Amazon summit in Brazil: Indigenous people speak out against violence

Indigenous people marching in a row holding up placards with slogans such as: “Our land is our future” Indigenous peoples’ march for the rainforest during the Amazon summit in Belém (© ANA MENDES @anamendes_anamendes)

Aug 11, 2023

While the governments of eight Amazon nations gathered for a summit in the Brazilian city of Belém, Indigenous people outside the venue protested against violence, land grabbing and a flawed energy transition. Several young Indigenous people were seriously injured by gunfire. The security force of the palm oil diesel manufacturer Brasil Biofuels and military police were allegedly responsible.

On the 8th and 9th of August, Brazil’s President Lula da Silva hosted a summit of the Amazon nations. After years of deadlock and backtracking under previous presidents Bolsonaro and Temer, Lula succeeded in bringing the governments of the eight Amazon nations to the table. A hundred-point plan was devised to save the world’s largest rainforest area from deforestation and imminent collapse. During the election campaign, Lula had already promised to reduce deforestation in the Brazilian part of the Amazon to zero by 2030.

However, the Amazon countries were unable to agree on concrete steps, and the outcome largely amounted to declarations of intent. This was in part due to the host Brazil, which wants to promote oil production, while Colombian President Gustavo Petro was particularly vocal in his opposition to it.

Protest against land grabbing and violence

There were also scenes of resistance and protest in front of the conference hall in Belém: Thousands of Indigenous people, environmentalists and human rights activists had come to the capital of the state of Pará to hold a parallel Amazon civil society dialogue. Indigenous people marched in the streets of Belém demanding that their voices be heard and their land rights be recognized. Meanwhile, illegal gold prospectors, mining companies, loggers, cattle ranchers and industrial agriculture are destroying the rainforests on their ancestral land. The Indigenous peoples also spoke out against the constant violence and threats they face.

On the eve of the Amazon summit, not far away in the interior of Pará, two women and a man of the Tembé people were seriously injured by gunfire. Security forces from the palm oil company Brasil Biofuels (BBF) and military police reportedly fired on the young people.

“We must put an immediate end to the violence,” declared Indigenous leader Alessandra Munduruku on the Globo national news program. “We urgently need the demarcation of our Indigenous territories. Stop talking about bioeconomy and sustainability as long as we are experiencing this violence,” she urged the assembled governments.

The palm oil company BBF claimed that its personnel acted in self-defense against attacks by the Indigenous people. The latter report that they were peacefully demonstrating on a rural road near Tomé-Açu in the Alto Acará district and were fired upon. The area is the center of Brazil’s palm oil industry.

Companies such as BBF and the Agropalma group – despite holding multiple sustainability seals – have been involved in serious land conflicts and violence against local communities for years. The companies are said to have illegally appropriated tens of thousands of hectares of land and polluted the rivers with pesticides and waste from palm oil mills.

Two days earlier, the Tembé Indigenous Association had written an open letter to the governor of the state of Pará and the Brazilian President denouncing gunshot wounds that another young Tembé had already suffered on August 4th. BBF security personnel and the military police had allegedly carried out an illegal action against the Tembé people in the village of Bananal.

In the letter, which is supported by a dozen Brazilian organizations, the Indigenous people not only demand effective protection and an end to the violence: “We cannot talk about sustainability and the green economy without first taking care of the people of the rainforest,” the Tembé Indigenous Association urged.

“Mr. Governor, Mr. President, there can be no energy transition or climate justice without ecological, agricultural and territorial justice. We believe that you do not want to be associated with a false energy transition stained with the blood of local people,” the association writes, alluding to BBF’s production of biodiesel from palm oil.

The Indigenous people point out that the world and the future of humanity also depend on their knowledge.They had already been practicing an ecologically and spiritually balanced way of life long before the Amazon region was colonized by Europeans. To this day, they protect their territories much more effectively than the state protects public nature reserves.

  1. GloboGlobo G1 Jornal Nacional Aug. 8, 2023: Na véspera da Cúpula da Amazônia, duas mulheres e um homem do povo Tembé são baleados no Pará:


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