By Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The head of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency said on Tuesday that he was fired due to pressure from the agriculture ministry, which under President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking to open reservation lands to commercial agriculture and mining.
Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas, head of the National Indigenous Affairs agency Funai, was removed from the post by the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights, which oversees Funai, the ministry confirmed.
Funai is the governmental protection agency for Indian interests and their culture.
It was created in 1973 and officially placed Indians under its protection through the Indigenous Statute.
The Indigenous Statute, while aiming to demarcate all indigenous lands by 1978, also had the main goal to integrate Indians into society as soon as possible, so that the Amazon and its people could start contributing economically to Brazilian society.
Protection from a government agency is important for indigenous populations, but this also means that Funai, as a part of the government, has the authority to act contrary to the welfare of the Indians.
In remarks to agency employees, Freitas blamed Luiz Antônio Nabhan Garcia, secretary of land affairs in the Ministry of Agriculture, for his dismissal. Freitas said Bolsonaro was “very poorly advised.”
Nabhan Garcia is not only secretary of land affairs but also the leader of the União Democrática Ruralista (UDR), a lobbying association of landowners for whom the leadership change at Funai is a big win.
UDR opposes land reform and expropriation. The organization was founded in 1985, following many expropriations of land in Brazil, and remains active under its Brasília-based leadership. With tens of thousands of associates in all Brazilian states, UDR policy is to defend individual interests and private property. Through its many members in the Brazilian Congress, the UDR endorses landowner interests and opposes proposals in favor of agrarian reform.
In May, the lower house of Congress rebuffed Bolsonaro’s move to put decisions on indigenous land claims in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture and kept them with Funai.
Jair Bolsonaro alarmed anthropologists and environmentalists by planning to assimilate Brazil’s 800,000 indigenous people and open reservation lands to commercial development, even in the Amazon rainforest.
Azelene Inácio, a former director at Funai, is a potential replacement for Freitas at Funai.