1 – They defend a hostile past
Ivan Duque was supported by the senator and ex-president Álvaro Uribe, who various analysts believe has not yet been emancipated from the presidency. Jair Bolsonaro defends the last military dictatorship.
During the presidency of Uribe (2002-2010) hundreds of indigenous social leaders were assassinated, 32 villages of less than 500 people were almost wiped out and 74,000 indigenous people were displaced.
The Brazilian dictatorship that governed between 1964 and 1985 encouraged the colonisation of ancestral territories, squandered natural resources, put indigenous people into armed concentration camps and killed at least 8,000 indigenous people.
2- They avoid discussions with indigenous people and accuse them of being terrorists
In Trump Style, Uribe often communicates through twitter where he writes things such as “the Minga rely on terrorism” or he reiterates articles with titles such as “the indigenous try to govern us”. The senior advisor for the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), Luis Fernando Arias, replied “We hold senator Uribe responsible if anything happens to any leader of the Minga”
At the beginning of the year Bolsonaro, in a similar manner to Uribe, tweeted that “the indigenous were descendants of slaves” and in the past he declared “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry was not as effective as the Americans, who wiped out their Indians”.
This game isn’t only played out on social media: like in Brazil, in Colombia fake news tries to stigmatize indigenous protesters with altered or old photos that accuse indigenous groups of handling weapons.
A context that demonises indigenous people allows governments to avoid a direct dialogue with them. Bolsonaro avoids listening to the indigenous protests in Brasilia and instead represses them.
Duque, after a month of national protests and national strikes, travelled to Cauca, in the south of the country, to meet with the Minga and a massive national collection of indigenous organisations headed by the ONIC.
But at the last minute he got back on his plane and returned to Bogata arguing that if he stayed, he risked being attacked. In a statement the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) responded: “here there are no terrorists, there are no criminals, there are people who hoped to have a conversation about issues that worry us such as the issues about land and territorial risks and life”
3- The difference between what they claim to defend and what they actually defend
A few weeks ago, Uribe called the director of the National Land Agency, Myriam Martínez, live in the middle of a rally in Manizales and told him “the indigenous people took a lot of land from small landowners (…) and this is why we ask the Indians to stop evicting?. “All right, president”, answered Martínez before asking him “could we talk for 2 minutes without the microphone?”. Martinez welcomed the small landowners days later.
Both Martinez and Andrés Augusto Castro Forero, director of the Land Restitution Unit (created within the framework of the Peace Agreements between the State and the FARC), previously formed part of the National Federation of Oil Palm Growers.
Palm oil not only has carcinogenic affects, but its production is, according to a Greenpeace study in countries like Indonesia, Sumatra and Malaysia, is one of the leading causes of the deforestation of the planet.
Indigenous safeguard (resguardos) have been established in the constitution and ratified a number of times in the Colombian Justice system. They recognise the certain territories as the collective property of indigenous communities.
Conflicts with other property claims sometimes arise for example with farmers who have been conned by false titles or with those who acquired land in the midst of a legal battle or with those who got land during an armed conflict. Or with those who simply they never signed the documents that proved their ownership – in Colombia seven out of every ten families don’t have the documents that prove they are the owners of their property.
Uribe and the National Land Agency take the side of who they call the “victims of indigenous people”, who fall into the category of “small landowners and peasants”.
Bolsonaro also claims to defend small landowners, he promises to give them weapons and that “not one centimetre more of land” would go to indigenous communities. He wants to “review” and reduce the territories that are already demarcated and to lease agroindustry land to indigenous people for profit even though that is prohibited by the constitution.
Ultimately, this is an economic argument that looks to expand agriculture production as indigenous reserves are thought of as economically unproductive. Bolsonaro for example wants to “produce” niobium, gold, tin, copper and diamonds in the Yanomami and Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous territories, in the North of the country.
These lands make up more than 11 million hectares (70 times the city of Sao Paulo), and approximately 34,000 people of 7 different ethnicities live there.
In Colombia the safeguards have often been usurped by armed groups or coca growers who occupy more than 200 thousand hectares throughout the country. In the protected lands it is also illegal use pesticide fumigants, but Duque is feeling pressured by Donald Trump he asks him to allow glyphosate to fight against the production of cocaine.
