Brazil’s far-right President wants to mine the Amazon, but one Indigenous tribe is fighting him
The Munduruku tribe stood against bulldozers, high-pressure hoses and dredges as the Brazillian government tried to poison the fish and pollute the water in a campaign to open up the Amazon to mining for alleged minerals alleged to lie beneath it. According to the New York Times, the tribe’s stand in March, which saw them drive back the invasion of their territory by miners with bows and arrows, was only a precursor of things to come.
Since then, Brazil has elected an ultra-conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, who is in favor of abolishing protections on Indigenous lands and wants to scale back environmental protection laws, saying they are stopping economic growth. Bolsonaro stated last year, “Where there is indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it.” Even before he won the election, however, the Munduruku tribe and other groups who are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Amazon have faced threats from the Brazilian government.
Mining, logging, and farming have each devastated large swaths of land in the Amazon, so much so that the rate at which the land has been cleared has been declared unsustainable by environmentalist groups. Over a stretch from 2006-2017, it is estimated that the Brazilian Amazon has lost over 91,000 square miles of forest, an area larger than the U.S. states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Connecticut combined.
Thomas Lovejoy, professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University told the New York Times why this practice is so devastating, “The combined impacts of deforestation, climate change and extensive use of fire have brought the Amazon to the tipping point… The indigenous people, who are the best defenders of the land, become vulnerable if the forest vanishes.”
Materially, the Amazon is already being changed, even if there is still a political battle being waged for control of its resources as Cleber Buzzato, executive secretary of the Indigenous Missionary Council pointed out to the Times, “They haven’t given up on changing the law, but they are prioritizing a strategy of creating facts on the ground, by creating an irreversible reality, they will then seek to change legislation.”
The miners see it differently, however. Many of them blame the Brazillian government for not doing enough to keep them employed. Many who come into the Indigenous territory to work and mine for gold say that they are being driven into that line of work because there is no other place for them to go within Brazillian society. However, as federal prosecutions and raids go on, it is becoming clear that the mining industry itself is funded by local and national politicians in Brazil, casting doubt on the miners’ blame game. Federal prosecutors have not yet charged anyone who has been caught in the raids.