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Alexandra Mustafá PhD
Interchange Movement Coordinator between Brazilian and Italian Social Work, Brazil

The Amazon and the indigenous question in Brazil: a problem of Brazilians or a problem that interests all humanity?

Brazilian society is historically marked by social inequality, authoritarianism, and the induced subordination of the national elite class to the interests of the international bourgeoisie. Those characteristics of Brazilian society are explained by its subordinate position in the context of the international division of labour in relation to the richer and imperialist countries. This begun in the period of colonization of Brazil from the year 1500. Already at that time, the native inhabitants - the indigenous population, the Indians - were expelled from their lands and pushed, more and more, to the interior of the territory.

Portuguese colonization had established a system of territorial occupation in Brazil, inspired by feudalism and called it the "system of hereditary captaincies". In that system, land properties were attributed to Portuguese nobles, who became colonizers and, consequently, landowners. The colonizers, as agents of the Portuguese crown, had the role of exploring all available resources and of "domesticating" the natives by inserting them into the colonial slave system.

The resistance of the indigenous population was immediate in order to maintain their culture and communal way of life, characterized by peaceful coexistence with nature; non-dominion or exploitation relationship with nature; and non-dominance relationship between the individuals that make up the tribes, with the indigenous people decided to go deep into the forests. That was a survival and protection strategy on the part of the Indians, which enabled them to resist and avoid submitting to the slave-based production mode that the Portuguese colonizers were imposing. The Indians who did not manage to escape the domination of the Portuguese were assimilated by the new system of exploitation of labour in a as subordinates. In a short time, a process of miscegenation of the population was also unleashed. It did not take long for sons and daughters to appear resulting from the relationship between whites people and native Indians. These children later became 'poor and abandoned'", as neither the Indians wanted to raise them, nor the Portuguese, as they were deemed to be 'bastards'.

Thus, a population of people excluded from social participation was formed, which was the target of Catholic church interests, which promoted assistance and forced catechesis (DeAnchieta 1933). This was the basic contingent of the formation of what we call in the Brazilian Social Work, the Social Question.

This resistance from the indigenous population was decisive to promote a new scenario in the configuration of Brazilian society: the great majority of the Indians refused to allow themselves to be enslaved. Unable to enslave the Indians, the Portuguese decided to seek other forms of labour exploitation following the mercantilist logic as maximizing exports and restricting imports, and fostering private property regimes. Soon it would be decided to look for vulnerable people in Africa to enslave.

Meanwhile, native culture survived, and a system of collectivist relations was continued, established on solid foundations of communal division/fruition of goods. However, until the present day, legally, the areas inhabited by indigenous peoples were not and still are not recognized as belonging to them. However they are their owners, because they have enjoyed these lands for millennia. However, from the point of view of western jurisdiction (formal law), while native populations have the minimum right to live, the land is nevertheless legally recognized as 'white land'. This can be seen through the comparative analysis between the situation of land ownership in Brazil in the colonial period and that same situation today: before the arrival of the colonizers 100% of the lands in Brazil were occupied by the Indians, today they have only 12.2% of the national territory in their hands, and this possession is conditioned to the authorization of the State for its delimitation as an "indigenous community"(A Republico dos Ruralists) It should also be noted that this struggle for the demarcation of indigenous lands is the subject of intense conflicts, since the large legal landowners are the most tenacious usurpers of the use of land for profit that ensure the power of the agrarian elite in the country. The essential activity of this landowning elite is agribusiness, which occupies about 60% of the land and is predominantly intended for the generation of commodities for export of products that serve the interests of the international market to the detriment of food production for consumption by the local population. Represented in the National Congress by the "Bancada Ruralista" (Ruralist Bench), (Dialogo 2022) agribusiness entrepreneurs, the landowners, are the promoters of land conflicts, even promoting irregular, illegal actions when it comes to guaranteeing their control over the land. These conflicts over land between native Indians and landowners are extremely unequal conflicts because the indigenous peoples do not have either governmental protection to resist, or state-of-the-art technological structure, as the landowners have.

Making a comparative analysis, it can be seen that this is a difference very similar to that between wealthy person in a western country and a poor person in that country. However, the Indians have an awareness that is rare among the poor: it is the awareness of their cultural identity, of their intangible heritage, that gives them a great feeling of self-esteem. But when confronted with the landowners who continue to expel them from their lands, they are often even murdered. The right to claim rights is already regulated by the Brazilian Constitution of 1988, but in practice it is not respected. It is also a customary right, given the historical characteristics of the formation of Brazilian society.

This situation also produces an unprecedented ecological crisis. The Indian is the bearer of irreplaceable anthropological wealth but also its habitat has significance that goes beyond local needs and extends reaching the entire planet Earth, particular because the aforementioned agribusiness impinge and negatively impact this rich ecological environment to promote capitalist wealth with international stakeholders. Thus, the ecological issue of preservation of the Amazon, which is of fundamental interest for survival on the planet, worldwide, is inextricably linked to the capitalist issue of exploitation of natural resources and land tenure by large landowners who threaten the lives of indigenous people, who are, in practice, the "guardians of the forest".

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In recent years, the Amazon has become a stage of conflicts between indigenists (activists who defend the rights of native Indians) and those who take advantage of wood, gold, iron, mineral and plant resources in the region. This scenario has become dramatic by the wave of murders that plagues the territory. The month of June 2022 went down in history as a bloody month due to the murder of Indians and their defenders.

