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Indigenous Brazilians hope to turn page on Bolsonaro

Photo: Ricardo Oliveira / AFP

AFP

Four years after President Jair Bolsonaro came to office vowing not to allow “one more centimeter” of protected Indigenous reservations in Brazil, native peoples accuse him of violent, environmentally harmful policies that have been disastrous for them and their land.

With the far-right president fighting for re-election Sunday — trailing in the polls to leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) — a record 171 Indigenous candidates are running for state or federal office, vying to turn the page on what they say have been four catastrophic years for Brazil’s native peoples.

AFP spoke to Indigenous candidates and leaders across Brazil about what is at stake in the elections.

Stop the ‘genocide’

To Congressional candidate Sonia Guajajara, Bolsonaro’s time in office has been nothing short of “institutionalized genocide.”

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The prominent Indigenous leader, who was named to Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in May, cites as evidence the president’s push to legalize mining on Indigenous reservations and his vocal support for wildcat gold miners — a group accused of invading native lands, raping and killing inhabitants, and poisoning their water with mercury.

“The four years of Bolsonaro’s government have been a true tragedy and an institutionalized genocide for Indigenous peoples,” says Guajajara, 48, who is running to become the first Indigenous woman to represent Sao Paulo in Congress.

Wearing a bright feather headdress and shaking a calabash rattle at a rally, the combative, charismatic Amazon rainforest native, who left home as a girl to get a university education, leads the crowd in chanting, “Get out, Bolsonaro!”

Guajajara, the leader of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), says she will demand that Lula — who has promised to create a ministry of Indigenous affairs — resume protecting native lands if elected.

“We want to rebuild all the pro-Indigenous policies the Bolsonaro government dismantled,” she says.

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‘Sadness for our forest’

Fresh off filming a documentary for National Geographic, 22-year-old Indigenous leader Bitate Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau is fighting on two fronts.

At home, the young chief organizes patrols to stop illegal loggers and land-grabbers from invading the reservation in the southern Amazon that is home to his people, a tribe of some 200 hunter-gatherers — the subject of the film “The Territory,” released last month.

In his interactions with the world beyond, Bitate raises awareness about the plundering of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau’s land and Bolsonaro’s “anti-Indigenous government.”

“We’re very afraid, we’ve been receiving lots of threats — messages saying, ‘We’re coming for you, we’re going to kill all the children in the village,’” he says.

Invasions of their land are increasing, he says, and the authorities are slow to respond — especially Indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, which critics accuse Bolsonaro of gutting.

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“The government has fired (FUNAI) officials, stopped them from doing their jobs…. FUNAI is finished. It’s been completely torn apart,” he says.

“We’re going through a time of very great sadness for our forest, which is being cut down and burned…. I’m not saying Lula would be great, but he would be better than Bolsonaro.”

‘Voice in Congress’

Greeting supporters with a giant smile and infectious laugh, Vanda Witoto marches through the street at the head of an energetic parade with a mission: elect the first-ever Indigenous representative from Amazonas, the state with the biggest share of Brazil’s 900,000 Indigenous people.

The 35-year-old Congressional candidate says she decided to run for office after watching the Bolsonaro administration’s chaotic response to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Indigenous communities hard.

The nurse technician has told the story of how she struggled to care for patients amid the collapse of the public health services in state capital Manaus, where horrific scenes of Covid-19 victims suffocating to death without oxygen played out at the height of the pandemic.

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The experience convinced her of “the importance of us (Indigenous peoples) having a voice in Congress to defend our land, our peoples’ lives, our rights,” she says.

“It’s so important, not only for Indigenous peoples but for the Amazon. We want to be in Congress.”

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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