Brasilia, Brazil, and Oakland, CA – On April 26, the week following the Leaders Summit on Climate, Brazilian Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara was summoned to testify by Brazilian Federal Police under the accusation of libel against the Bolsonaro government during the web series Maracá, released last year by the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB). The request came from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), a Brazilian government agency created to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights.
The web series denounced violations of rights committed against Indigenous peoples during the COVID-19 pandemic. APIB complaints were also submitted to the Supreme Federal Court. Its decision was in favor of APIB and determined that the federal government must adopt measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 among Indigenous people.
The federal government once again harasses and attempts to silence and criminalize APIB and Sonia Guajajara in an act of political and racist persecution. This afternoon in Brazil, APIB made a statement about the accusation. “They will not trap our bodies and they will never silence our voices. We will continue to fight for the defense of the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples and for life!” they exclaimed.
Their statement continued on, “The racist and hateful speeches of the federal government stimulate violations against our communities and paralyze the government actions that should promote assistance, protection, and guarantees of rights. And now, the government seeks to intimidate Indigenous peoples in a clear attempt to deny our freedom of expression, which is the most important tool for denouncing human rights violations.”
Amazon Watch Commentary
“Amazon Watch expresses complete support for our partner, a leader, and an example of the struggle for the rights of Indigenous peoples: Sonia Guajajara. We also extend our solidarity and support to APIB who tirelessly defend fundamental rights and democracy in Brazil against a government that today is known for its relentless attacks on Indigenous peoples and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. FUNAI was meant to protect Indigenous people, not to persecute Indigenous leaders who demand that their government fulfill their obligations to protect its people during a pandemic. For over 500 years, the Indigenous peoples of Brazil have been fighting to survive and for their rights. It will not be Bolsonaro who will silence them,” said Ana Paula Vargas, Brazil Program Director of Amazon Watch.
On April 29, Brazil became the second country to pass 400,000 COVID-19 deaths after the United States, and experts warned the daily toll could remain high for several months due to slow vaccinations and loosening social restrictions. The experts blamed the death toll on the failure of the government – from President Jair Bolsonaro to many state governors and mayors – to launch a strong enough response to the pandemic.
Indigenous peoples have been brutally impacted, more than 53,000 cases and 1059 deaths were confirmed on April 30. The reality of the pandemic for the Indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon is much worse than outlined in the official records from the Ministry of Health. The actual number of deaths is 103 percent higher than that released by the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI). The number of identified cases is 14 percent higher than was reported as well. This data was compiled by an independent survey carried out by the Coordinating of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB) for the period between February 23 and October 3, 2020.
Bolsonaro’s declared persecution of Sonia Guajajara is not new. On September 18th the Minister of the Institutional Security Office, General Augusto Heleno, used social media to criminalize APIB and its leadership. He directly attacked Sônia Guajajara – APIB’s Executive Coordinator – whose activism and defense of Indigenous and socio-environmental rights is known worldwide. The Minister claimed that APIB has committed crimes against the Brazilian government for reporting the flagrant environmental crimes that President Bolsonaro is responsible for. APIB rejected the accusation and stated: “Heleno must come to understand that the most important crime that harms our country is actually the government’s failure to protect our biomes, protected areas, and Indigenous lands from illegal fires, land grabbing, deforestation. That is the real theft of our wealth.”