Eye on the Amazon

“Everything Is at Stake: the Rainforest, the Climate, and Our Survival”

Brazil's indigenous movement builds resistance to Bolsonaro during European tour

  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India
  • Photo Credit: Mídia Ninja / Mídia India

The relentless flow of apocalyptic news that reaches us every day urgently requires an antidote. I take solace in the rise of resistance movements around the world that strive to remedy our societies' countless ills and inspire us to collective action. Bolsonaro's Brazil, with its persistent erosion of human rights and democratice norms, spikes in violence, and environmental destruction, exposes one of our planet's most distressing crises: the rise of fascism. In contrast, Brazil's indigenous movement is channeling its centuries-long struggle for survival and self determination into an effective counterweight against the Bolsonaro regime by waging effective activism, from grassroots to global levels.

Over the last month, a delegation of eight exceptional Brazilian leaders representing Brazil's largest indigenous organization the Association of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB) traversed twelve European countries to bring a timely message of unity and resistance during these perilous times. Entitled Indigenous Blood: Not a Single Drop More, their campaign is shining a spotlight on the spiraling human rights and environmental crisis gripping Brazil.

The delegation was comprised of leading figures in Brazil's National Indigenous Movement, including Sônia Guajajara, Nara Baré, Alberto Terena, Angela Kaxuyana, Célia Xakriabá, Dinamam Tuxá, Elizeu Guarani Kaiowá, and Kretã Kaingang. As representatives of several Brazilian regions, they brought diverse perspectives from their communities and the acute threats they face. Yet their many voices projected a unified response to the Bolsonaro regime and presented solutions that demand our collective engagement.

The solidarity of Amazon Watch supporters fueled APIB's delegation with funding, media and logistical support, and accompaniment, with our Brazil-based team member Airton Gasparini Kaingang participating in their full agenda.

I had the honor of joining this powerful group of leaders in Switzerland and France, where I witnessed their tireless spirit and seemingly boundless, determined energy as they met with members of government, private sector institutions, the press, and the public. Everywhere they went, the delegation seamlessly split into teams of leaders and communicators who both effectively engaged with these groups and produced inspirational images and stories about their struggle and achievements, which were published in a range of languages.

The delegation also left a trail of valuable media coverage as it crossed Europe, culminating with major reporting on APIB's demand that European lawmakers impose sanctions on companies that source commodities from protected Brazilian forests, particularly indigenous territories. Sônia Guajajara also urged European lawmakers to freeze ratification of the polemic EU-Mercosur free trade agreement while indigenous forest guardians were being murdered. While the delegation was making its way through Europe, her relative Paulo Paulino Guajajara was killed in an ambush by illegal loggers, and she told Reuters: "(Signing) this deal would be turning a blind eye to what is happening in Brazil. It would be institutionalizing genocide."

The delegation's objectives centered on informing the global public about the disasters underway in Brazil, highlighting the complicity of global political and commercial actors in this devastation. They leveraged their powerful message and credibility as leaders of the indigenous resistance to Bolsonaro to both shift the behavior of those enabling his backward agenda and undermine the destructive designs of Brazil's agribusiness sector.

Much of APIB's message to corporate actors drew from a report released in partnership with Amazon Watch earlier this year, demonstrating how European and U.S. companies – including banks, asset managers, soy traders, timber companies, and leather companies – are complicit in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Given the outsized power of the global financial sector to shape the policies and practices of Brazilian agribusiness, APIB targeted the major private bank BNP Paribas in Paris and asset manager BlackRock in London, demanding that these institutions cease backing Brazil's soy and beef industries given their role in runaway deforestation and violence in indigenous communities.

After a spirited march through Parisian streets to the headquarters of BNP, accompanied by the chants of the indigenous leaders and a Brazilian percussion group, Dinamam Tuxá told the assembled crowd: "We want banks to stop financing economic sectors that invest in Brazil to kill us, to exploit and deforest the greater good, which is the Amazon and Cerrado ecosystems that benefit all of humanity, not just indigenous peoples. We know that France's largest fortunes pass through this house, and we know that these fortunes are financing not only our genocide but the destruction of our ecosystems."

In London, APIB maintained its pressure upon BlackRock to take responsibility for the billions of dollars the investment firm controls in global soy trading and Brazilian meat-packing companies. "We need to point our fingers in the face of our enemies," said Célia Xacriabá outside BlackRock, an institution that is backing industries responsible for this year's devastating forest fires. "90% of the soy you import in Europe, financed by European banks, comes from our sacred lands in the Cerrado."

As I parted ways with the APIB delegation last week, I felt immensely grateful for having played a part in this momentous, indigenous-led campaign in defense of human rights and environmental stability in the midst of a planetary crisis. I drew hope from moments spent with these inspirational leaders whose messages of firmness, resilience, and resistance have much to teach all of us who strive for a better world.

I also emerged from this experience with redoubled determination and an increased understanding of the vital importance that global solidarity offers to Brazil's indigenous movement in the context of Bolsonaro's assault. Ultimately the success of APIB's struggle for life and our collective future hinges on the alliances they forge locally and globally. We all have a lot to offer, and together we can build this antidote against despair.

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