BRASILIA (Reuters) – Former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday promised Brazil’s indigenous people that he would stop illegal mining on their reservations and recognize their land claims if he wins the presidential election in October.
Lula visited a protest camp in Brasilia where several thousands members of 200 tribes have gathered to oppose plans by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to allow commercial agriculture, mining and oil exploration on their lands.
“Everything this government has decreed against indigenous peoples must be repealed immediately,” said Lula, who held the presidency for two terms from 2003 to 2010.
“Nobody did more for indigenous people than our Workers Party governments, and now everything has been dismantled by this unscrupulous government,” Lula told a cheering crowd.
Bolsonaro is trailing Lula in early polls ahead of the Oct. 2 election. The president vowed in 2018 not to recognize a single centimeter of indigenous reservation land, winning him the backing of Brazil’s powerful farm lobby.
Indigenous leaders called on Lula to rebuild the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai, which has had its funding cut and staff depleted under Bolsonaro.
“Lula, we are unprotected. Our rights are being trampled on,” said Joenia Wapichana, the country’s only indigenous representative in Congress.
She said illegal occupations of protected indigenous lands are being legalized and wildcat miners are invading reservations where they destroy forest and pollute rivers.
Illegal mining grew 46% on the Yanomami reservation last year as high gold prices and tacit support from Bolsonaro set off a gold rush, bringing disease, violence and rights abuses, a report published on Monday said.
The critical situation faced by tribes has led a record number of more than 30 indigenous people to run for Congress this year, said Sonia Guajajara, head of APIB, the main umbrella organization for Amazonian tribes.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)