Brazil indigenous affairs head fired amid push to develop Amazon

Sacking of FUNAI chief comes as President Bolsonaro pursues opening up reservation lands for commercial activity.

Brazilian Indigenous people from various ethnic groups take part in protest against the policies of the government of President Michel Temer and the demarcation of indigenous lands, in Brasilia
About 13 percent of Brazil's territory is demarcated as indigenous land, nearly all of which lies in the Amazon [Eraldo Peres/AP]

The head of Brazil‘s indigenous affairs agency said he was fired after being pressured as President Jair Bolsonaro pushes to open up reservation lands to commercial activity.

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, it confirmed.

Under a decree signed by Bolsonaro after he came to office in January, the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights oversees FUNAI. It is headed by an evangelical pastor who wants to Christianise indigenous people.

In remarks to agency employees, de Freitas blamed Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, secretary of land affairs in the Ministry of Agriculture, for his dismissal, Reuters news agency reported.

De Freitas, who had an earlier stint running FUNAI under Brazil’s previous government before being fired in April 2018 amid pressure from a powerful agribusiness lobby, also said Bolsonaro was “very poorly advised”.

‘Like animals in a zoo’

In May, Brazil’s lower house of Congress rebuffed Bolsonaro’s move to put decisions on indigenous land claims in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture, opting to keep them with FUNAI instead.

Bolsonaro, a far-right firebrand, has alarmed anthropologists and environmentalists by planning to assimilate Brazil’s 800,000 indigenous people – less than 1 percent of the country’s population – into Brazilian society, and open reservation land to commercial agriculture and mining, even in the Amazon rainforest.


Bolsonaro has previously said indigenous tribes live in poverty and should not be held inside reservations “like animals in a zoo”, but instead be allowed to engage in the development of their land and charge royalties from companies.

About 13 percent of Brazil’s national territory is demarcated as indigenous land – defined as an area inhabited and exclusively possessed by indigenous people. 

About 98 percent of such territory is located in the Amazon, an ecosystem considered by environmental scientists as a crucial buffer against the global impacts of climate change.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies