Jair Bolsonaro's racist comment sparks outrage from indigenous groups

Brazil’s president made anti-indigenous joke on Facebook broadcast, the latest in a succession of discriminatory comments

Indigenous activists have vowed to sue Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, for racism after his latest bigoted outburst.

In one of his weekly Facebook broadcasts on Thursday, Bolsonaro declared: “Indians are undoubtedly changing … They are increasingly becoming human beings just like us.”

The comment – in line with previous anti-indigenous statements from Brazil’s leader – drew immediate condemnation from activists who view Bolsonaro as a historic threat.

Sonia Guajajara, one of Brazil’s most prominent indigenous leaders, announced that her group, the Brazilian Indigenous People’s Association, would sue for the crime of racism.

“We, the indigenous people, the original inhabitants of this land, demand respect. Once again, Bolsonaro rips up the constitution by denying our humanity,” tweeted Guajajara.

“The indigenous were always humans just like anyone else. It’s Bolsonaro … who is revealing himself to be less and less human,” tweeted the Brazilian journalist Leonardo Sakamoto.

Sensacionalista, Brazil’s answer to Private Eye, responded with the satirical headline: “Indians say they do not wish to become humans like Bolsonaro”.

The remarks were the latest in a succession of discriminatory comments from a politician who has previously declared himself a proud homophobe and insulted Afro-Brazilian and indigenous communities.

In the 1990s, Bolsonaro, then a little-known congressman, publicly lamented how troops had failed to obliterate Brazil’s indigenous communities.

“The North American cavalry were the competent ones because they decimated their indigenous people in the past and today, they don’t have this problem in their country,” he said, complaining about the amount of land set aside for Brazil’s indigenous people.

In an attempt to portray himself as being pro-indigenous, Bolsonaro invited a rare indigenous supporter, Ysani Kalapalo, to attend his address at last year’s UN general assembly and donned an indigenous necklace.

But activists say Bolsonaro – who is pushing highly controversial plans to allow commercial mining on protected indigenous lands – represents an urgent threat.

“Not since the dictatorship have Brazil’s indigenous peoples felt as threatened as they do now,” senator Randolfe Rodrigues told the Guardian last year.

Bolsonaro’s comments come as Brazil steps up an international public relations campaign to counter criticism of his treatment of the Amazon, where critics say his anti-environment rhetoric and policies have caused a spike in deforestation.

Contributor

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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