U.S. Representatives to Biden Administration: Speak Up for Indigenous Rights in the Brazilian Amazon

U.S. congresspeople express their deep concern for the dangerous situation facing Brazill’s Munduruku Indigenous people and encourage the Biden Administration to add its voice

Amazon Watch, U.S. Network for Democracy in Brazil

For more information, contact:

Andrew Miller at +1-202-423-4828 or andrew@amazonwatch.org
Juliana Moraes at +1-202-567-9338 or Juliana.Moraes@democracybrazil.org
Geoff Nolan at +1-202-580-5289 or Geoff.Nolan@mail.house.gov

Washington, DC – The Biden Administration should express concern to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro about the explosive situation facing the Munduruku Indigenous people in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, 12 members of the U.S. House of Representatives said today in a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman, led by Rep Raúl Grijalva (Arizona).

Recent articles in Associated Press and Reuters have detailed the rising tensions between Munduruku communities and armed illegal miners who are bringing expensive, heavy equipment into areas of Munduruku territory. There is currently a lack of political will to enforce the law and expel the miners from the region. Though the threat of mining in Munduruku lands predates the current crisis, the situation escalated as of mid-March with the latest invasion of miners in the previously untouched region of Igarapé Baunilha, in Jacareacanga.

“In the face of this potentially explosive situation, we believe that the United States government can and should invest diplomatic capital to encourage the Brazilian authorities to take action,” the letter states. “We encourage you to raise these urgent concerns with President Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and to inquire about the concrete actions they are taking to expel illegal miners from Munduruku territory. Undoubtedly, they have the expertise and the means, what has been clearly lacking is the political will.”

Brazil’s Prosecutor’s Office, known as the Ministerio Público Federal (MPF) has sounded the public alarm through a series of press releases, noting an evident lack of government action to arrest the invasion of miners. According to the MPF, Environment Minister Salles took the extraordinary step of canceling a previously planned enforcement action against miners in October of last year. This echoes similar claims made by a recent Reuters special report, which documented an instance in August of last year in which enforcement actions by Brazil’s Federal Environmental Agency (IBAMA) were stopped by the Brazilian military, under the guise of needing Munduruku prior consent.

The situation further escalated this past week when the Munduruku Women’s Association offices in the town of Jacareacanga, on the edge of the Munduruku territory, were attacked and vandalized with graffiti stating, “NGOs Out” and “Federals Out.” This threatening action was immediately denounced by Brazilian Indigenous federations like the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) and Brazilian human rights groups such as the Indiginist Missionary Council (CIMI).

“The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than a thousand Indigenous people across Brazil. Today, with the 300 thousand plus deaths, Brazil is the most dangerous country for its own citizens. The government, which repeatedly opposed scientific recommendations, has only been increasingly worsening the situation”, said Juliana Moraes, Executive Director of the Washington Brazil Office, the advocacy arm of the U.S. Network for Democracy in Brazil. “The Brazilian authorities must enforce existing environmental laws and evict these illegal miners who, along with other groups driving deforestation, did not stop working in spite of the pandemic. Deforestation and Indigenous conflicts have been rising since Bolsonaro took office. It’s unacceptable for Brazil and the world to have a president who works for the extermination of the Amazon’s people, fauna and flora.”

“The fact that Brazilians have been calling Bolsonaro a genocidal should not be taken lightly by the Biden-Harris Administration,” added Moraes. “This goes well beyond the horrible situation faced by the Munduruku Peoples. After multiple denunciations for crimes against humanity with regards to how the Brazilian government behaved amidst the pandemic and for a genocide against Indigenous peoples made before the International Criminal Court, one case has been accepted and is now under evaluation. This is the first time that the ICC analyzes a case about a Brazilian president.” 

This crisis takes place in the context of ongoing discussions between the incoming Biden Administration and the Bolsonaro government about the protection of the Amazon rainforest. This past Friday the White House announced it had invited Bolsonaro to the April 22 – 23 Leader’s Summit on Climate, among a group of 40 world leaders.

“As part of a disingenuous public relations campaign, the Bolsonaro propaganda machine has touted their interest to ‘sustainably develop’ the Amazon for an international audience,” said Andrew Miller, Advocacy Director for Amazon Watch. “A generalized environment of illegality, impunity, rampant environmental destruction, flagrant violations of Indigenous territorial rights and threats of physical violence are inimical to any concept of sustainable development.”

“The Biden Administration should join the growing international concern for the escalating conflict brewing among Munduruku Indigenous communities in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon,” Miller added. “As illegal miners continue to invade Munduruku territory – with the encouragement of the Bolsonaro government – the threat of violence intensifies while actions to intimidate Munduruku leaders continue.”

In addition to overt violence, the miners pose a mortal threat as likely carriers of COVID-19 into remote regions, as highlighted by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission precautionary measures issued on December 11, 2020.


The Munduruku people in the Brazilian Amazon have been internationally recognized for their nonviolent resistance to many different threats to their territories and way of life. In 2015 the Ipereg Ayu Munduruku Movement was recognized by the UN Development Project with the Equator Prize. Last year, Alessandra Korap Mundurku, a woman leader of the Munduruku people, received the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Prize and was lauded by John Kerry who said “We need millions more of you, so thank you, congratulations on this terrific honor– the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. And I know you will continue to be part of this great battle. I look forward to fighting alongside.”

The Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) has submitted a letter to President Biden and Secretary Kerry’s team asking for there to be an open consultation channel between the US government and Brazilian Indigenous leaders and civil society. Given the proven inability to protect the Amazon and other biomes, the US government might contribute to the problem by attempting to negotiate an Amazon protection plan with the Bolsonaro-Mourão Administration.

The full text of the letter can be found here.


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