has not been officially demarcated, which means it does not have legal protection as a reserve exclusively for indigenous people.

But the Munduruku have worked to defend it, including in 2016 helping to defeat parts of a plan for 43 hydroelectric plants in the basin.

In particular “mega projects like the São Luiz do Tapajós plant, which would directly affect the Sawré Muybu indigenous land,” were turned away, Molina said.

The project would have caused “monumental damage” to the Munduruku reserve, including destroying some of its sacred sites, she said.

Efforts to build the plant were suspended after the federal indigenous affairs agency called the project “impractical” due to its large-scale impact on Munduruku territory.

Munduruku people had protested the project for years, traveling to the capital Brasilia for government meetings and drawing national and international attention to the impact the project would have on their land.

But efforts to build hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós river basin continue.

In late May, the Brazilian government extended until the end of 2021 a deadline for studies on building three other hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós basin.

As well as hydroelectric plants, government and private investors are also planning other projects in the region, including a port on the Middle Tapajós River, agribusiness expansion and a railroad line to export soy from Mato Grosso state.

The government “has a series of projects (and) logistical and transport plans which are articulated, and are linked to large miners’ interest,” Molina said.

Alessandra Munduruku said her people should have the right to a say about proposed changes to the land that has been theirs for generations.

“What is a democracy like if you don’t have the right to express your opinion about the territory, the river, the forest?” she asked.

Brazil court decision sparks fears indigenous land could be handed to farmers

Ywyto’awa (woman in red shirt) stands near the Bom Jardim River, which passes the village of Paranopiona, in the Apyterewa indidgenous reserve, Brazil, 2014. HANDOUT/Carlos Fausto

SAO PAULO, – When Kaworé Parakana sees the smoke rising on the horizon, the indigenous leader knows that another part of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is gone.

For more than three decades, the Parakana people have been fighting to protect their land in the Apyterewa reservation, in the northern state of Pará, from illegal miners, loggers and farmers who clear large swathes of trees.

“With each day that passes there is a huge amount of deforestation. They create large fields. There has been a lot of smoke here lately at the bottom of the area,” Kaworé told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

He said the Parakana fear there will be many more burning trees after a Supreme Court decision that could allow the municipality that oversees the reservation to legalize the presence of farmers already encroaching on the land.

In May, Justice Gilmar Mendes opened the door to negotiations between Brazil’s government and the municipality of Sao Félix do Xingu, which wants to reduce the size of the indigenous territory on behalf of a local farmers’ association.

Land rights activists say the proposal, which would make indigenous protected areas available for development, is unconstitutional.

The negotiations – referred to by the court as a conciliation – could set a precedent for the reduction of other indigenous territories across the country, they warn.

“Rights to (indigenous) territories, as provided in the constitution itself, are non-disposable rights – they are not subject to any type of negotiation,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, a lawyer at APIB, Brazil’s main indigenous federation.

Eloy explained there are several other Supreme Court hearings set for the coming months to address similar land conflicts between indigenous communities and illegal miners, loggers and farmers.

Those hearings may be influenced by the result of the negotiations over Apyterewa, he added.

Eloy and other indigenous rights advocates say the Parakana were not initially asked to participate in the negotiations about their own land.

In June, the Attorney General’s office published a document criticizing the lack of indigenous representatives in the process.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation made several requests for comment to Mendes, the Attorney General’s office, the lawyer representing Sao Félix do Xingu and the farmers’ associations, but received no replies.

For the Parakana people, negotiations are not an option, Kaworé said – the only acceptable outcome for the community is the eviction of the invaders from their land.

“We don’t want to give them even a millimeter,” he said.

SOARING DEFORESTATION

Covering 730,000 hectares (1.8 million acres), Apyterewa had the second-highest level of deforestation amongst indigenous territories in 2019, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks deforestation in Brazil.

More than 85 sq km (32 square miles) of forest were cleared last year alone, the institute’s data shows.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an 11-year high last year and has soared a further 25% in the first half of 2020, according to INPE.

