This article was originally published here on Human Rights Pulse on April 21, 2021.
“If I become President, there will not be another centimeter of indigenous land [demarcated].”
This statement and statements like it—including several where “centimeter” was replaced by “millimeter”—cropped up frequently in the campaign rhetoric of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s far-right populism and militaristic disregard for minority groups—including Indigenous nations, Black Brazilians, and LGBTQ+ people, among others—have made him immensely popular. It has also made him one of the greatest dangers to environmental conservation and the advancement of Indigenous rights. His presidency has seen large-scale destruction of Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest and encroachment on Indigenous lands by mining and logging companies. Yet, the centrality of Indigenous groups to Bolsonaro’s anti-environment campaign makes them key stakeholders in any effort to protect the Amazon. Since Indigenous rights and conservation are so closely interlinked, it is crucial that conservationists recognize the invaluable knowledge of Indigenous leaders.
Barbara Crane Navarro is a French artist, author, and activist who currently lives near Paris. Over a period of 12 years, she spent the winter months with the Yanomami people in Venezuela and Brazil, an experience which has inspired her artistic practice and her decades-long effort to draw attention to the devastation of the Amazon Rainforest. From creating burning art installations to writing and illustrating a children’s book series, Crane Navarro is a prolific artist who has the power to instill a sense of urgency, responsibility, and connectedness in all those who interact with her creations.
We spoke with her about her biggest inspirations, what she is currently working on, and what makes the rainforest invaluable.
The following photos belong to Barbara Crane Navarro and have been republished with her permission.
Imagine waking up one day to the news that your land, which you and your tribe have subsisted on for generations, has been sold by the government to someone else. In return, you will be moved to a small plot of land without the same kinds of resources as before. This loss of land creates a domino effect of loss in other areas such as income, traditional environmental knowledge, and general stability. Through green grabbing, government entities or private investors use their power over Indigenous and Afro-descendant groups to confiscate land under the guise of environmental conservation.
Across Latin America, the centuries-old issue of land conflict is gaining new dimensions as nations are increasingly bound into globalised supply chains of resources, food and energy (Peluso & Lund, 2011). The growing influence of corporate actors has transformed struggles over who has the right to inhabit and work the land, as states respond to competing claims from powerful enterprises and rural residents, who are often poor and indigenous. This essay will examine how the authorities in Chile and Honduras have repressed the protests of communities against the appropriation or contamination of their lands by these commercial interests. Despite the many differences between these countries – Chile being one of the most peaceful and prosperous nations in the Americas, Honduras one of the poorest and most violent – they share many similarities in this respect. Via a process that Bessant (2016) calls the ‘criminalisation of dissent’, their governments have prohibited rural activism through authoritarian legislation and violence in order to serve the interests of powerful national and multinational corporations.
In the headlines: Deforestation in the Amazon increases under Bolsonaro, Ecuador fights illegal mining, Haitians demand President step down over corruption, Italian court sentences 24 to life sentences in Operation Condor trial, and more.
It was pitch black save for the stars that pierced the night sky and the faint glow of bioluminescent leaves underfoot, but Manuel could see. The hum of cicadas surrounded us as we wove around the thick growth of the jungle, and I tried not to stumble over the vines that snaked up ancient trees. Pointed stick in hand, Manuel spun stories of encounters with jaguars and deceitful ex-lovers as we traipsed to the river in hopes of catching a fish to bring back to our camp, where a caiman already hung from a line alongside our hammocks.
I had just completed a U.S. State Department-sponsored Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Colombia, and two members of my cohort and I had decided to spend some of our saved stipend on a trip to the city of Leticia, which is nestled between Brazil and Peru in Amazonas, a department in the south of the country. Having already taken the obligatory boat trip down the Amazon River to see monkeys, capybaras, and birds of all hues, we tasked ourselves with planning the remainder of the trip. However, when a man stopped by our hostel advertising a jungle trek with a local Huitoto guide, we were skeptical, as we had heard horror stories of cultural tourism gone awry. Luckily for him, he was persuasive and after five minutes, we paid him a small sum to go on the trip. Luckily for us, we spent three informative days conversing with our guide, Manuel, and his grandfather and aunt about their lives in both the city and the jungle, the history of the Huitoto people, and their struggle to keep it alive.
Despite the distance from the illustrious Amazon rainforest, the Scandinavian nation of Norway has made significant investments to ensure its ongoing protection. From 2008 to 2014, under the presidencies of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, deforestation of the Amazon was in decline. However, this decline was reversed in the beginning of 2015, after Rousseff’s first four years in office, and has continued through the power grab of Brazilian business interests fronted by Michel Temer. Now, Norway is concerned that Temer’s government is backtracking significant progress in protecting the rainforest, and has announced a reduction of over half of its environmental aid in protest.