Bolsonaro Caps Natives’ Lands, Pleasing Farmers in One of First Acts

(Bloomberg) -- In one of his first acts as Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro stripped the National Indian Foundation of the power to create new indigenous reserves, a move that will please the country’s influential farm lobby.

From now on, it is the agriculture ministry, led by the former chief of the farm lobby, that decides over new indigenous lands. It will also control the forestry service that registers rural property as part of an effort to prevent deforestation. The changes were published in the official gazette.

Bolsonaro has blasted reserves as forcing indigenous people to live like animals while halting economic development of the hinterland.

About 30 percent of Brazil’s territory is protected for either conservation or indigenous groups, about half of which is in the Amazon, according to Embrapa, a government-run agricultural research organization. Indigenous lands comprise some 12 percent of Brazil’s territory, according to Funai.

Bolsonaro Caps Natives’ Lands, Pleasing Farmers in One of First Acts

“Less than a million people actually live in these isolated places of Brazil, which are exploited and manipulated by non-governmental organizations,” Bolsonaro said Wednesday on Twitter. “We are going to integrate these citizens and respect all Brazilians.”

Bolsonaro’s shake-up aims at fulfilling campaign pledges to support farmers, who complain they’re constricted by over-regulation and fines. Environmentalists say the changes will open the floodgates to rapid and irreversible encroachment on the Amazon for farming.

Deforestation in the Amazon has been on the rise again. It increased 13.7 percent in the 12 months through July 2018 to its highest level in a decade, according to the National Institute for Space Research.

Bolsonaro’s agriculture ministry is headed by Tereza Cristina Dias, who led the farm lobby in the lower house of Congress. In his administration, the agriculture ministry will also have the power to establish protected areas known as quilombos, as communities descended from runaway slaves are known.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.