If the land restitution is controlled by the palm oil lobby there is huge conflict of interests which is parallel to that in Brazil. The Brazilian minister of agriculture, Tereza Cristina Corrêa, received donations from a landowner accused pf murdering an indigenous leader in 2003 and at least 12 other businessmen linked to agrotoxics. Bolsonaro also want Nabhan García, the president of Democratic Association of Ruralists (UDR), the association of big Brazilian landowners, to propose the “agriculture reform”.
4 – They put uncontacted peoples at risk
Not only have 63 indigenous people been killed since Duque has been president, not only are 14 of Brazil indigenous territories being attacked whilst 24 indigenous people have been killed in land disputes, according to the Episcopacy of the Catholic Church. But under the governments of Duque and Bolsonaro villages like Nukak and Kahawivas are in danger along all other isolated and uncontactable villages.
The Brazilian Amazon is home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous people on the planet. According to the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) it is thought that there are at least 100 isolated indigenous groups in Brazil. The Kawahiva people live in one of the most violent areas of Brazil, where illegal deforestation rates are the highest nationwide.
On the first day that Bolsonaro took office he signed a decree, that according to the New York Times, “assigns the responsibility of certifying the protection of indigenous territories to the Ministry of Agriculture, which has traditionally defended the interests of industries that want more access to those lands.” A few weeks ago, the supreme court suspended this decision.
The Nukaks are one of the most threatened tribes on the planet. According to the ONIC they are at “imminent risk of extinction”.
The director of Survival says that “since contact was made with them in the late 1980s, the Nukaks have seen half of their people die. They have been devastated by diseases transmitted by evangelical missionaries and other invaders of their land and have been killed because of violent conflict in Colombia.”
Survival anthropologist and researcher Fiore Longo said that “the uncontacted indigenous peoples are tribal peoples who do not need to maintain peaceful contact with the outside world. It was not their decision”
We know very little about them, but we do know that they have a vast botanical and zoological knowledge, and a unique understanding of what a sustainable life is. For Longo “there is irrefutable evidence that indigenous territories are the best barrier against deforestation, especially in the Amazon rainforest.”
The uncontacted indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable on the planet and face a disaster if their lands are not protected.
5 – They put the Amazon and the environment at risk
The lungs of the planet, the Amazon rainforest, is at risk so long as Duque, Uribe and Bolsonaro are in power. Survival researcher, Fiona Watson, highlighted that some of Bolsonaro’s ongoing projects include “building a dam on the Trobetas river, a bridge over the Amazon river and extending a 500 kilometre that will cross through the rainforest from the Amazon river to the border with Suriname”. In a video published on the 17th of April Bolsonaro said that he wants the Amazon “to be exploited in a reasonable way”
In Colombia in 2018, the supreme court urged the executive branch of government to “formulate a short, medium- and long-term plan of action to counteract deforestation in the Amazon”, a legal measure which is ahead of the curve compared to other places in the world. It gives the eco system in the 48 million hectares of Colombian Amazon rights. The Infoamazonía site, coordinated by the Amazon Conservative Team, Dejusticia and El Espectador, claim that Duque will not follow the ruling.
Higinio Obispo González, an advisor for ONIC in Chocó (a western area of Colombia) and part of the Emberá tribe thinks that the Colombian government has made a political decision to not do enough, “they do not want to guarantee the lives of our people”.
He said this after the murder of Aquileo Macheche, a member of his community, on the 12th April. The Emberá are in the middle of a conflict between ELN guerrillas and Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia).
According to the United Nations, the peace process in Colombia is at critical juncture. Given this situation, one of Survivals proposals to protect indigenous people is to do so by pressuring the governments of Duque and Bolsonaro. Stephen Corry, the director of the organisation, says they have been fighting for 50 years “so the rights of indigenous peoples are fully respected and to defend their lives and lands, for the protection of the most biodiverse territories and for the health our planet.”
*This story was sponsorized by Survival International and was also published in El Espectador and Open Democracy.
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