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  • President-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 28, 2018

    President-elect Jair Bolsonaro in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 28, 2018 | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 December 2018

The Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) tells president-elect Bolsonaro he needs to respect the Constitution, rejecting his statement that they are 'zoo animals'.

Indigenous groups in Brazil are speaking out against right-wing president-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s “careless” statement earlier this month about Indigenous peoples who he says are in reserves “as if they were animals in a zoo.”

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In a response letter to the Bolsonaro statement on Dec. 4, the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) say they aren’t “inferior beings, as projected in (the president-elect’s) statement.”

In a statement released earlier this month, the APIB said: “We are only different and the government is Constitutionally obliged to respect our social organization, customs, languages, beliefs and traditions. Therefore, we reject (Bolsonaro’s) pejorative and reductive understanding of us as animals in zoos," contests the APIB.

APIB is responding to Bolsonaro's statement that: "Indians want to integrate into society. (They) want electric power, they want a doctor, they want a dentist, they want the Internet, they want to play soccer. They want what we want. (...) Here in Brazil, some want the Indians to continue inside a reserve as if they were animals in a zoo. I do not want that. I want to treat the Indians as human beings, as citizens."

In a written response to Brazil’s future head of state, the APIB calls for the incoming government's respect Indigenous’ fundamental rights.

Bolsonaro “tarnished the image and dignity of our peoples and communities and demonstrating … a lack of knowledge about our constitutional rights, authoritarian tendencies, prejudice, discrimination, and racism by demanding Indigenous assimilation, a concept removed from our country more than 30 years ago by the Constitution of 1988,” writes the APIB against Bolsonaro’s insistence that Brazil’s Indigenous cultures and groups adapt to mestizo culture in order to be treated as full citizens by his government.

The incoming leader who will be inaugurated Jan. 1 has announced it will place the National Foundation for the Indigenous People (FUNAI) under the Ministry of Agriculture, a longtime supporter of corporate agri-business, such as soy, in Brazil’s Amazon region.

“Inadequately supporting FUNAI puts Indigenous at risk of starvation, and of opening our traditional territories to the interests of agribusiness, mining, and construction with heavy socio-environmental impacts,” said APIB in its statement. “The government is trying to authoritatively impose a life model on the Indigenous peoples, aimed at suppressing our fundamental rights to demonstrate our cultural identity.”

The thousands of Indigenous members say that Bolsonaro, “instead of attacking and defaming our peoples, is obliged to execute public policies that respect Brazil’s democracy and Constitution.”

FUNAI is in charge of protecting the areas inhabited by Indigenous groups, including the isolated groups in the Amazon, and is one of Brazil’s last lines of defense against extractivist projects in the territory.

Even during his campaign right-wing Bolsonaro has been promoting discrimination against Indigenous and women in Brazil and is promising to legally open up the Amazon to mining and logging.

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