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APIB: Brazil’s Guardians of the Forest

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Date: Nov 09, 2020

Author: Jaret Waters

This article was first published in the Fall 2020 issue of The Advocate.


Although the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and the communities that inhabit these lands continues to run rampant in Brazil, indigenous peoples are not shying away from the fight and are calling on the world to do the same. “We are experiencing an emergency to defend indigenous lives and our territories,” declared Sônia Guajajara, executive director of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB). “We need the world to know this, and to do its part. Indigenous land: not an inch less. Indigenous blood: not a single drop more.” On October 15, Guajajara accepted the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) on behalf of APIB in recognition of their mobilization of indigenous communities across the country against threats to their environmental and cultural rights. LAWG co-director Lisa Haugaard served as one of the jurors for the award, which alerts the world of the critical moment indigenous communities are facing. 

The longstanding threats to indigenous communities in the Amazon, including the destruction of biomes, land grabbing, and illegal mining, have been greatly exacerbated during the Bolsonaro administration, a “genocidal government, which values the profits of international corporations at the expense of life–often our own lives,” according to Guajajara. The government has launched targeted attacks against the defenders of these lands, with Bolsonaro recently weaponizing a UN tribunal to accuse indigenous peoples of environmental crimes. In addition to these smear campaigns and abuses of power, indigenous communities have been particularly affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Bolsonaro’s government neglects their needs and limits their access to healthcare. Through their own monitoring, the APIB has found that nearly 1000 indigenous people have been killed and over 30,000 infected by the virus. As Guajajara notes, however, “we are not talking just about numbers, but about important leaders who have left us too early, about elders who died, taking ancient stories and wisdom with them.”

APIB has taken several measures to respond to these threats and attacks, advocating for their environmental and cultural rights and engaging the international community in this effort. Last year alone, they organized a leadership delegation to Europe to denounce Bolsonaro’s crimes against indigenous peoples, a women’s march in Brazil consisting of 3,000 indigenous leaders, and a protest against the dismantling of indigenous health policies administered by the Ministry of Health. Moreover, this year they have formed the National Committee for Indigenous Life and Memory, with the goal of tracking the true impact of the pandemic on indigenous communities to combat the government’s underreporting of these statistics. 

In addition to recognizing APIB’s progress in protecting their communities, the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award serves as a reminder of the importance of international support for indigenous mobilization efforts. Beyond the dire need for international actors to pressure the Bolsonaro administration, the world must work together to combat the multinational corporations that are leading these attacks on indigenous land. As Guajajara explains, “The Amazon Rainforest does not burn by itself. Behind every fire that is lit is corporate greed, like agribusiness. And behind them are the largest banks and corporations in the world. They are the ones who profit from this destruction. They profit from every centimeter of land invaded, from every tree cut and burned. In the flames, they see money.” The Amazon should be a source of life, not wealth. We cannot permit another inch of indigenous land to be stolen, nor another drop of indigenous blood to be spilled.