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‘There Will Be an Increase in Deforestation’: Brazil’s New President Signs Order Endangering Amazon and Indigenous Rights

Alan Morici / Picture Alliance / Getty Images

In his first day in office, right wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro realized the fears of environmentalists and Indigenous communities. They knew he would use his time in office to increase the access of extractive industries in the Amazon Rainforest. Within hours of taking power Tuesday, Bolsonaro transferred responsibility for recognizing Indigenous lands to the ministry of agriculture, The New York Times reported.

The agriculture ministry has ties to the agribusiness lobby and other industries that would like to gain access to Indigenous lands, The Guardian and The New York Times reported.


"There will be an increase in deforestation and violence against indigenous people," executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous People of Brazil (Apib) Dinaman Tuxá warned, according to The Guardian. "Indigenous people are defenders and protectors of the environment."

Deforestation is already on the rise in Brazil, which saw its highest rate of tree clearing in a decade this past year. At the same time, during the last eight years the Brazilian government has reduced funding for Indigenous groups and prioritized the desires of industries that want greater access to the rainforest, The New York Times reported. The government has also slowed the pace at which it recognizes Indigenous lands in recent years.

Bolsonaro's new order ups the ante by making the agriculture ministry responsible for the "identification, delimitation, demarcation and registration of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous people," Reuters reported. It also gives that ministry control over the management of public forests and the Brazilian Forestry Service, which is in charge of sustainable forest use. The order will expire in 120 days if it is not ratified by Congress.

Bolsonaro defended his order on Twitter Wednesday.

"Less than a million people live in these isolated places in Brazil, where they are exploited and manipulated by NGOs," Bolsonaro wrote, according to a translation provided by Reuters. "Let us together integrate these citizens and value all Brazilians."

However, anthropologist Leila Sílvia Burger Sotto-Maior, who used to work for the country's National Indian Foundation, which formerly oversaw the certification of protected lands, told The New York Times that the order was "a clear affront to the Constitution."

Brazil's 1988 Constitution was ratified after 21 years of military dictatorship, and attempted to enshrine protections for Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups after decades of oppression and exploitation. During the dictatorship, the government had seen Indigenous communities as a threat to economic opportunity and had tried to force them into the rest of Brazilian society, rather than recognizing their rights to live in their ancestral lands. The Constitution, in contrast, affirmed those rights.

"There's fear, there's pain," Burger told The New York Times of the recent order. "This feels like defeat, failure."

Bolsonaro also signed an order giving his government more power over NGOs, Reuters reported.

The order gives the office of the Government Secretary, Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, temporary power to "supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the national territory," Reuters reported.

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