Brazil is home to 900,000 Indigenous people who live on reservations accounting for 13 percent of the country’s land. Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Amazon have long been threatened by illegal logging, encroaching agribusiness, and corruption-fueled land grabbing. Land and environment defenders from Brazil’s Indigenous and other rural communities have resisted, but the risk of standing up to protect the forest and their traditional territory within is great. High-profile activists have been murdered, and the violence is accelerating: in April 2019, a report of at least nine targeted killings of land defenders over a 12-day period beginning in late March 2019 emerged.
Brazil’s recently elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, has expressed hostility toward the rights of Indigenous people, remarking during his campaign: “if I become President there will not be a centimeter more of indigenous land.” Since taking office, Bolsonaro has taken measures to weaken the protection of these territories by shifting the authority to demarcate it from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) to the Ministry of Agriculture, further stoking fears that Indigenous land will be repurposed for agribusiness and other industrial purposes.
Amid this climate of increasing hostility and violence, Indigenous leaders have courageously persisted in their fight to uphold their land rights and to protect the environment in a region currently facing the world’s most rapid deforestation. Noting the government’s failure to take action on illegal logging, one Indigenous leader remarked “We take action…and are defending the law…it is a very big war that we are still facing today.”