As COVID-19 spreads around the globe, with more than 200 deaths already reported in Brazil, an evangelical Christian organization has purchased a helicopter with plans to contact and convert isolated indigenous groups in the remote Western Amazon. Ethnos360, formerly known as the New Tribes Mission, is notorious for past attempts to contact and convert isolated peoples, having spread disease among the Zo’é living in northern Pará state. Once contacted in the 1980s, the Zo’é, lacking resistance, began dying from malaria and influenza, losing over a third of their population. Ethnos360 is planning its conversion mission despite the fact that FUNAI, Brazil's indigenous affairs agency, has a longstanding policy against contact with isolated groups. The so-called "missionary aviation" contact plan may also violate Brazil's 1988 constitution and international treaties such as the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
More than 10 years after the Bagua massacre in the Peruvian Amazon, sparked when National Police troops attacked a roadblock by indigenous protesters, a magistrate at the penal chamber of Peru's Supreme Court of Justice on Jan. 31 absolved 53 of the protesters, who had faced criminal charges. A lower court had cleared the accused protesters, all indigenous Amazonians, in September 2016. Last year, the high court confirmed this ruling on charges of homicide, assault and theft of police firearms. But charges of riot, disruption of public services and illegal firearm possession remained outstanding until this second decision.
A court in Peru's Loreto region on Jan. 22 issued an order blocking all oil exploration or exploitation within a vast area of the Amazon rainforest along the Brazilian border, citing the presence of isolated or "uncontacted" peoples in the zone and the impossibility of obtaining their "prior consultation." The order affects Lots 135, 138 and 31B, which lie within Sierra del Divisor National Park, straddling the regions of Ucayali and Loreto. The case was brought in 2017 by the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Oriente (ORPIO), challenging the move by state agency PeruPetro to auction leases for the designated blocs.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro met in New Delhi Jan. 26, pledging a "new chapter" in cooperation between their two countries, especially naming counter-terrorism and exploitation of minerals, hydrocarbons and other natural resources. (India Today, PTI) The juxtaposition of security concerns and extractivism is telling, as both leaders prepare to repress opposition to their plans to open the traditional territories of indigenous peoples to industrial interests.
Groups including Brazil's Human Rights Advocacy Collective (CADHu) and the Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns Commission for Human Rights (Comissão Arns) on Nov. 25 submitted a written recommendation to Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), reporting the need for a preliminary examination into genocide and systematic attacks against indigenous people by the government of President Jair Messias Bolsonaro. This informative note walks through the dismantling of environmental protections in the Amazon rainforest, detailing how "[u]nder the pretext of developing the Amazon Region, the Bolsonaro Administration is turning government policy into encouragement for attacks on Brazil's indigenous peoples and their lands." The report further details the upsurge of deforestation and increased forest fires. Bolsonaro has dismissed urgent warnings from the scientific community, and encouraged "crimes against humanity and the genocide of Brazil's indigenous peoples and traditional communities."
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the two remaining "dubia cardinals" who dissented from a perceived liberal tilt in the Catholic Church, praised the men who removed the controversial "Pachamama statues" from a church in Rome during last month's Amazon Synod and threw them into the Tiber River. The German cardinal hailed the perpetrators as "courageous...prophets of today" in an Oct. 29 interview with the conservative Catholic LifeSiteNews, adding: "These two young men who threw these tasteless idols into the Tiber have not committed theft, but have done a deed, a symbolic act as we know it from the Prophets of the Old Covenant, from Jesus—see the cleansing of the Temple—and from Saint Boniface who felled the Thor Oak near Geismar."
A young indigenous Guajajara leader was murdered Nov. 1 in the Brazilian Amazon, raising concerns about escalating violence against forest protectors under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro. Paulo Paulino Guajajara, 26, was shot in the head and killed in an ambush in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve, in the northeast state of Maranhão. Paulo was a member of "Guardians of the Forest," a group of 120 indigenous Guajajara that organize volunteer patrols to fight illegal logging in the Araribóia reserve, one of the country's most threatened indigenous territories. The Guardians also act to protect the Awá Guajá people, an "uncontacted group" of hunter-gatherers described by Survival International as the most threatened indigenous group on the planet. (Mongabay, Nov. 2)
Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Bolivia's eastern lowland city of Santa Cruz Oct. 4, calling for President Evo Morales to be "punished" at the polls in the upcoming elections later this month. Although the march was called by the city's Comité Cívico, a voice of the right-wing opposition, a key issue was the devastation of the country's eastern forests in the wildfires that have swept across the Amazon Basin over the past months. Comité Cívico leaders accused Morales of failing to respond adequately to the fires. Last month, the Comité held a mass assembly in Santa Cruz, where they declared a state of "national disaster" over the fires. (Reuters, Oct. 5; InfoBae, Oct. 4; InfoBae, Sept. 11)