“Every import is marked with our blood”: Brazil’s indigenous leaders protest in London

15.11.2019

A delegation of indigenous activists protested outside the Brazilian embassy to call for an end to destruction of their land and rights and urged Europe to ban imports of deforestation-linked goods

Indigenous leaders gathered outside the Brazil embassy in London on 14 November 2019. Photo: Earthsight

“It seems like the life of cattle is worth more than us indigenous people,” Elizeu Guarani, a Brazilian indigenous activist from Mato Grosso do Sul, told the crowds.

Guarani was among a group of 10 indigenous leaders to deliver a damning indictment of the Bolsonaro government’s dismantling of environmental and indigenous rights at a protest outside the Brazil embassy in London on Thursday. Earlier they had delivered to the embassy a ‘Racist of the Year’ award for President Jair Bolsonaro’s for his abuse of indigenous groups and the attacks which they have endured under his government.

The indigenous leaders are in London as part of the Indigenous Blood: Not a Single Drop More advocacy tour organised by APIB, the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, which has seen the delegation visit 18 European cities in 35 days.

A crowd of more than 100 protesters made their voices heard outside the embassy and held various placards proclaiming, “If the forest is destroyed, we won’t be able to breathe” and “Together with the Amazon”.

Several posters were adorned with an image of Paulo Paulino Guajajara, an indigenous land defender who was murdered by illegal loggers inside the Araribóia indigenous territory in the Amazon Frontier on 1 November.

Global Witness estimates that at least 20 environment defenders were murdered in Brazil in 2018.

Nara Baré, coordinator of the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Brazilian Amazon, said at the protest: “What happened to our relative, Paulino Guajajara, is a clear example of what we have been through. We are reaffirming that it is our blood being shed for the soybeans and wood that come to Europe.

“We are here to say that every import that comes to Europe is marked with our blood. It’s time to say enough! Measures need to be taken, and the responsibility lies with everyone: parliaments, civil society, consumers and businesspeople themselves.”

Elizeu Guarani, an indigenous leader from Mato Grosso do Sul. Photo: Survival International

The Amazon fires in August – more than 70,000 fires were recorded in the first half of 2019, an 85 per cent spike from 2018 – pushed conservation issues in Brazil to the mainstream news globally.

And although the EU has mooted a possible new binding regulation to stop deforestation-linked goods being imported, and recent meetings point to increasing political will to realise such proposals, no firm commitment has yet been made.

Dozens of corporate brands have also issued promises to remove deforestation from their supply chains over the years but have systematically failed.

In July it was estimated that 50 million hectares of global forests have been destroyed for commodities in the past decade – a period during which the largest consumer brands pledged to end deforestation.

“We need you to understand that fighting against the fires in the Amazon is not just our responsibility as indigenous people but is the responsibility of all of you here. The Amazon is the lungs of the earth and we all depend on it.”

Gabriela, a Brazilian university student in London attending the protest, said the government is abandoning indigenous communities. “The indigenous genocide has always happened in Brazil since the invasion of the colonisers, but the current government is making their struggle even harder,” she told Earthsight.

She said more should be done to prevent the sale of products linked to the destruction of indigenous lands by corporations and the international community.

“I think we should monitor all of the companies that are fueling this genocide by buying products or supporting this extractive production in Brazil that takes a lot of indigenous land to produce cattle, soy and other goods for export,” she said. “They mainly supply the big countries and leave all of the devastation and the misery for our country and our indigenous people.” 

Accompanying the indigenous delegation touring Europe is Sonia Guajajara, the head of APIB. In an exclusive interview with Earthsight to be published soon, Sonia Guajajara echoes calls for exclusions of deforestation-linked commodities from major markets like the EU.

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