Demarcação ya! Demarcação ya! (Demarcation now! Demarcation now!)
This was the chant of a sparse but vocal group of protesters gathered outside the Brazilian Consulate in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday afternoon. Considering it was the coldest day in New York City since February 2016 and the coldest January 31 ever recorded in the city, it was surprising that any protesters were out at all.
“We fight for Amazônia,” said Ana Luisa Anjos, one of the organizers of the NYC Procession for Amazonian Indigenous Peoples. “Demarcation” refers to the legal protection of Indigenous lands in Brazil.
The protest outside of the Brazilian consulate in New York was one of many that took place Thursday. Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Washington D.C. and cities across Brazil held protests of their own. The demonstrations were led by APIB, the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, as the culmination of their “Indigenous blood—not a single drop more” campaign. Also known as “Red January,” the demonstrations marked the first month in power of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Mere hours into taking office on January 1, Bolsonaro transferred the responsibility of demarcating Indigenous lands from Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Department FUNAI to the Agriculture Ministry, thereby opening the door to industries seeking access to protected areas of the Amazon.
“Even before Bolsonaro’s election, Indigenous peoples in Brazil were already facing violence and loss of land from agri-business oligarchs, mining corporations and illegal loggers,” said Daniel Lavelle, the U.S. director of Survival International, one of the main organizers of the “Red January” protests. “Upon taking office, Bolsonaro immediately transferred responsibility for Indigenous land demarcation and regulation to the agri-business-controlled Agriculture Ministry. This is a virtual declaration of war against Brazil’s Indigenous peoples.”
The protesters in New York emphasized that the anti-Indigenous violence of the Bolsonaro administration not only affects Brazilian Indigenous Peoples, but the globe. “If the Indigenous people are dead and the Amazon rainforest destroyed, it will be the end of humanity on this planet,” yelled one protester into a megaphone as the group marched down East 41st Street. “We all need the Amazon.”
Despite the alarming anti-Indigenous measures that the Bolsonaro administration has taken over the past month, the message of the “Red January” protests is one of hope and resilience.
“Having suffered 500 years of genocide and massacres, Brazil’s tribal peoples are not going to be cowed by President Bolsonaro, however abhorrent and outdated his views are,” said Stephen Corry, the London-based executive director of Survival International. “And it’s been inspiring to see how many people around the world are standing with them.”
Jacquelyn Kovarik is currently a Foreign Language Area Studies Fellow at New York University, where she is studying Quechua and pursuing a master’s degree in Latin American Studies and Journalism. Her research focuses on contemporary social change in Bolivia and Peru, with an emphasis on transitional justice and initiatives for well-being and resilience in Andean communities. In 2016 she filmed and produced a documentary about families fighting for reconciliation in a post-dictatorship Bolivian society.