Eye on the Amazon

U.S. Congress Resists the Bolsonaro-Trump Duo of Devastation

Photo credit: Mídia Ninja/Mobilização Nacional Indígena

A match made in Hell? Two individuals with the least regard for the environment and minority rights might be joining forces to "develop" the Amazon. In March, Brazil's new extreme right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro met with his role model Donald Trump at the White House. According to a Reuters article, one of their discussion topics was how to collaborate on the Amazon. "When I met Trump, I told him that I want to open for them to explore the Amazon in a partnership," Bolsonaro stated in an interview with reporters.

Ominously, when Bolsonaro mentions "development" of the Amazon, he inevitably denounces indigenous land rights as an obstacle to his vision for the rainforest. This means no new land titles for indigenous peoples, and revoking past demarcations. Weakening protections, allowing mining and agribusiness on indigenous lands. Arming large landowners to defend "what's theirs." Ending fines and providing amnesty for environmental crime.

The impacts of Bolsonaro's rhetoric and policy proposals have been immediate: Since his election, deforestation, land invasions, and attacks against indigenous leaders have all been on the rise. Brazil is already the most deadly country in the world for environmental and human rights defenders.

As Bolsonaro and Trump kindle what could be a duo of devastation, diverse relationships of solidarity are forming as a counterweight. Take two pioneering indigenous women: Deb Haaland and Joenia Wapichana. Each has made history as the first indigenous woman elected to their respective national legislatures. Their nascent collaboration debuted the day prior to the Bolsonaro-Trump summit, with a joint guest opinion piece in the Washington Post: Protecting indigenous lands protects the environment. Trump and Bolsonaro threaten both.

On Friday, May 3rd, Representative Haaland, Representative Hank Johnson, and 52 of their Congressional colleagues sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo detailing their grave concern for the threats posed to both indigenous peoples and Afro-Brazilian Quilombola communities. Haaland posted a press release and a link to the letter: Amidst Violent Invasions of Indigenous Communities in Brazil, Haaland, Johnson Call on State Department to Take Action to Prevent Human Rights Violations

This letter, the latest in a series of Congressional letters about human rights and democracy issues in Brazil, represents a growing awareness and deep concern in Washington, DC – and indeed across the United States – for the precarious situation faced by indigenous peoples and diverse sectors of Brazilian civil society, including Afro-Brazilian favelas, the LGBT community, and opposition political groups. Such efforts show how the world is watching. They are particularly timely and significant as Bolsonaro deepens the most serious assault on human rights and environmental protections in a generation.

Many of the members of the U.S. Congress signed the letter after hearing from constituents like you! An Amazon Watch action alert generated emails from 5,000 voters. Our friends at CREDO also launched an online action that was signed by over 52,000 people! And sister organizations Latin America Working Group (LAWG) and Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns circulated action alerts to their constituencies.

Additionally, the US Network for Democracy in Brazil, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) all reached out to Members of Congress encouraging them to support the letter.

In short, we are proud to collaborate with a broader coalition of organizations and individuals who are responding to the urgent requests for solidarity emanating from Brazil. This latest congressional letter is an important step, but just one action among many we will be called to take to defend the guardians of the Brazilian Amazon against the reckless attacks of the Trump-backed Bolsonaro regime. All of our voices are needed to counter today's rollbacks while forging solutions to advance environmental justice and human rights.

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