Indigenous groups in Brazil are under threat — as right-wing government officials drastically slash funding to an agency meant to protect them, already leading to increased homicides over land dispute issues.
The country’s National Indian Foundation, known as Funai, under attack by conservative politicians, has already seen its budget halved this year, forcing dozens of offices to close, and leaving others to barely function.
“It is an organ that doesn’t represent anything anymore. It just has money to pay its staff, nothing else,” Sydney Possuelo, a former president of Funai told the Guardian.
Indigenous leaders, campaigners and scientists are echoing the same: the threats to Funai also threaten some of Brazil’s most vulnerable tribes.
“Without doubt, this is one of the worst crises for the rights of the Indigenous people,” a Funai official, speaking anonymously due to fear of being reprimanded for making public criticisms, as has occurred for other staff, told the Guardian.
He stated that the current atmosphere can be likened to that of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
“You have to be careful what you say,” the official said. “Those who position themselves in the defense of Indigenous people are strongly attacked.”
Lawmakers from a powerful agribusiness caucus that have formed a congressional commission are seeking to strip Funai of its powers to dictate new Indigenous reserves. They also want to prosecute some of its staff members for a number of alleged crimes, such as “contravening the principles of public administration” and “crimes against the public peace.”
The anonymous Funai official said that since the cuts, which occurred after last year’s impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff that installed the right-wing government of Michel Temer, land invasions by land grabbers, loggers and miners in Indigenous territories have increased.
“There has been an increase in land conflicts, territorial disputes,” the official said.
In the same period since Temer’s coup, Brazil has also seen a rise in the number of homicides related to rural land disputes this year. Thirty-seven people died in the first five months of 2017, which is eight more than the same period in 2016, according to the Pastoral Land Commission.
In May, Temer’s government sacked the head of Funai, just days after a militarized crackdown on Indigenous demonstrators protesting against the administration's neoliberal austerity agenda.
Antonio Costa, who was outspoken against the Temer administration’s exorbitant budget cuts to the agency, said he had been dismissed "for being honest" in defending the rights of Brazil's Indigenous peoples.
Advocacy organizations have warned of an alarming uptick in the number of assaults against Indigenous groups in Brazil.
U.N. special rapporteurs on the rights of Indigenous peoples have also denounced these killings.
“The rights of indigenous peoples and environmental rights are under attack in Brazil,” Victoria Tauli Corpuz, John Knox, Michel Forst and José Eguiguren Praeli said in a statement in June.