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Indigenous Activists Gather in Brazil to Discuss Future of the Amazon

Campaigners voice hopes and fears for the rainforest before leaders of eight Amazon nations attend summit in Belém

Thousands of Indigenous activists and environmentalists have converged in one of the Amazon’s biggest cities to voice their hopes and fears about the future of the world’s biggest rainforest.

The Brazilian city of Belém will this week host a two-day conclave bringing together the presidents of eight Amazon nations including Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has organised the conference as part of efforts to reposition his country as a political and environmental trailblazer after four years of Amazon devastation and international isolation under his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.

“I think the world needs to see this meeting in Belém as the most important landmark ever taken when it comes to discussing the climate question,” Lula said last week as his administration celebrated a 42.5% drop in deforestation since it took power in January.

On the eve of the summit, campaigners, Indigenous leaders and top politicians poured into Belém for a preparatory assembly to discuss ways to protect Indigenous territories, save the rainforest from a catastrophic tipping point and combat organised crime groups, which are tightening their grip on the region. The sprawling riverside city will also host the UN climate summit Cop30 in 2025.

Many attenders voiced relief and excitement at Lula’s decision to host this week’s events. Under Bolsonaro’s administration – which oversaw a dramatic jump in deforestation and attacks on Indigenous lands – such a meeting would have been unthinkable.

“With this government, we have reclaimed our democracy,” Lula’s minister for racial equality, Anielle Franco, told the Guardian. “We have emerged from a state of misrule which treated Indigenous, black and LGBTQIA+ people in such an inhumane way.”

That sentiment was echoed by activists who have flown into Belém from across South America.

Toya Manchineri, a leader from the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, said Lula’s election had brought new hope for the Indigenous population in Brazil, which is home to about 60% of the Amazon. “But this is a coalition government, not a completely leftwing one, so there are still so many obstacles to overcome,” Manchineri said. “There are numerous bills going through congress that will directly affect Indigenous rights … [and] 80% of congress opposes Indigenous rights.”

Uyunkar Domingo Peas Nampichkai, an Ecuadorian activist, voiced optimism at the long-awaited referendum his country will hold on 20 August over whether oil exploration should be banned in the Yasuní National Park, a biodiversity hotspot near the Peruvian border.

“Never before has the government or any company consulted Indigenous people,” Peas said. “Everyone knows we are reaching the point of no return, so this is crucial for Indigenous people and … the whole of humanity.”

But there was also realism about the onslaught the Amazon’s rainforests, rivers and native communities continued to suffer from agribusiness, mining gangs, drug traffickers and loggers. There was trepidation and anger over Brazilian proposals to drill for oil near the mouth of the Amazon River and calls for an end to oil and gas production across South America’s largest biome. Some activists voiced fears over the “carbon pirates” they accused of hoodwinking Indigenous communities with opaque deals to include their territories in offsetting projects.

Bushe Matis, the president of the Indigenous NGO that the British journalist Dom Phillips was reporting on when he was murdered in the Javari valley last year, flew to the summit to denounce how violence continued to blight his remote rainforest home.

“We are crying out for help. Our rivers are being polluted. Miners are coming into our lands. Our territory is unprotected. We are being threatened. Indigenous people are dying all across Brazil,” said Matis, his face painted with the red dye of the urucum fruit.

On Saturday night came a powerful reminder of the dangers faced by Indigenous activists across the Amazon when a Brazilian activist took to the stage to report how his teenage son had been shot hours earlier and was in hospital recovering from surgery.

“We will never give up,” Urutaw Tembé vowed as he denounced the gun attack on his 19-year-old son.

“We are tenacious and resilient warriors,” shouted Tembé, who wore a headdress made from the blue feathers of macaws. “We were born into this struggle and in this struggle we will die.”

Source: The Guardian