Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

Luiz Tembe, an indigenous Tembe warrior, smokes a cigarette as he waits for police to arrive with other members of his tribe on the Alto Rio Guama indigenous reserve in Para state, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 September 2019

Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

  • Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires
  • Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life

ALTO RIO GUAMA INDIGENOUS RESERVE, Brazil: Deep in the Amazon rainforest, there is talk of a looming conflict over land. The men in the Tembe indigenous group sometimes daub themselves in traditional war paint and patrol the forest. They carry bows and arrows, but feel increasingly vulnerable as they brace for run-ins with illegal loggers.

Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires, usually set to clear land, devastated large areas of the Brazil’s Amazon region in past weeks. Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life.

The problem is old — and escalating. On Aug. 27, Tembe people who had repeatedly warned loggers to stay out of their reserve took action. On a forest trek, men from the Tekohaw village spotted loggers using chain saws, trucks and tractors to cut down and haul trees. The indigenous warriors recorded video. Then they intervened, letting the loggers flee before burning their machinery.

“We destroyed their machinery because they have been destroying our lives for a long time. Our life is the forest,” said Ronilson Tembé. On a recent jungle patrol, he was camouflaged from head to foot with leaves and carried a large red horn to summon companions.

The Tembe are proud of their triumph, but worry about retaliation. Police are monitoring makeshift sawmills around their land after the Tekohaw village chieftain filed reports of death threats. “Every day that passes, the invasion comes closer to our village,” said the chieftain, Sergio Muxi Tembé. He wore a colorful headdress of macaw and other feathers and a traditional bone bracelet on his wrist, next to a Casio digital watch.

“We don’t want to be killed by bullets,” he said. “We want the federal government to assume its responsibility and guarantee the right that we have to live in our lands, to live in peace.” Their 1,080-square-mile (2,766-square-kilometer) Alto Rio Guama homeland is officially protected. But in reality, it’s under siege by loggers who try to extract prized hardwood in a Brazilian state that is one of the Amazon’s largest producers and exporters of timber.

Like other Amazon states, Para has also been hit by thousands of fires that have intensified international concern about the world’s largest rainforest, considered a vital bulwark against climate change. An Associated Press team traveled for days in the Amazon to document the fires and deforestation on the remote indigenous reserve, which can only be reached by river or on rough roads.

On a recent day, a boa constrictor slithered in the sun on a red dirt road leading to Tekohaw, where about 600 members of the tribe live on the banks of the Gurupí River. Their life mixes tradition and modernity. Villagers fish for piranhas, hunt for birds, and pick fruits and take materials for traditional medicine from jungle trees, while some watch television or log on to the Internet on phones inside thatched-roof huts.

Like elsewhere in Brazil, stricter enforcement of environmental laws between 2004 and 2014 sharply curbed deforestation in the Amazon. The rate began climbing after that, and ramped up further as the fires escalated in early August, according to Brazilian state monitors.

Amid an international outcry, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sent the military to help battle some fires and banned most legal fires for land-clearing in the Amazon for 60 days. However, he had previously promised to loosen protections for indigenous lands as a way to develop Brazil’s economy, a pledge that critics say has stoked clashes.

Bolsonaro believes past allocations of land to indigenous people were excessive. About 14 percent of Brazil is indigenous territory, a huge area for a relatively small population, according to the president. Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in Washington last week that the opening of the Amazon to development is “the only way to protect the forest.”

One expert on Brazil said the plight of the Tembe people is the direct outcome of government policy. “This leads to a situation where the lawlessness of the Amazon region ... becomes such that the livelihood of the indigenous people is under a real threat. And they don’t have a lot of capacity to defend themselves,” said Monica de Bolle, a Brazil expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“These are the people who live off the land, who do substance farming. They are very much aware of the environment around it and how to maintain it because that’s how they sustain their livelihood,” said de Bolle, who recently testified before US Congress about the Amazon.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week that deforestation in the Amazon “is driven largely by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them.” It blamed Brazil’s government for failing to protect the rainforest and people trying to protect it.

Those networks can “coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to intimidate and, in some cases, kill those who seek to defend the forest,” Human Rights Watch said. It based its report on interviews with indigenous people and others in the Brazilian states of Para, Maranhao and Rondonia.