The tree loss is driven mainly by forest being cleared for cattle ranching, soy cultivation, and illegal gold mining and logging.

Forests are vital for curbing climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide.

The Amazon forest also plays a crucial role in producing moisture that falls as rainfall in the southern agricultural heartlands of Brazil and Argentina – areas hit by heavy drought in recent years as the forest disappears.

Under Brazil’s current constitution, enacted in 1988, indigenous lands belong to the state, which grants indigenous peoples the permanent right to live and work on them.

Indigenous reservations, which the federal indigenous affairs agency Funai says make up more than 12% of Brazil’s territory, have long been targeted by outsiders looking to tap their natural resources.

Human rights groups say invaders have been stepping up their activities in recent years, emboldened by Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his plans to introduce mining and farming in protected and indigenous lands in the Amazon region.

“The government wants to exchange indigenous people for cattle. That is the government’s main interest – to transform the forest into farmland and put cattle on indigenous land,” Kaworé said.

‘CLEARLY A THREAT’

Carlos Fausto, an anthropologist and lecturer at the National Museum, a leading research institution in Brazil, said the Supreme Court’s decision could have long-lasting implications for indigenous land rights and for the Amazon.

“It means all indigenous land will be a target from now on,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In destroying large swathes of forest cover, the illegal miners and loggers are also impacting water sources vital to the animals that the Parakana hunt for food, he added.

“Worst of all, we are talking about an area where springs that serve as subsistence to the Parakana people are located,” said Fausto, who carried out his doctoral research among the indigenous community.

“One of the greatest threats caused in the process of forest clearing is to the area where game breeds,” he noted, adding that the community relies on the springs for fishing and hunting.

As the Parakana wait to hear the government’s position on the reduction of their territory, Aluísio Azanha, the lawyer representing the community, noted that Brazil’s constitution “imposes a duty on the Union to demarcate and protect (indigenous lands).”

Kaworé said the negotiations are “clearly a threat”.

“It’s nothing more than that: the government is threatening our territory,” he said.

“If this happens to the Parakana people, the people will die together with the land, because how will we practice our culture? It could suddenly die. We don’t want that.”

How to help the pandemic-stricken Amazon? ‘Amazonize yourself,’ says new campaign

A file photo shows smoke billowing from a fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest near Porto Velho, Brazil. (CNS/Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

Catholic groups and bishops in the Amazon have teamed with actors, academics and indigenous communities to call for attention, as well as action, to the growing threats to life in the region, as they say illegal mining and land grabbing have only intensified with the coronavirus pandemic.

A new campaign, called “Amazoniza-te,” or “Amazonize yourself,” seeks to raise awareness of the many ways that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, endangers communities and forests in the globally critical biome. It brings together a coalition of Catholic groups, indigenous peoples, scientists, researchers, actors and artists in defense of the Amazon. 

The goal of the campaign, Fr. Dário Bossi of Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) Brazil told EarthBeat, is to sensitize the public, both in the Amazon and internationally, to the present reality in the Amazon — a place threatened both by the surging pandemic and continued rises in industrial activity and government deregulation.

“We are facing a situation where deforestation and land grabbing, fires, legal and illegal mining are being intensified, becoming agents of proliferation of coronavirus in the Amazon region communities,” organizers said in a press release.

Archbishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, said the campaign is an opportunity for people worldwide to express solidarity with the rainforest and its peoples at a crucial moment.

“In this invitation to ‘Amazonize,’ we want to overcome the systematic violation of environmental protection legislation and the dismantling of public bodies by government action to deregulate and illegally expand the activities of mining companies, agribusiness, loggers and ranchers in the region,” the archbishop of Brazil’s Belo Horizonte Diocese said in a statement.

The campaign is the latest initiative by the Amazon church to act on the special synod on the Amazon, held in October 2019 at the Vatican. The synod, called by Pope Francis, drew worldwide attention to the plights facing the people and natural resources of the Amazon Basin.

The Amazon has become an epicenter of the pandemic in South America.

