Sending Office: Honorable Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr.
Defend Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Rights in Brazil!
Deadline: COB Monday, April 22
Please join us in signing this letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing deep concern for attacks on the rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-Brazilian Quilombola communities (settlements founded and organized by escaped slaves and their descendants)
in Brazil. Though these communities have faced discrimination and violations of their collective rights for decades, the prospects under recently inaugurated President Jair Bolsonaro are simply alarming and require action.
In 1998, Bolsonaro said “Competent, yes, was the American cavalry that decimated its Indians in the past and nowadays does not have this problem in their country.” In 2017, he remarked
“[Quilombolas] do nothing! They are not even good for procreation,” and said,
“Not one centimeter will be demarcated for indigenous reserves or quilombolas.”
Unfortunately, the threats to indigenous and Quilombola communities go beyond these despicable words.
Bolsonaro has already begun taking steps to strip rights and authorities from indigenous peoples and the institutions that serve them, and Brazil’s indigenous and Afro-Brazilian movements are sounding the alarm. Wapichana leader Mário Nicacio
stated at a congressional briefing in March that the systematic violation of indigenous peoples’ rights is happening in Brazil, including an increase of threats against & assassinations of indigenous leaders. He said, “We’re asking the U.S. Congress to pay
attention to what’s happening in Brazil because a cultural and physical genocide could happen against indigenous peoples under President Bolsonaro.”
Quilombola leaders similarly spoke out before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in February. Sandra Andrade, the Executive Coordinator for the National Coordination of Quilombas Communities (CONAQ), stated, “Violence has increased 350% in 2016
and 2017, and CONAQ expects this rate to increase even more with the weakening of policies targeting Quilombola communities.”
Two columns were published in the Washington Post and New York Times last month when President Bolsonaro met with President Trump here in Washington, DC. Both pieces draw the crucial connection between the collective rights of local communities,
environmental protection, and climate action: “Protecting
indigenous lands protects the environment. Trump and Bolsonaro threaten both” and “Brazil’s
New President Threatens ‘the Lungs of the Planet’.”
Now is the time to express urgent concern, sending a clear message to the Trump and Bolsonaro administrations that violations against indigenous peoples and Quilombola communities won’t be tolerated, nor will violations against broader sectors
of Brazilian civil society that are under threat. By expressing our concerns, Congress will also send an important message of solidarity to those embattled sectors.
We appreciate your consideration and hope you will join us. If you have any questions or would like to sign this letter, please reach out to Chelsea.Grey@mail.house.gov in Congressman Johnson’s office, or Ashley.Baker2@mail.house.gov
in Congresswoman Haaland’s office by COB Monday, April 22.
DEB HAALAND HENRY C. “HANK” JOHNSON, JR.
Member of Congress Member of Congress
April __, 2019
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
United States Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We write to express our profound concern regarding ongoing violations of the basic human rights of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities, as well as other sectors of civil society in Brazil. Both the words and actions of the administration of Brazilian
President Jair Bolsonaro indicate a strong desire to systematically weaken key protections for collective and individual rights. This is regrettably catalyzing a broader environment of violence and impunity, resulting in attacks, killings, and land invasions.
Indigenous land rights in Brazil are under imminent threat, with President Bolsonaro promising “there won’t be one square centimeter of land designated for indigenous reservations” under his administration,
in violation of indigenous rights enshrined in Brazil’s constitution. Mr. Bolsonaro’s first executive order stripped the power to delineate and title indigenous territories from Brazil’s indigenous agency FUNAI
and transferred it to the Agriculture Ministry, an institution that has historically been antagonistic toward indigenous land rights. FUNAI’s mandate was also transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the newly formed Ministry of Family, Women, and Human
Rights, in a move that Brazil’s indigenous leadership considers detrimental to their rights. Such measures that debilitate indigenous land rights are a direct challenge to the protection of the Amazon rainforest
where 98% of Brazil’s native territories are located. The creation of federally protected indigenous territories represents the best form of forest protection, as observation and scientific study have proven.
Deforestation in Brazil is on the rise, posing a clear and present threat to global climate stability.
Since Mr. Bolsonaro’s election, illegal and violent invasions of indigenous territories have intensified. At least eight demarcated indigenous territories – the Arara of Pará state, Araribóia and Awa in Maranhão, Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau and Karipuna in Rondônia –
have registered the theft of wood, the felling of forests to open grasslands, and the opening of roads and establishment of lots for illegal squatting. Additionally, the Aracruz indigenous territory of the Tupiniquim people in Espírito Santo has been under
attack and an indigenous school and health clinic of the Pankararu people Caldeirão’s village, in Pernambuco, has been firebombed and destroyed.
Indigenous leaders and community members are similarly facing increased threats, attacks, and killings, as miners, loggers, and land invaders violate the law with impunity. Brazil is already the deadliest country
for activists and defenders of the land and environment. According to the NGO Global Witness, in 2017 alone there were 57 murders of indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists. These grim statistics
are guaranteed to rise under a president espousing virulently anti-indigenous and violent rhetoric.
In addition to the ongoing attacks on the rights to indigenous peoples, Afro-Brazilian communities also face serious threats. In particular, we are concerned about the Bolsonaro government’s threatening policies
and public position towards Quilombola Afro-Brazilian communities. Leaders of the National Articulation of Rural Black Quilombola Communities (CONAQ) have decried the slow process by which the government titles the lands of
quilombo peoples (rural settlements founded by people of African origin). They have sought to alert the public regarding a dramatic decrease in the land titling budget from over 20-million Brazilian
reais to 3-million Brazilian reais. In addition, quilombo activists have been the target of assassinations that typically remain in impunity.
Human rights protection for indigenous peoples, Afro-Brazilians, and all other sectors of civil society must be at the forefront of the United States’ relationship with Brazil. For this reason, we ask that you provide answers to the following questions by
May 31, 2019:
- What is your plan to monitor the Brazilian government’s actions with respect to the aforementioned land rights disputes?
- Will you commit to communicate with Members of Congress regularly regarding this important issue?
- How will you communicate to the Brazilian authorities that they must take swift action to protect human rights in their country?
- What are your plans to ensure that the land rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-Brazilians are protected under Bolsonaro’s leadership?
- Will you make a strong, public statement addressing the Brazilian administration’s failure to investigate human rights violations, and its negative impact on bilateral relations and cooperation between our two governments?
Diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Brazil, including the U.S. ambassador and human rights officer, should voice support for threatened activists, including environmentalists, indigenous representatives, and Afro-Brazilians, and should express concerns about
human rights defenders’ protections to the relevant agencies of the Brazilian government. They should also call for swift action in the investigation and prosecution of emblematic cases of political violence like that of Marielle Franco’s assassination.
We respectfully request that your office provide us with a substantive report back on the concerns raised in this letter.
Members of Congress
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