Human rights activists in Brazil have warned that the country’s authorities are targeting indigenous leaders after police launched investigations into two prominent critics of Jair Bolsonaro’s government.
Sônia Guajajara, director of the largest indigenous organization in Brazil, the Association of Indigenous Peoples (Apib), and Almir Suruí had been investigated last month by social media campaigns to raise awareness about the threat posed by Covid-19 to the indigenous population of Brazil.
Both cases were closed this week after federal judges ruled that there was no basis for the investigations and described the situation as an “illegal disgrace.”
But Natalie Unterstell, founder of the think tank Politics for Inteiro, said the episode exposed how the government is fomenting violence against indigenous populations.
“The speeches of the president and his ministers constantly attack indigenous peoples,” said Unterstell. “This creates an environment of violence. We need antidotes to that. “
Guajajara described the investigation initiated against him as “an attempt to intimidate and to avoid revealing the [government’s] in action [in response the pandemic.]”
But both leaders were accused of spreading “fake news” by Funai, the government agency that is officially responsible for protecting indigenous interests. In a statement, Funai said it would not comment on the investigation.
“It is scary to receive a subpoena from the police for a complaint filed by Funai herself. This is unprecedented. She is Bolsonaro’s new Funai, who has completely reversed her role in protecting indigenous peoples, ”added Guajajara.
Apib filed complaints this week with the Supreme Court and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for what it described as the Bolsonaro government’s “persecution” of indigenous peoples.
Unterstell, who tracks climate politics in Brazil, said other indigenous peoples and environmental activists have been investigated for criticizing the government.
“These are not isolated cases: others have been summoned by the police in similar circumstances,” said Unterstell, founder of the thinktank Politics por Inteiro. “It is important to note that the levels of civic freedom are decreasing in Brazil.”
According to indigenous leaders, Funai has also reached out to people working in its regional units and requested information on donations from Apib and other organizations during the pandemic.
The cases against Guajajara and Suruí were opened just days after Bolsonaro promised the international community that he would make efforts to address tribal rights.
Under mounting international pressure to curb deforestation in the Amazon and open a dialogue with indigenous communities, the president adopted a conciliatory tone at the climate summit convened by Joe Biden in late April.
But shortly after, the president approved a 24% cut to the budget of the Ministry of the Environment and stressed, during a live broadcast, plans to open indigenous territories to mining. Marcelo Xavier, the head of Funai, who participated in the broadcast, supported the president’s opinion.
The investigation on Guajajara focuses on a multimedia web series produced by indigenous groups, and with indigenous leaders and international celebrities, including actor Alec Baldwin and singer Caetano Veloso. It was part of an international fundraising campaign to help combat Covid-19, which has disproportionately affected the indigenous peoples of Brazil.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism