World / Politics

Bolsonaro's first order of business: Strip FUNAI agency of right to decide Brazil's native lands


Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has stripped an agency of the responsibility to demarcate indigenous lands in a move that has unsettled native rights groups and even some farm businesses that will benefit.

The decree published late Tuesday marked Bolsonaro’s first order since taking office earlier that same day.

It stipulates that the FUNAI agency in charge of indigenous affairs will no longer have a say over creating and defining the boundaries of lands occupied by indigenous people in Brazil. Instead, the agriculture ministry will take over those functions.

Bolsonaro has said he intends to loosen regulations holding back farming and mining interests in Brazil, including those relating to nature preservation and indigenous lands.

Part of his proposed reform is to bring FUNAI under the ministry in charge of human rights, instead of the justice ministry, where it is currently placed.

He had planned to merge the agriculture and environment ministries but backtracked when that provoked an outcry.

Bolsonaro, a far-right veteran lawmaker, won election in October by promising a pro-business, anti-crime agenda. To pass legislation, he will rely on lobbies in Congress representing the interests of agribusiness and a burgeoning evangelical movement, instead of reaching out to the leaders of other parties.

Indigenous rights groups deplored the new order.

“You see? The dismantlement has already started. FUNAI is no longer responsible for the identification, delimitation and demarcation of indigenous lands,” a far-left indigenous leader, Sonia Guajajara, tweeted.

Agribusiness lobbyists also expressed concern, fearing that trade sanctions could end up being slapped on Brazilian agricultural exports by countries in favor of nature preservation.