In Brazil’s Congress, lawmaker Edmilson Rodrigo from Para state made a call to defend the Amazon’s indigenous people, including the Tembe. “Land grabbers, miners, loggers have taken their lands and they’ve reacted by trying to protect it,” he said.
Women of the Tembe tribe said their men will suffer casualties if they get into a fight with loggers likely to have firearms. They hope an international donor can provide the men with bulletproof vests.

“Our husbands go to look out after our lands, and this is our only weapon,” said Anailde Tembe, the chieftain’s wife. She lifted a bow and a sheaf of feathered arrows.


Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

Updated 06 June 2020

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

  • US tops COVID-19 mortality rally with 108,000 people confirmed dead
  • Trump says more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election. Just 2 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, a Monmouth University poll found earlier in the week.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. ... This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump condemned “what happened last week,” said no other president has done as much for black Americans, and declared that an economic rebound was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
Putting words in the dead man’s mouth drew quick criticism, including from likely presidential foe Joe Biden, who said it was “despicable.” The Trump campaign said any reports saying Trump was contending Floyd would be praising the economic news were “wrong, purposefully misrepresented, and maliciously crafted.”
A few blocks away, city workers painted a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign on 16th Street leading to the White House.
Politically, few things matter more to Trump’s future than the state of the US economy, which was all but shut down by state governments this spring to prevent greater spread of the deadly coronavirus. Defying health experts, the president has aggressively encouraged states to re-open and has assailed state leaders by name who resist.
At the same time, he’s taken an uneven approach to explosive racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death. As he has in recent days, Trump on Friday offered a sympathetic message to Floyd in one breath and lashed out at protests in his name the next.
Local governments “have to dominate the streets,” Trump said. “You can’t let what’s happening happen.”
The president spoke in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department said that US employers added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month. Economists had been expecting them instead to slash 8 million jobs in continuing fallout from the pandemic.
The jobless rate, at 13.3%, is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression. And for the second straight month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the virus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.
Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20% or more, the news was seen as evidence that the collapse may have bottomed out in April.
Friday’s report made for some tricky reaction gymnastics for Trump’s Democratic election opponent, Biden, who sought to contrast the improving figures with the fact that millions of Americans are still out of work. The high jobless rate, he said, is due to the Trump administration mishandling the response to the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about something: The depth of this jobs crisis is not attributable to an act of God but to a failure of a president,” Biden declared in a Delaware speech shortly after Trump spoke.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump was patting himself on the back as America faces some of its sternest challenges ever.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker, take a look around at the consequences,” Biden said.
It’s unclear how many jobs that were lost as a result of the pandemic are permanently gone or whether the reopenings in states will create a second surge of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, the report from mid-May doesn’t reflect the effect that protests across the nation have had on business.
Many economists digging into the jobs report saw a struggle ahead after the burst of hiring last month.
Friday’s report reflected the benefits of nearly $3 trillion in government aid instead of an organic return to normal. Only one of every nine jobs lost because of the pandemic has been recovered, and the specter of corporate bankruptcies hangs over the recovery.
Much of the growth came from 2.7 million workers who were temporarily laid-off going back to their jobs. This likely reflected $510 billion in forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program to nearly 4.5 million employers — an administration initiative that helped push the unemployment rate down to 13.3% from 14.7% in April. African American unemployment rose slightly to 16.8 percent.
Late Friday, Trump signed legislation to add new flexibility to the PPP, giving business owners more flexibility to use taxpayer subsidies and extending the life of the program.
As the money from the PPP runs out, there could be another round of layoffs, warned Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University.
“There will be continuing residual fear and uncertainty,” Sohn said.
Trump on Friday defended his handling of the pandemic, contending that more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted. More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, though, Trump said states and cities should be lifting remaining restrictions. “I don’t know why they continue to lock down,” he said of some jurisdictions that have maintained closings.
Former South Carolina Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who briefly mounted a primary challenge to Trump last year, dismissed any employment gain due to federal deficit spending.
“What we have right now is federal policy aimed solely at boosting numbers that obviously would help in a reelection effort,” Sanford said in an interview. “We’re literally buying jobs.”
But there was little sign of concern among Trump and his Republican allies in Washington.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the jobs numbers. He added: “Today is probably the greatest comeback in American history.”
He pitched himself as key to a “rocket ship” rebound that would fail only if he doesn’t win reelection.
“I’m telling you next year, unless something happens or the wrong people get in here, this will turn around,” Trump said.