There are 183 indigenous candidates in the general elections on October 2 in Brazil, 36% more than in 2018. This is the answer to the “existential threat” represented by the Bolsonaro government. Sunday’s election is of extraordinary importance for indigenous peoples because the future of communities and the Amazon rainforest are at stake.
Bolsonaro’s re-election is seen as a “catastrophe” and, for the first time, Brazilian indigenous associations have mobilized to build a common path that goes beyond the logic of the past in which each people presented their candidates.
The need to increase their presence in the Congress and in the Assemblies of the 26 states, to occupy new spaces of decision and representation, has prompted the associations to launch the “Indigenous Campaign,” coordinated by Apib (Articulation of the indigenous peoples of Brazil), which brought together 31 peoples. According to the 2010 census, the last carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, there are 900,000 indigenous people living in Brazil, belonging to 305 peoples who speak 274 different languages.
The vastness of the territory does not easily facilitate a direct relationship between the communities to define common strategies. Having managed to bring together 31 peoples to define an electoral strategy is considered an extraordinary success.
The confluence that has developed between the regional associations has led to the choice of 30 candidates (12 for the Congress and 18 for the State Assemblies) out of the 183 that have presented themselves and that the indigenous movement is committed to supporting.
Sixteen out of 30 candidates are women, an expression of the battles they have fought in the front row in recent years. And it is a woman, Joenia Wapichana, elected with the Rede in 2018 in the State of Roraima, the only indigenous presence in the current Congress dominated by the “bancada ruralista.” Before Joenia, only one other indigenous person had arrived at the Congress, Mario Juruna, elected with the Partido Democrático Trabalhista (Pdt) in 1982 in the State of Rio.
In Brazil there is no party whose main objective is the defense of indigenous rights, and getting to Parliament is very difficult. The indigenous vote is not enough to elect a federal deputy. The candidates join the parties, seeking consensus outside the communities on the issues of environmental defense and human rights.
“We must join forces to survive and have representation in the institutions to continue our ancestral resistance,” says Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of APIB, affiliated with PSOL and candidate for Congress. The 30 indigenous candidates are affiliated with major progressive parties.
In the Rede there are 11, in the Psol and in the Pt there are six, while the Pc do Brasil and the Pdt have two each. The increase in indigenous candidacies also occurred in the municipal elections of 2020 when there were 2210 to present themselves, with the election of 10 mayors (prefeitos) and 44 municipal councilors (vereadores).
The indigenous movement focuses on Lula’s victory to open a new cycle in which the indigenous cause and the defense of the environment can find a place. Support for Lula from indigenous associations is strong. Invited to the indigenous demonstration “Acampamento Terra Livre” in Brasilia, the former president was acclaimed for a long time while Joenia Wapichana and Sonia Guajajara sat next to him.
In the past, there has been strong criticism from indigenous associations on his government’s environmental policy. In particular, it was the construction of the hydroelectric power plant of Belo Monte, in Parà, commissioned by Lula and completed during Dilma’s presidency, that caused the most serious fracture.
Strong opposition from indigenous peoples, pressures from environmental associations and religious communities were not sufficient to prevent the construction of the work that has had and continues to have a serious impact on the numerous indigenous communities of the Rio Xingu basin.
“Let’s support Lula, but let’s not forget Belo Monte” declares Sonia Guajajara. In recent weeks, especially after the assassination in Amazonas of the indigenist Bruno Pereira and of the English journalist Dom Phillps, he has repeatedly expressed his desire to resume the process of demarcation of indigenous lands interrupted by Bolsonaro and bring the environmental question back to the center of the his program. However, it seems difficult to keep the defense of the environment and the interests of agribusiness together.
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