Amazon tribes meet to counter Bolsonaro environmental threats

Paula RAMON
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Indigenous tribesmen listen to chief Raoni Metuktire (out of frame) during a press conference in Piaracu village, near Sao Jose do Xingu, Mato Grosso state, Brazil

Several dozen indigenous leaders and representatives of Amazon communities have gathered in the heart of the threatened rainforest to form an alliance against Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policy and his threats to throw their homelands open to mining concerns.

The main objective of the meeting is to present a united front against Bolsonaro's plans, which they say pose a threat to the Amazon and their way of life, as well as threaten open conflict over land rights.

"I don't want anyone to die in front of me. I don't want everyone to kill each other, the white people against the indigenous," prominent Raoni chief Metuktire told the meeting, which began on Tuesday.

"Bolsonaro says a lot of bad things about us. He doesn't attack only the indigenous, but he attacks us more than anyone," said the Raoni chief, his head adorned with an array of colorful feathers, his body smeared with black paint.

Wearing a labret -- the ceremonial disc worn by warriors -- over his top lip, the 89-year old chief said he would personally travel to the capital Brasilia to present the meeting's conclusions to Brazil's Congress.

"Over there, I'm going to ask Bolsonaro why he speaks so badly about the indigenous peoples," he said. He also highlighted the importance of "seeking political support" for the Amazon peoples in Europe.

Last August, Metuktire had a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Biarritz, amid a raging international controversy over the Amazon wildfires, which environmentalists said were the result of Bolsonaro's policies.

The far-right president strongly criticized the Raoni leader during his speech to the UN General Assembly in New York the following month.

He warned that "the Raoni's monopoly of the Amazon is over."

The meeting is being held deep in the rainforest in the village of Piaracu in Brazil's western Mato Grosso state.

"We are living in a dramatic moment, almost a war situation," Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of the Association of Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB) told the meeting, which is scheduled to last until Friday.