Across the nine-country region, there have been more than 27,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among their indigenous populations, and 1,108 people have died, according to data from official sources compiled by REPAM. Many believe the actual figures are much higher, as testing has been insufficient and people with symptoms of the virus die at home rather than a hospital.

In a May 4 letter, more than 60 Brazilian bishops, including Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, expressed their “immense concern” with the spread of the virus and the responses from the federal and state governments. The prelates said limited access to hospitals and the lack of intensive care unit beds has made COVID-19 more deadly to indigenous peoples — already more vulnerable from lower immunity to infections, especially within intentionally isolated tribes. Reports have also linked government health workers with inadvertently spreading the virus among indigenous populations in Brazil, as has transportation along the Amazon River itself.

The pandemic’s spread in the Amazon puts at risk the rainforest as well, as indigenous people have long served as its primary protectors and conservationists. Organizers with the “Amazonize-te” campaign say that the increased presence in the region of miners, loggers, ranchers and farmers has also contributed to the coronavirus’ spread.

“The coronavirus has exacerbated the existing socio-environmental crisis, meaning we are now starting to see an immense humanitarian tragedy caused by a structural collapse. With the Amazon being more and more deforested each day, successive pandemics even worse than this one may come,” the bishops said in their letter.

Although the bishops did not name specific government officials, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been the target of national and international criticism for his downplaying of the pandemic. In early July, Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19.

In a separate letter, leaked to Brazilian media July 26, almost one third of the country’s 450-plus bishops criticized Bolsonaro and his government’s “inaction and omission” in responding to the pandemic, along with their handling of the rash of crises facing its citizens and lands.

As the coronavirus has spread, Bolsonaro has continued steps to block indigenous people from their traditional lands and has loosened environmental and economic regulations in the Amazon. Critics have accused the Brazilian government of using the pandemic as cover for development encroaching farther onto indigenous lands, including recent efforts to sidestep required consultations with local communities to build electrical lines through the rainforest to power mining operations.

“At a time when governments should be looking to protect the most vulnerable, the Brazilian leadership is using it as an excuse to bulldoze through actions which will have a devastating impact on people and the planet,” Moises Gonzalez with the U.K.-based Christian Aid said in a statement July 16.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/how-help-pandemic-stricken-amazon-amazonize-yourself-says-new-campaign

Brazil’s Indigenous communities are being devastated by COVID-19

A young Yanomami is examined by a member of a medical team with the Brazilian army in the state of Roraima July 1, 2020. (CNS/Reuters/Adriano Machado)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, Catholic organizations have warned that protective measures should be taken to keep the virus away from the country’s Indigenous population — or the consequences would be disastrous.

The surge in the number of cases among Indigenous since the end of May appears to demonstrate that the worst has happened.

With at least 367,180 cases of infection and 12,685 deaths, the Amazonian region is one of the epicenters of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic. The disease is not only impacting large cities such as Manaus and Belém but has also infiltrated many communities in the countryside, including the villages of traditional peoples that live in the rainforest.

The coronavirus has infected at least 6,626 members of Indigenous groups in the region and killed 157 of them. In the whole country, there are at least 9,500 cases involving Indigenous persons, with about 380 deaths, according to the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

The spread of COVID-19 among Indigenous groups reflects a general lack of governmental protection of their rights, said Antônio Cerqueira de Oliveira, executive secretary of the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council (known by its Portuguese acronym CIMI).

“In previous administrations, Indigenous rights were not fully secure … but at least there was some kind of dialogue with those peoples,” Oliveira told NCR. “President Jair Bolsonaro has closed all doors and established an anti-Indigenous policy.”

Since his 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the policy of establishing land reservations for Indigenous groups that are able to prove their historic ties with the territory they are claiming. Although it’s mandated by the constitution, Bolsonaro has claimed that Indigenous peoples already have too much land in Brazil, and promised that he wouldn’t grant any new territory to them.

