Sting reunites with Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people in Brazil

The Genocide No One Is Talking About

The “Genocide of Brazil’s Indians” is the sort of headline that we hoped had been left behind in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, recent events in Brazil demonstrate that we are in the midst of a resurgence of ethnic violence. 

Since the 1980’s – when headlines of this sort were tragically common – indigenous peoples in Brazil have made huge strides. Against enormous odds and with the help of domestic and international allies, about 20% of the Brazilian Amazon has come under the protection of indigenous peoples. These forests benefit from the strongest legal protections in the country — their rights are enshrined in the Constitution. As a result of this protection, deforestation rates dropped significantly from their mid-1990’s high. Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) is proud to have been part of that struggle — indeed it is where we began.

Today, however, all of that is being unraveled by the government, for the sake of expanding agribusiness profits. So far, rainforest lands have lost their protected status, environmental and indigenous rights are being gutted, and there is a marked increase in anti-native violence. Brazil is already notorious as one of the most dangerous places for indigenous and environmental defenders: in the last 13 years, 900 indigenous people have lost their lives for making basic claims to their human rights. Most of these murders have gone unpunished, if they have been investigated at all.

Just in the past few weeks, ten indigenous workers were murdered by the police in the Western Amazon. Local politicians endorse the crime, calling for public celebrations to honor the “patriots” responsible. In another part of Brazil, thirteen Gamela indigenous people were viciously attacked for defending their lands; some had their hands chopped off, while others were shot in the back. The Guarani Kaiowa in Mato Grosso do Sul have suffered almost incessant attacks over the past several years, including the murder of their tribal leaders.

Indigenous lands and protected areas are also under direct attack. Environmental regulations are being gutted, and almost 1.5 million acres of protected areas lost their designation as protected land. A proposed law that would move demarcating indigenous lands from the Executive to Congress – dominated by the agribusiness lobby – is developing rapidly, threatening not only future demarcations, but potentially existing ones. FUNAI, the agency tasked with ensuring indigenous rights is at risk of losing the little power and budget it has, and there is speculation that Brazil’s government wants to eliminate the agency altogether. The current situation in Brazil is, without qualification, a genocide.

It was in this historical moment that Sting reunited with Raoni, a Kayapo leader and activist — thereby reaffirming his commitment to the rainforest and our planet. Together, they continue to insist that Brazil honor its commitments to protect the rainforest and indigenous rights. Raoni made his concerns clear, explaining that deforestation is intensifying, and that indigenous rights have never been as imperiled as they are now. Sting’s response was a simple yet powerful message of support, “Please listen to him, please support him.”
The assassination of Chico Mendes in December 1988 shook the world, and brought worldwide attention to the burning of the rainforest, and to those who were defending it with their lives. At the same time, indigenous peoples in Brazil were organizing successfully against a huge dam in the Amazon and pushing to ensure their rights were defended in Brazil’s new constitution. Both the indigenous movement and the international rainforest movement were born out of those moments. Now that violence against indigenous and environmental defenders is again on the rise, we need to renew our efforts, and lend our voices to the indigenous peoples. Where our governments have failed, we must rally.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.