Analysis. Bolsonaro’s goal with Bill 191/20 is to overthrow the constitutional protections for indigenous populations and force them to accept a single economic and social model, questioning their “right to be different,” within a logic of cultural assimilation.

Bolsonaro’s assault on Amazon territories and indigenous communities

The assault on the Amazon has officially begun. The weapon of choice is Bill 191/20, just signed by Bolsonaro, whose stated aim is to promote the “development” of the Brazilian Amazon. The project, which the former army captain has praised as “a dream,” authorizes the construction of hydroelectric power plants, mining and oil and gas extraction in the indigenous territories. It also introduces the possibility of developing agricultural activity on a large scale, using transgenic seeds.

The Minister of Mining and Energy delivered the bill personally to the Speaker of the House, Rodrigo Maia, and it will now be examined by the relevant committees and then subjected to a vote in Parliament. According to the government, this bill is the most fitting celebration of the first 400 days of Bolsonaro’s presidency.

After the frenzied campaign against the indigenous peoples—accused of hindering the economic development of Brazil—after the dismantling of control bodies, the suspension of demarcation activities and the increase in deforestation, now comes this legislative project that will have a devastating impact on indigenous territories and communities.

The 1988 Constitution had identified 1,296 areas to be marked off and assigned permanently for the exclusive use of the 305 indigenous peoples in the country. After more than 30 years, only 436 of these areas have been demarcated. The strong resistance of agrarian and industrial groups and the failures of a number of different governments are the root causes of this delay, which has led to conflicts, invasions of territories and violence against communities.

Bolsonaro has defended his project over the past few days, not shying away from attacking the environmental groups that are criticizing his initiatives with his usual vulgar and contemptuous words. He called Greenpeace Brazil “crap and garbage” before a crowd of his cackling supporters, then tried to explain that “even an Indian is a human being, he has the same needs as us, and, after all, he is Brazilian as well,” and went so far as to say that “the project aims to increase the autonomy and freedom of choice of the indigenous.”

However, the reality is quite the opposite, because, as the bill expressly states, the indigenous communities will not have the right to veto any projects authorized by Congress on their territories. Bolsonaro’s goal is to overthrow the constitutional protections for indigenous populations and—just like during the dictatorship—force them to accept a single economic and social model, questioning their “right to be different,” within a logic of cultural assimilation. The recent appointment of the Evangelical pastor Ricardo Lopes Dias at the head of FUNAI (National Indian Foundation), which has the task of caring for the 120 indigenous communities that are living in voluntary isolation, is another step in this direction.

Joenia Wapichiana, the first indigenous woman elected to Congress, said: “Mining activities and the planting of monocultures endanger the survival of the indigenous peoples. This project is unacceptable, because the Brazilian governments have shown no ability to enforce environmental laws and prevent the violation of human rights.” In an appeal to the international community, 600 indigenous leaders who gathered in Mato Grosso at the end of January said that “this terrible act of aggression will be rejected with all our strength,” calling the project an act of “ethnocide” and “ecocide.”

A joint statement signed by a large number of NGOs (APIB, COIAB, CIMI, Greenpeace, etc.) against the proposed bill says: “This bill is authoritarian, neocolonial, violent, racist, and genocidal, especially with regard to voluntarily isolated and recently contacted indigenous peoples. The bill resumes an ethnocidal and genocidal perspective against indigenous peoples, contrary to what the Federal Constitution advocates in Articles 231 and 232.”

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