At the same time, Bolsonaro has declared on various occasions that he would loosen the environmental and legal restrictions for economic activities in the country — especially in the Amazon.

Since he took office in January 2019, there has been an intensification of land invasions and destruction of the rainforest, perpetrated by illegal loggers and miners and by ranchers who want to expand their farming areas. The process often involves violence against Amazonian laborers and Indigenous.

Bolsonaro has also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, even as Brazil has the second-highest number of cases, nearly 1.7 million as of July 8, after the U.S. He tested positive for the disease July 6.

“With the pandemic, the already insufficient number of monitoring agents in the Amazon almost disappeared and invasions quickly increased,” said Oliveira. “The intruders are not only destroying the forest and threatening the Indigenous peoples, but they’re also taking the virus with them.”

Porto Velho Archbishop Roque Paloschi, CIMI’s president, said that wildfires set by invaders also have the potential to increase the dissemination of respiratory diseases. “The removal of such intruders from the Indigenous lands is urgent,” he told NCR.

But the governmental agency for Indigenous affairs, the National Indian Foundation, seems to be going in the wrong direction. According to Oliveira, the foundation has removed its agents from Indigenous lands that are awaiting official recognition from the government, leaving many peoples unassisted.

The protection for isolated Indigenous groups — which live in the rainforest and avoid any contact with non-Indigenous people — has also been severely weakened, said Oliveira. “The doors are wide open for invaders,” he said.

Catholic missionaries — at least the ones connected to CIMI — stopped visiting the rural villages at the beginning of the outbreak. They advised Indigenous groups to avoid contact with people from the outside and to remain in their reservations as much as possible.

But eventually, some of the members of the communities go into the city in order to receive their salaries or governmental assistance and to buy groceries. That’s when spread of the virus might occur.

“People have not been properly oriented to use hand sanitizers after leaving a store, for instance, or to always wear face masks, at least when they leave their villages,” said Fr. Aquilino Tsiruia, a member of the Xavante people in Mato Grosso State.

“The healthcare authorities should have told the Indigenous peoples about it, but they failed to do it,” said Tsiruia.

At least 32 Xavante people died from COVID-19, most of them in June. “The local healthcare system is very precarious, with only a handful of ICU beds available,” said Tsiruia. “Our people has a considerable population of elders, many of whom with diabetes. Everybody is very frightened.”

Reports of a lack of physicians and equipped hospitals abound among the Amazonian Indigenous peoples. According to Oliveira, the healthcare situation has deteriorated since Bolsonaro canceled an agreement with Cuba that allowed hundreds of Cuban doctors to work in remote areas in Brazil.

The program had been created during the administration of left-wing former President Dilma Rousseff and was ideologically targeted by the far-right Bolsonaro.

“In many Indigenous reservations, the Cuban doctors were the only professionals available. Now, there’s a total absence of healthcare specialists,” said Oliveira.

This is one of the reasons why many Indigenous people report that they have been treating COVID-19 cases with traditional healing herbs and teas.

“If we only count on regular medicines, there won’t be enough for everybody,” said Fr. Justino Rezende, a member of the Tuyuka people who lives in the city of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, in Amazonas state.

Rezende came down with COVID-19 in June. “The number of cases here is going up,” he said. “Many elderly people are dying.”

Given that most villages are near small cities, the most serious cases are often taken to the state capitals, where the hospitals are a little better. Deaths occurring so far away from patients’ families lead to other complications.

“The disease is disrupting millennium-long life systems, given that it impedes the practice of very important rituals — especially the funereal ones,” explained Sr. Laura Vicuña Manso, a CIMI missionary. “The Indigenous groups feel deeply like they are doing something wrong when they can’t perform their traditional rites.”

Manso described the despair of a few leaders of the Karitiana people from Rondonia State when the first COVID-19 victim of their village died.

“The healthcare authorities wanted to bury the body in the city,” she said. “In the end, after much discussion, we were able to take the body to the village, but they couldn’t perform the whole traditional ritual.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/brazils-indigenous-communities-are-being-devastated-covid-19