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President Higgins condemns Brazil’s Amazon law as threat to democracy and planet

President Michael D Higgins has condemned the Brazilian parliament for giving the green light to legislation limiting the rights of indigenous people and expanding mining and deforestation across the Amazon rainforests describing it as the” single biggest disaster threatening the international climate change movement”.

He called on the international community to “speak out firmly on where they stand on what is emerging as the greatest threat to democracy – the uncontrolled, unregulated actions of the unaccountable”.

A law was passed by Brazil’s lower house of Congress this week which will limit the creation of new Indigenous reserves to areas that were only occupied by native people in 1988.

Critics of the legislation have pointed out that many tribes had been expelled from their lands during Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1985. Many were not able to return until years later so will have no protections under the new laws.

The legislation was rushed through the congress, which critics say highlights the strength of Brazil’s powerful agriculture industry which has backed the new law.

“It is of the utmost importance that the legislation passed this week by the Chamber of Deputies in Brasília, bill number 490, be seen for what it is – an action that endangers all of humanity, present and future,” President Higgins said.

He said the legislation will “allow for the large scale building of roads, mining and deforestation of the Amazon and allow direct confrontation with some very small populations of indigenous peoples, is the single biggest disaster threatening the international climate change movement based on sustainability”.

Mr Higgins said the new law is far removed from the policies of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was “bravely elected with a clear mandate to put an end to the destruction of one of the great lungs of the world, the Amazon” and he said it was “a direct confrontation with him on the part of those who are insisting that democracy does not matter and that the prosecution of their private interests must prevail”.

He added that the legislation was “a challenge to all Heads of State and Government to now speak out firmly on where they stand on what is emerging as the greatest threat to democracy – the uncontrolled, unregulated actions of the unaccountable”.

He said that the legislation would cause the destruction of the Amazon and is “threatening the lives of the indigenous peoples who have protected it. These indigenous peoples, who are this weekend marking the first anniversary of the death of two frontline campaigners – Bruno Pereira and Dom Philips – murdered one year ago on June 5th 2022, deserve our clear and unequivocal support.”

The President called on the major signatories to international conventions on climate sustainability to “speak out and, of course, we should hear unequivocal support for President Lula da Silva from the European Union, the African Union, and all of the other unions who subscribe to the international treaties that are there for the protection of all humanity, and indeed from all who believe in established science.

“It is not the time for silence, and it would be singularly insufficient to just note that those promoting this destruction simply differ with an elected President,” he said.

He noted that around 10 per cent of Amazon cover has been deforested, while large-scale roads are being developed to facilitate a mining industry and forms of intense agricultural production. Brazil has a responsibility for more than three-fifths of the Amazon rainforest and has suffered the greatest portion of the recent deforestation, just less than half a million square kilometres.

“This recent action by the Chamber of Deputies stands as a direct challenge, not just to the elected President, but to all those other governments in the neighbourhood who had recently been conferring on a mutually-agreed common strategy of conservation,” Mr Higgins said.

“How else can what has been proposed be morally judged other than as a crime against humanity? Let us hear the voices that stand in protection of international law and the rights of humanity.”

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