“Indigenous people protect our future,” read an enormous image projected on the side of a building in Midtown Manhattan. On the evening of September 19, Indigenous and environmentalist leaders collaborated with NYC-based protest projection collective “the Illuminator” to display political slogans against deforestation and violence against Indigenous peoples in Brazil.
Slogans included, “protect Indigenous land, protect the climate,” “timber extraction threatens Indigenous land and increases conflict,” “Indigenous peoples protect all ecosystems,” among others, in both English and Portuguese. The organizations that planned the protest include the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), Defend Democracy in Brazil Committee (DDB-NY), Greenpeace Brazil and Greenpeace USA.
Durante a Semana Climática, povos indígenas colorem Nova York com projeção nos prédios, cobrando a proteção aos biomas, territórios e vidas dos povos originários.#DemarcaçãoJá #LutaPelaVida #emergenciaclimatica pic.twitter.com/bLKEwsN0aX
— Apib Oficial (@ApibOficial) September 19, 2022
This protest comes as a response to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and Climate Week currently taking place in New York City. On September 20, right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro opened the UNGA. Activists in Brazil have charged Bolsonaro with genocide for his deadly mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as crimes against Black and Indigenous people. Bolsonaro has also been accused of wreaking havoc on the environment, in particular regarding ramped up deforestation of the Amazon.
Last night, activists highlighted in the heart of New York City the destruction of forests and Indigenous lands, and the threats to Indigenous Peoples’ lives and rights in Brazil.#UNGeneralAssembly #IndigenousRights #NewYorkCityhttps://t.co/CjjGFjalZK pic.twitter.com/k3B3Zqfvbv
— Defend Democracy in Brazil (@BrazilDemocracy) September 19, 2022
“Indigenous Lands are the most preserved areas in all of Brazil, but this does not translate into our rights being protected,” said Dinaman Tuxá, Executive Coordinator at APIB. Indeed, Indigenous peoples play a tremendous role in protecting the Amazon environment. As made obvious by satellite imagery, the area surrounding the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau reserve is 70% deforested, while the reserve itself is only 2% deforested.
At the same time, Indigenous peoples are some of the most persecuted in Brazil, a persecution that has only worsened during Bolsonaro’s term. As of August 2022, 176 Indigenous people have been murdered during Bolsonaro’s third year in office. At least 6 Indigenous people were murdered in September alone, thus far. These assassinations include that of Indigenous leader Victorino Sanches of the Guaraní-kaiowá on September 13.
Notably, in June 2022, Indigenous activist Bruno Periera and journalist Dom Phillips were found dead in a remote part of the Amazon. At the time, Sônia Guajajara, executive coordinator of APIB and candidate for Federal Deputy commented, “[it is h]ard to wake up in one of the countries that kills the most environmental defenders. They want us to give up, but we will not give up. Brazil is Indigenous land and we will make our whole lives a life of struggle for our peoples!”
UN address or campaign speech?
Bolsonaro’s address to the UNGA on the morning of September 20, focused on elevating the policies carried out by his administration and attacking prior governments, leading many analysts to denounce it for being akin to a campaign speech. He stated that “As regards the environment and sustainable development, Brazil is part of the solution and stands as a reference to the world.”
“In the Brazilian Amazon, an area as big as Western Europe, more than 80% of the forest remains untouched and pristine, contrary to what is often reported by the mainstream national and international media,” Bolsonaro continued.
These statements have been widely criticized for being misleading. Studies show that environmental destruction has accelerated during Bolsonaro’s term as president. According to Greenpeace Brazil, as of January, during the past three years, deforestation has increased by 52.9% in the Amazon, compared to the three previous years.
According to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 7,135 km2 of the Amazon rainforest, nine times the area of New York City, was deforested from January to August 2022. This is the highest rate ever recorded for this length of time.
The INPE data also indicates that deforestation reached the highest rate last month since 2017, surpassing the infamous 2019 “day of fire” in which rural producers agreed to burn pasture and deforestation areas on August 10 of that year. Also in August of this year, 33,116 illegal fire hotspots were recorded in the Amazon.
Carol Pasquali, Executive Director of Greenpeace Brazil, said, “What happens in the Amazon doesn’t stay in the Amazon. All over the world, we are already seeing the impacts of the climate crisis…We need our forest standing and its people protected from those who want to make short-term profits off of it.”
The organizers of the September 19 action said that the projections were intended to call out Bolsonaro “for anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental policies that have led to an explosive increase in deforestation along with violence against Indigenous Peoples and environmental defenders.”