The international media reported with great interest the facts that led to the discovery of the murdered Bruno Pereira and the British journalist Dom Phillips, correspondent for The Guardian, in the Rio Javari region (AM), both important indigenists. Bruno was a former employee of FUNAI (Fundacao Nacional do Indio) for 12 years and his action was characterized by fighting illegal mining and the invasion of loggers that threatened the lives of indigenous peoples, especially those more isolated, in the Javari Valley region. He was released from his position because he was seen as a potential enemy of those interested in exploring the area and continued his action as a militant of the indigenist movement to defend indigenous reserves. Therefore, he was an employee who did not support the policy of the federal government, who supported policies for mining and deforestation in the Amazon, making the rules for these activities more flexible. Bruno suffered political persecution within FUNAI precisely for detecting and inspecting the invasion of loggers and prospectors.

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Em manifestação, indigenas cobraram proteção á área e pediram justiça para Bruno Pereira e Dom Phillips. Image: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Dom was a British correspondent for The Guardian and came to Brazil in 2007. He often traveled to the Amazon to report on the environmental crisis and its consequences for indigenous communities and their lands. The journalist met Bruno in 2018, during a report for The Guardian. The pair were part of a 17-day expedition through the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land, one of the largest concentrations of isolated indigenous people in the world, considered "the stage for dispute between criminal factions that stand out for the overlapping of environmental crimes, ranging from deforestation and mining illegal actions related to drug and arms trafficking". The common interest brought the pair together.

Dom and Bruno had been missing since June 5th 2022 and after searches by the Federal Police, their bodies were found, dismembered, on June 15th. Before being killed, Bruno and Dom faced death threats and even armed invaders on the border of an indigenous territory. The English reporter photographed armed men threatening the indigenous people. The men would be linked to Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, suspected of being the instigator of the crime. The incident took place two days before the disappearance, on the border of an indigenous territory. This appeared to reflect previous incidents; in September 2017, for example, the Federal Public Ministry of Amazonas confirmed the murder of at least 20 indigenous people from an isolated village in Vale do Javari by illegal miners in the municipality of Sao Paulo de Olivenca.

Brazilian society and Brazilian social work are mourning the brutal violence that has become the hallmark in the country against those who defend human and environmental rights. It is worth adding that those that support what they refer to disparagingly as anti-communists in the world has grown in an organized way and its promoters are willing to fight anyone who defends human rights and social rights. In Brazil, the extreme right has grown, supported by this international wave. A hate campaign against the "communists" has been going on and gathering supporters. At the same time, there is a process of apology for weapons coming from the central government itself (Sendado Federal). Along with this, religious fanaticism has grows (Pinheiro 2015), with an anti-communist discourse and enemy of the progress of customs. Consequently, whoever opposes the anti-humanist interests of the capitalists becomes the target of the threats of these new fanatics. The possibility of an escalation of violence in this scenario is real, although it all depends on a series of factors, vulnerable sectors such as favela residents and indigenous people already experience a climate of real violence and fear in their living environments (Sindsprev/rj 2022).

These data mentioned above, which can be greatly expanded with more and more citations, are deeply concerning. For the Social Service, directly in contact with the people and social movements, may need protection if something serious happens in the country. There are precedents whose evidence of the increasing situation in Brazil is very similar. Let us think of the case of Rwanda, in Africa, in 1994, when the conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups culminated in the murder of more than 800,000 Tutsis, victims of a paramilitary army, ideologically prepared, with the omission of colonizing and imperialist countries such as Belgium, France (Macron 2022) and the United States (Osservatario Diritti 2022), which, according to various sources, were aware of the danger of imminent genocide there. Racial hatred between ethnic groups was fierce in Rwanda. The Belgian government is interested in the Region, especially in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (Euronews 2022), which has been experiencing a decades-long war whose number of deaths already characterizes that situation as the 'Black Holocaust'. The presence of minerals and ores of great importance for technological advancement, such as Coltan, makes capitalist countries turn a blind eye to the need to give dignity to those people. Further in Brazil, access to firearms by the population, mainly Protestants, is being increasingly encouraged, associated with hatred against leftists and defenders of social and human rights (Marques 2022). The manipulation of people's minds with anti-humanist and anti-communist ideals indicates the creation in the popular imagination of a situation in which one could have to kill people considered evil, against the family, without religion, and so on.

The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW/AIETS) has as its ethical foundations the defense of human rights in any and all circumstances. When it comes to an attack on human rights in any country, the indignation of social workers around the world is, per se, great. But it becomes even greater when indigenous populations like the Amazon Indians are affected. For the blamelessness they possess transforms the atrocity against them into the greatest possible aggression against human beings.

Social workers are involved in these contexts where violence against human rights occurs in many countries and may also suffer the impact of these waves of violence. Thus, social work and its representative entities have the role of monitoring, denouncing and in dealing with both the populations that suffer such violence, such as indigenous people , human rights defenders, victims of land conflicts, and so on, and as with social workers who may be at professional risk in these regions. The attitude of scrutiny, support and denunciation can contribute positively to reducing conflicts and protecting social workers who fight for the protection of social and human rights.


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