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  • Kayapo men dance to defend indigenous land and cultural rights in Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2019.

    Kayapo men dance to defend indigenous land and cultural rights in Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 24 April 2019

The 'Free Land Camp' is gathering thousands to protest against neoliberalism and racism.

Indigenous peoples from all over Brazil occupied Wednesday the 'Ministries Esplanade' in the capital Brazilia, the square where most ministries are located, to stage the 15th edition of the Free Land Camp (ATL), a meeting called this year to fight President Jair Bolsonaro's policies.

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The ATL is an annual event which takes place in April and seeks to draw attention to the demands of the Indigenous communities. This time, however, the Indigenous meeting will face a hostile atmosphere as the Brazilian government has started a media campaign in an effort to delegitimize the event.

According to El Pais newspaper, Bolsonaro called the camp an "Indian crowd" which is financed with public resources.

"Who will pay the bill for the 10,000 Indians who come here?" asked the far-right president who has authorized a 33-day deployment of federal security forces at the Three Powers square and the Ministries Esplanade. 

The camp organizer, Brazil's Indigenous People Articulation (APIB), rejected Bolsonaro's statements and stressed that the meeting has always been financed with "the help of several contributors."

The Brazilian Indigenous movement has been under attack since January when Bolsonaro took office. At his first day as president, Bolsonaro signed a decree transferring the power over Indigenous lands from the National Indian Foundation (Funai) to the Agriculture Ministry, an institution which is currently led by Tereza Cristina, who was a traditional leader of the far-right "ruralist" parliamentary group. ​​​​​​

The executive order also moved Funai to the Women, Family and Human Rights Ministry, which is headed by the evangelical pastor Damares Alves, a woman who is an anti-abortion activist.

In the same vein, Bolsonaro's administration criticized other pro-Indigenous public institutions such as the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Preservation (ICMBio), whose power to conduct environmental assessments and inspections were weakened.

Last March, ​​​​​​​the Brazilian government also threatened to extinguish the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (Sesai).

New decisions against Indigenous land and cultural rights are becoming more frequent. On April 11, former army captain Bolsonaro announced the extinction of "social councils", which were public institutions aimed at increasing people's involvement in social and health-related policies.

Other institutions working on problems affecting rural inhabitants were also threatened. Among them, the national councils aimed at defending persons with disability rights, fighting against gender and ethnic discrimination, ending child labor or fostering agroecology and organic production “will have 60 days to justify their existence”, the Business and Human Rights Center recalled.

All these anti-Indigenous policies happen at a time when Bolsonaro faces strong disapproval ratings across the country. At the end of March, the far-right leader was only supported by 34 percent of the population, according to the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics. 

Tensions between the Brazilian government and social organizations are likely to arise at Brazilia this year. At the 2017 camp, for example, President Michel Temer administration (2016-2018) authorized Military Police to use of tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent Indigenous peoples' representatives from entering Congress.


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