Thousands of indigenous women marched on Brazil’s capital Tuesday denouncing the “genocidal policies” of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who faces growing criticism over the destruction of the Amazon.
Bolsonaro wants to open the rainforest to industries by allowing more mining and farming in the region. Often called “the lung of the Earth,” experts and activists have warned such policies will have devastating environmental impacts, particularly in worsening climate change.
The latest official figures show a sharp increase in deforestation in recent months compared with a year earlier. Activists blame the rise on Bolsonaro’s anti-environment rhetoric.
But Bolsonaro has dismissed the data as lies and sacked the head of the government agency tasked with tracking tree clearing.
Carrying bows, arrows and spears, the indigenous women advanced on Congress in Brasilia carrying a large banner that said “Resist to exist” as they demanded greater protection of their land.
“Bolsonaro wants to wipe out our lands, our ethnicities,” Potira Guajajara, a 22-year-old student from the northeastern state of Maranhao, told AFP.
Brazil’s president wants to open Indigenous lands to agriculture and mining.
Indigenous people are fighting back:pic.twitter.com/qvpmEJ5VlM
— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 13, 2019
“There have been many invasions of our lands by hunters and gold miners.”
In July, the U.N. rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, condemned the “reprehensible” murder of a tribal chief in the Amazon, linking the killing to the pro-mining policies of Bolsonaro.
“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.
Brazil’s government has demarcated hundreds of territories since the 1980s for the exclusive use of its 800,000 indigenous inhabitants. Access by outsiders is strictly regulated.
Bolsonaro opposes demarcating more land, claiming indigenous people already live “like a zoo animal.”
Elected last year with support from the powerful agriculture lobby, Bolsonaro has claimed he will combat illegal deforestation.
While the government admits clearing has increased, it insists it is not as great as indicated by the National Institute for Space Research.