The psychopaths selling out the future of the Amazon: fanatical missionaries, unscrupulous politicians, wildcat gold miners transmitting a deadly virus and lobbyists / Erasure of Indigenous Existence in the time of coronavirus / Part 5

The evangelical missionary Ricardo Lopes Dias has been removed as the head of the “General Coordination of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples” by Judge Antonio Souza Prudente who ruled that his appointment was clearly a conflict of interest and a threat to the policy of no forced contact with voluntarily isolated indigenous peoples and the principle of self-determination, foundational concepts of FUNAI. 

The current president of FUNAI, Marcelo Augusto Xavier, made a special ordinance a week before the appointment of Lopes Dias that allowed him to accept the job as head of CGIIRC for which he would not have previously been qualified. That ordinance was annulled as well. 

photo: Gleilson Miranda/FUNAI detail

FUNAI said it would comply with Judge Prudente’s decision but plans to appeal it in higher courts. The president of FUNAI is also a federal police officer from Mato Grosso state, an agribusiness stronghold and top producer of soy and corn, with 30 million cattle, ten times its human population.

The years when Sydney Possuelo, who devoted his life to protecting and advocating for isolated indigenous groups, was head of the CGIIRC came to an end in 2006 after he criticized the FUNAI director at the time and was dismissed from his position. In subsequent years, the FUNAI has been partially dismantled and weakened.

photo: Joao Laet / AFP / Getty Images – Cattle graze with a burnt area in the background after a fire in the Amazon rainforest near Novo Progresso, Para state, Brazil, on August 25, 2019 – Brazil deployed two C-130 Hercules aircraft to douse fires devouring parts of the Amazon rainforest, as hundreds of new blazes were ignited and a growing global outcry over the blazes sparks protests and threatened a huge trade deal.

As the appointment of Lopes Dias was suspended, a bill, PL1142/2020, was passed in Congress to respond to the coronavirus threat to indigenous peoples with urgent measures, but evangelical lawmakers included a section at the last moment allowing religious missionaries access to the territories of isolated indigenous groups. Previously, approaching isolated indigenous groups could only be organized by qualified people in FUNAI.

Fundamentalist evangelical missionaries,  craving more “unreached” souls to convert to the Gospel, have been attempting for decades to contact additional isolated indigenous communities and have found an ally in Bolsonaro who won the election with the support of evangelicals, gold miners, loggers, ranchers and various lobbies.

Bolsonaro made lavish electoral promises to all of them.

Steve Campbell, an American Evangelical missionary, who illegally entered the area occupied by the Hi-Merimã, one of the few dozen indigenous peoples in Brazil that has had no contact with the outside world.

Bolsonaro and Ricardo Salles, the Environmental Minister, have been pressing for legislation to open indigenous territories to commercial exploitation. A video of a meeting in April reveals Salles proposing to use the diversion created by the media’s focus on COVID-19 to change regulations in order to deregulate environmental norms and “get the cattle grazing” in the Amazon. The government is pushing for approval of a law that would permit ranchers and farmers who have been illegally occupying land in protected indigenous territories to claim legal title. This outrageous piece of legislation is termed the “land grabbers bill” by indigenous leaders. 

Brazil’s vice-president, General Hamilton Mourão, insisted implausibly that the law would help curb deforestation and stated that not knowing precisely who owns the land makes prosecution for damage difficult, disregarding the fact that fines for environmental destruction have been suspended by the government since October and known offenders have not been punished. Satellite data shows that forest destruction has increased under Bolsonaro’s deliberate, reckless facilitation of commercial exploitation. 

photo: Bloomberg

FUNAI has not yet presented a coherent plan for helping isolated communities avoid coronavirus contamination. Indigenous deaths from COVID-19 are mainly in areas overrun with gold miners who are vectors of the disease. During the pandemic, illegal gold miners continue to gain ground; deforesting and mining in indigenous territories and endangering the villages of isolated peoples. The coronavirus pandemic has served as an excuse to disenfranchise indigenous peoples of their constitutionally guaranteed rights and put them at risk of genocide.

photo: gold mining pits – OJbor

The coronavirus has infected more than a thousand indigenous people in the Amazon region and hundreds have died. The toll of this health catastrophe worsens daily. In much of the Amazon people can only reach a hospital by boat or a small plane. The distance to the nearest intensive care unit is between 300 and 1000 kilometers from most villages. These structural issues have intensified as few ICU beds or ventilators are available for all of the patients who need them. 

