Newly installed far-right President Jair Bolsonaro issued executive orders targeting Brazil‘s indigenous groups, descendants of slaves and the LGBT community in the first hours of his administration, moving quickly after a campaign in which the leader said he would overhaul many aspects of life in Latin America’s largest nation.
One of the orders issued late on Tuesday, hours after his inauguration, will likely make it all but impossible for new lands to be identified and demarcated for indigenous communities. Areas set aside for “Quilombolas”, as descendants of former slaves are known, are also affected by the decision.
In the move favourable to his allies in agribusiness, which have criticised giving large swaths of lands to native groups, Bolsonaro transferred the responsibilities for delineating indigenous territories from the Justice Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry. The new Agriculture Minister, Tereza Cristina, is part of the agribusiness caucus in Brazil’s lower house and has opposed requests from native communities.
The temporary decree, which will expire unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, strips power over land claim decisions from indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, previously under the Justice Ministry. FUNAI, which also oversees other initiatives for indigenous communities, such as healthcare, housing and language preservation, will be moved into a new ministry for family, women and human rights.
The plan also moves the Brazilian Forestry Service, which promotes the sustainable use of forests and is currently linked to the Environment Ministry, under Agriculture Ministry control. Additionally, the decree states that the Agriculture Ministry will be in charge of the management of public forests.
The orders stoked concern among indigenous groups, environmentalists and rights organisations that fear the vast Amazon rainforest and other ecologically sensitive areas of Brazil will be opened up to greater commercial exploitation.
Three-time presidential candidate and former Environment Minister Marina Silva, who was beaten by Bolsonaro in October’s election, reacted with horror to the orders.
“Bolsonaro has begun his government in the worst possible way,” she wrote on Twitter.
Dinama Tuxa, a member of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, said many isolated communities viewed Bolsonaro’s administration with fear.
“We are very afraid because Bolsonaro is attacking indigenous policies, rolling back environmental protections, authorising the invasion of indigenous territories and endorsing violence against indigenous peoples,” Tuxa said.
Observatorio do Clima, a network of 45 Brazilian civil society groups, said in a statement to the Associated Press news agency that the executive orders “are only the first step on meeting Bolsonaro’s campaign promises of dismantling environmental governance, stripping indigenous peoples of their rights and opening up indigenous lands for business”.
“The attack on FUNAI goes beyond the wildest dreams of the rural caucus, who had tried for years to pass a constitutional amendment transferring the demarcation of indigenous lands from the president to Congress,” the nonprofit said. “Bolsonaro solved the problem by transferring them directly to farmers. Not even the military dictatorship, whose treatment of indigenous peoples was ghastly, went that far.”
Bolsonaro, a former army captain and longtime congressman, had said during his presidential campaign that he would stop making what he calls concessions to native Brazilians and quilombolas.
“Less than one million people live in those places isolated from the real Brazil,” Bolsonaro tweeted on Wednesday. “They are explored and manipulated by nonprofits. Together we will integrate those citizens and give value to all Brazilians.”
The far-right leader said last year that he also wants to annul land demarcation decisions made by previous administrations, but legal experts say recent Brazilian Supreme Court rulings could block such move.
Another order issued on Tuesday removed the concerns of the LGBT community from consideration by the new human rights ministry. Bolsonaro did not name any alternative agency to consider such things. He has strongly criticised what he calls “gender-based ideology”, saying it is a threat to Brazil’s Christian values.
Damares Alves, the new human rights minister, did not discuss the LGBT order in her first address on the job, but the evangelical pastor has insisted over the years that “the Brazilian family is being threatened” by diversity policies.
On Wednesday, she said, “The state is lay, but this minister is terribly Christian.”
LGBT activist Symmy Larrat said she doesn’t expect reasonable treatment from the Bolsonaro administration.
“The human rights ministry discussed our concerns at a body called secretariat of promotion and defence of human rights. That body just disappeared, just like that. We don’t see any signs there will be any other government infrastructure to handle LGBT issues,” she said.
The newspaper Folha de S Paulo reported that Bolsonaro will later announce the closing of an agency within the Education Ministry that has been aimed at promoting diversity in public schools and universities.