The U.N. rights chief on Monday condemned the “reprehensible” murder of a tribal chief in the Amazon, linking the killing to the pro-mining policies of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The body of the head of the Waiapi tribe, which controls territory in the northern state of Amapa deep inside the Amazon, was found in a river last week.
Rich in gold, manganese, iron and copper, the Waiapi’s territory has faced growing pressure from miners, ranchers and loggers under far-right Bolsonaro.
The chief’s murder “is tragic and reprehensible in its own right,” the United High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement.
“It is also a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil,” she added.
Bolsonaro on Saturday called for the “first world” to help exploit the “absurd quantity of minerals” in the rainforest.
Bachelet said the “proposed policy to open up more areas of the Amazon to mining could lead to incidents of violence, intimidation and killings of the type inflicted on the Waiapi people last week.”
Brazilian police are also investigating reports that a group of heavily armed miners, known as garimpeiros, overran a village in the same area of Amapa state days after the chief was killed.
Bachelet called on Brazil “to reconsider its policies towards indigenous peoples and their lands, so (the chief’s) murder does not herald a new wave of violence aimed at scaring people off their ancestral lands.”
The Waiapi’s territory is one of hundreds Brazil’s government demarcated in the 1980s for the exclusive use of its 800,000 indigenous inhabitants.
Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon and indigenous tribes in order to benefit his supporters in the logging, mining and farming industries.
In April, thousands of indigenous people converged on Brazil’s capital to defend hard-won land rights many fear could be eroded by the far-right President.
In a recent opinion article for The Globe Post, Claire Worldy, an environmental researcher at the University of Cambridge, noted that the deforestation of the Amazon that’s necessary to promote the logging, mining, and farming industries has serious implications for climate change.
“This sets the scene for potentially one of the biggest catastrophes of our troubled times,” she wrote. “Not only is Bolsonaro a threat to many of his own people; he endangers our global climate.”
Often called “the lungs of the world,” the millions of plants in the Amazon absorb carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis. Thus, any further reduction in plant life there would significantly contribute to the accelerated warming of the planet.
For this reason, Tyler Bellestrom argued this week in a New Republic op-ed that Brazil under Bolsonaro is a greater threat to the security of the United States (and the world as a whole) than China or Iran.
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