Below is my translation of an article from the Brazilian Instituto Socioambiental about the genocidal policy of President Jair Bolsonaro. It’s important the world should know.
5 February 2020
“The appointment of a missionary to co-ordinate the territory of the isolated indigenous peoples overseen by the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (‘Funai’ in the Portuguese acronym) is a significant step in Bolsonaro’s genocidal policy,” according to the Instituto Socioambiental.
The appointment this Wednesday, 5 February, of Ricardo Lopes Dias, a pastor who has previously been associated with the North American sect Ethnos360 (previously known as The New Tribes Mission), to exercise the Funai Coordination of Isolated Indians and of Indians of Recent Contact (“CGIIRC” in the Portuguese acronym) puts indigenous peoples who prefer to remain isolated in danger of being the victims of genocide. There are 115 records of such groups in Brazil, 28 of which have been confirmed. The appointment of a missionary to run the CGIIRC indicates the return to a policy of forced contact which, when it was government policy in the 1970s, led to the death of thousands of Indians through diseases brought, and violence perpetrated, by the government agents themselves. All of this could happen again with the return of religious proselytising.
The indigenous peoples who prefer to live in isolation are survivors of massacres that happened throughout the 20th century, the largest of them during the 1970s when Brazil was a military dictatorship and implemented a policy of “coaxing out” indigenous peoples, supposedly to make contact with and “pacify” their communities, but in reality to occupy their lands. In addition to outright violence – there were innumerable reports of massacres, including aerial bombardment of villages –, those communities fell victim to epidemics brought by non-indigenous people as part of official expeditions to enforce contact. Some indigenous populations lost 90% of their people as a result of diseases against which they had no antibodies.
This was the case, for instance, of the Nambikwara people, whose territory covered parts of the states of Mato Grosso and Rondônia. Nine thousand of them died as the result of epidemics of measles, flu, whooping cough and gonorrhoea. Similarly, in the case of the Panará people, in the north of Mato Grosso: between 1973 and 1976, 75% of the population died as a result of flu and malaria. Of 400 people, only 79 remained. Such cases are endless. In 1982, missionaries of the New Tribes of Brazil Mission, the sect to which the new Funai coordinator belongs, implemented a policy of forced contact with the remaining members of the Zo’é people, in the north of Pará. This contact resulted in an epidemic and many deaths. In the end, the missionaries were driven out of the territory.
Putting an end to the genocide of whole communities was the principal reason for the implementation of Funai’s no-contact policy in 1987. That policy, which had the backing of regional experts, anthropologists and other formulators of public policy, led to the establishment of the CGIIRC. The main motive was to guarantee protection of the territories where those peoples live by keeping out interlopers and harmful business enterprises. Up until now that has been CGIIRC responsibility, as set out in Funai Directive 281/2000.
With the appointment of this missionary to run the CGIIRC, there is again a threat of forced contact and, with it, the imminence of yet more tragedies.
The Brazilian government is obliged, under the Constitution, to guarantee the physical and cultural survival of these peoples in the lands they occupy. That means protected territories where they can organise themselves in accordance with their customs, languages, beliefs and traditions.
Forced acculturation of indigenous peoples is an affront to the Constitution, but is a regular practice of evangelical fundamentalism, including of the sect to which the new coordinator belongs, catechesis being its principle mission. Article 129(v) of the Constitution makes clear that judicial defence of the rights and interests of the indigenous peoples is an institutional responsibility of the Office of Public Prosecutions. It is high time that the Public Prosecutor, Augusto Aras, did something. Up until now, not a word has been heard from him about this deplorable situation. This omission has brought into disrepute the reputation of an institution that is meant to defend society – and minorities in particular – against any arbitrary measures by the government.
Non-contact should be seen as a manifestation of the desire of these peoples for self-determination, a right that is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The choice of isolation is protected by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, to which Brazil is a signatory, and which guarantees minimum rights to indigenous peoples in respect of preserving their cultures and identities in the context of the societies of which they form part.
The anti-indigenous policy of Jair Bolsonaro infringes the Constitution and disgusts the whole world. Scrapping the no-contact policy means ending a strategy that has helped to save lives during the last 30 years. Brazil has already seen the result of forced contact – contact with death. We sincerely hope the tragedy is not about to be repeated.