Bolsonaro visits indigenous Amazon lands despite protests
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday visited two indigenous reserves in the Amazon for the first time as head of state, despite protests from some tribal leaders against his willingness to open their protected lands to commercial mining .
Bolsonaro, flanked by army officers and wearing a feather headdress, watched members of the local Tukano community perform a ritual dance in the Balaio reserve, where he inaugurated a bridge.
Regional indigenous leaders from the upper reaches of the Rio Negro River said they had not been invited to see Bolsonaro and that he had only met unrepresentative leaders during a photoshoot for his re-election campaign. ‘next year.
“Our institution is three decades old, but we have not been included in the president’s agenda or in any dialogue on public policies in the region,” the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Rio Negro said in a statement. “He met with self-proclaimed leaders to produce fake news.”
The president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The wooden bridge that Bolsonaro inaugurated was built by the Brazilian army on a road that leads to the border with Venezuela, passing through the Balaio reserve, where large reserves of niobium have been discovered.
The metal is used to make light steel for jet engines and other special applications. Bolsonaro has regularly mentioned its value in speeches about the untapped riches of the Amazon that Brazil must exploit.
The Balaio Reserve is above the Rio Negro at the northwestern tip of Brazil, on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
Bolsonaro then surrendered and spent the night at a military border post in Maturacá, located at the western end of the Yanomami reserve, the largest in Brazil.
The eastern section of the reserve in Roraima state has been overrun by more than 20,000 illegal gold miners, who have been encouraged by Bolsonaro’s support for legalizing wildcat mining in Brazil.
Yanomami leaders deplored the far-right president’s visit to their reserve and reiterated their calls for the authorities to deport the minors.
“The government urgently needs to remove invaders from our territories to safeguard our health and that of Mother Earth,” they said in a letter to Bolsonaro.
“We do not accept the legalization of mining activities on our lands, as it will not bring any benefit to the Yanomami,” said the letter signed by the leaders of Maturacá.
Bolsonaro’s visit came the day after gold miners illegally prospecting on indigenous lands along the Tapajos River in the Amazon shot at a village in Munduruku and torched the house of one of its leaders.
The lower house of Brazil’s Congress, where Bolsonaro supporters are in the majority, is currently examining proposed government legislation that would open the door to commercial mining and agriculture on indigenous reserves.