Indigenous Ticuna leader Geraci Aicuna dos Santos waits to vote in Brazil’s presidential election – Copyright AFP HASSAN ALI ELMI
Lionel ROSSINI with Ramón SAHMKOW in Brasilia
Deep in the Amazon, near the region where British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were murdered in June, Ticuna natives are glued to a television, watching the results of the presidential election Brazilian live.
Wearing traditional make-up and feather headdresses, they suddenly explode into cheers and set off fireworks: left-wing veteran Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was declared the winner.
The former president (2003-2010) beat outgoing far-right president Jair Bolsonaro by a very slim margin in the second round which divided Sunday, 51% against 49%.
But at the Umariacu 2 Indigenous Reserve, a community of mostly wood and tin houses near Brazil’s border with Peru and Colombia, Lula won in a landslide.
The left-wing icon won 67% of the vote in Tabatinga County, where the community votes.
Bolsonaro is reviled in many indigenous communities for presiding over a wave of destruction in the Amazon, pushing to open indigenous reservations to mining and vowing not to allow ‘one more centimeter’ of indigenous land to receive status protected.
“I was very nervous waiting for the result, but when Lula won I felt so happy,” Nagela Araujo Elizardo, a member of the indigenous council, told AFP.
“Lula will do a lot of good for this region. He is completely different from Bolsonaro.
The first thing Lula should change, Elizardo said, is the government agency for indigenous affairs, FUNAI, which indigenous peoples accuse Bolsonaro of slashing and turning into an organization hostile to their interests.
– ‘We suffered four years’ –
Tabatinga has 57 indigenous villages, including Umariacu 1 and 2, which are home to approximately 12,000 Ticuna.
The remote region has been plagued by violent crime and growing lawlessness, including drug trafficking, poaching and illegal logging.
It lies close to the vast Javari Valley Indigenous Reserve, home to the largest concentration of uncontacted tribes on Earth.
Phillips, a correspondent for the Guardian, New York Times and other major outlets, and Pereira, a respected indigenous expert, were just outside the Javari reservation when they were murdered on June 5.
Police say they were killed by members of an illegal fishing ring angry at Pereira’s work organizing indigenous patrols to combat poaching on indigenous lands.
The case sparked an international outcry and drew new attention to rampant crime and environmental destruction in the Amazon under Bolsonaro, who presided over a 75% increase in the average annual rate of deforestation.
Those in Tabatinga know the violence all too well: FUNAI’s anti-poaching chief in the region was murdered there in 2019, in a gangland-style execution.
“We suffered for four years, it seemed there was no way out. Now my community is celebrating,” said Sebastiao Ramos, 57, head of the indigenous council of the Ticuna villages of the Amazon River, who wore a headdress of yellow and blue feathers.
Residents of Ticuna said they hoped for a change for the better, as they celebrated, played music and waved “L” hand signs for Lula.
“I followed Lula for a long time,” said Luz Marina Honorato, a 53-year-old teacher, praising the ex-metalworker’s focus not only on indigenous issues, but also on women.
In his victory speech, Lula pledged to work towards zero deforestation, saying, “We need a living Amazon.”
He also pledged to establish a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs and appoint an Indigenous person to lead it.