Agribusiness seizes Brazilian power

by Vanessa Baird

It’s open season for Brazil’s oligarchs as they plunder, riding roughshod over the rights of indigenous people and small family farmers.

‘No,’ says the man behind the large locked and chained gate. ‘There is nobody you can talk to here.’

He seems sad. The whole place seems sad.

We get chatting and, after a while, he lets me into the grounds of the Museu do Indio – Rio de Janeiro’s indigenous museum.

‘If you had come here in March, there would have been people to speak to. But it’s been closed since then,’ he says. ‘It’s supposed to be for repairs, but the repairs have been abandoned.’

After a while he lets slip that staff haven’t been paid either.

It all begins to fall into place. The museum, which exists to educate the city folk about indigenous culture, and to celebrate it, is run by the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) – the government agency for the protection of indigenous people.

But since the coup there is little interest in protecting indigenous people or their rights. Quite the contrary: indigenous people are seen as a nuisance; an obstacle standing in the way of profits and a particular, self-serving notion of progress.

FUNAI has come under sustained attack by the Temer government. In May, its outspoken director, Antonio Costa, was sacked for refusing to appoint to posts friends of ministers who had no interest in indigenous protection. The agency is being starved of funds.

We sit down in a deserted room and Xmaya Kaká Fulni-ô agrees to give an interview.

He comes from Pernambuco in the northeast of Brazil; he is an ambassador for his Fulni-ô community and sells its handicrafts.

Xmaya is deeply worried about what is happening in the rural areas. The government, he says, is failing in its duty to protect its indigenous citizens. That’s putting it mildly. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), an NGO associated with the Catholic Church, has been monitoring the escalation of violence towards indigenous people and peasants. This year has seen a marked increase in rural killings, 48 in the first seven months of 2017.

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