Field hospitals are not being built in indigenous territories and indigenous people with coronavirus have a mortality rate double the national average. The number of indigenous people infected by the virus is increasing exponentially. The government’s apparent agenda of ecocide and ethnocide; “nature is for sale and indigenous peoples are expendable if they get in the way of lobbies making more money”, are bringing devastation and mourning to indigenous communities across the Amazon.

original image Gleilson Miranda/ reworked by Barbara Crane Navarro

One of the immense tragedies that these deaths represent is the loss of the wisdom of elders in each indigenous community decimated by the virus; storytellers of ancestral myths, those with expertise in traditional dances, songs and rituals, shamans and healers who communicate with the plants and spirits of the forest…

About Barbara Crane Navarro - Rainforest Art Project

I'm a French artist living near Paris. From 1968 to 1973 I studied at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, then at the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, California, for my BFA. My work for many decades has been informed and inspired by time spent with indigenous communities. Various study trips devoted to the exploration of techniques and natural pigments took me originally to the Dogon of Mali, West Africa, and subsequently to Yanomami communities in Venezuela and Brazil. Over many years, during the winters, I studied the techniques of traditional Bogolan painting. Hand woven fabric is dyed with boiled bark from the Wolo tree or crushed leaves from other trees, then painted with mud from the Niger river which oxidizes in contact with the dye. Through the Dogon and the Yanomami, my interest in the multiplicity of techniques and supports for aesthetic expression influenced my artistic practice. The voyages to the Amazon Rainforest have informed several series of paintings created while living among the Yanomami. The support used is roughly woven canvas prepared with acrylic medium then textured with a mixture of sand from the river bank and lava. This supple canvas is then rolled and transported on expeditions into the forest. They are then painted using a mixture of acrylic colors and Achiote and Genipap, the vegetal pigments used by the Yanomami for their ritual body paintings and on practical and shamanic implements. My concern for the ongoing devastation of the Amazon Rainforest has inspired my films and installation projects. Since 2005, I've created a perfomance and film project - Fire Sculpture - to bring urgent attention to Rainforest issues. To protest against the continuing destruction, I've publicly set fire to my totemic sculptures. These burning sculptures symbolize the degradation of nature and the annihilation of indigenous cultures that depend on the forest for their survival.
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10 Responses to The psychopaths selling out the future of the Amazon: fanatical missionaries, unscrupulous politicians, wildcat gold miners transmitting a deadly virus and lobbyists / Erasure of Indigenous Existence in the time of coronavirus / Part 5

  1. Is there anything at all we can do to help the indigenous populations and stop all this attempt at genocide? Please let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Alexandra Szerlip says:

    The relentless desire to squeeze profit from the Amazon, at the expense of the planet’s major, oxygen-producing forest, not to mention the perverse – and perversely arrogant -pursuit of indigenous “souls” for “saving” by evangelicals, is so outrageous that it boggles belief.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robbery on the part of the politicians, the corporations and the missionaries. It always concerns the natural resources near which they live and has nothing to do with their well-being nor their souls. Abject!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Unscrupulous scoundrels, not thinking of the future of the indigenous peoples; greed in the extreme…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. czls says:

    Criminal. The « Word of God » twisted by the greed of man. Leave them in peace for Christ’s sake!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dawn Cross says:

    The fact that these people, their land and their tribe is being exploited and maliciously taken advantage of (which is more easily done to persons living “off grid” so to speak) evokes grief within me. I hope the waves of “Black Lives Matter” causes an enormously positive ripple effect and in turn brings redress to the Yanomami. Thank you for keeping us all informed to be transformed Barbara.

    Liked by 1 person

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