Bolsonaro presents a retrograde ‘new Brazil’ at the UN

The United Nations’ most important arena for debate was used as the stage for propagating a distorted paternalistic view of indigenous people

President Jair Bolsonaro giving a speech in New York, for the opening ceremony of the 2019 General Assembly President Jair Bolsonaro giving a speech in New York, for the opening ceremony of the 2019 General Assembly

At the opening ceremony of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, on Tuesday 24 September, President Jair Bolsonaro gave a combative speech opposing indigenous rights, NGOs, the press and other countries. 

The United Nations’ most important platform for debate was used by the president as a stage for propagating a distorted paternalistic view of the indigenous peoples. He also declared the end of the process of protecting land, in front of all the nations of the world.

“I want to make it clear that Brazil is not going to increase the protected area of indigenous land by 20%, as some chiefs of state would like,” the president stated. “Unfortunately, some people both inside and outside Brazil, supported by NGOs, have stubbornly insisted on treating and keeping our Indians as if they are real cavemen.”


Bolsonaro also attacked the historical leadership of Raoni Metuktire, of the Kayapo indigenous group, recognised worldwide for his fight to defend traditional people and Amazônia. He also criticised the demarcation of the Yanomami and Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous territories, validated in 1992 and 2005, respectively.

“Often leaders like Chief Raoni are used for scheming foreign governments in their information war, to advance their interests in the Amazon.” Said Bolsonaro, who included an indigenous man, Ysany Kalapalo, who makes You Tube videos, in his delegation, to support Brazilian indigenous policy. “The indigenous people do not want to be poor, large landholders sitting on rich lands…especially sitting on the world’s richest lands. This is case of the Yanomami and Raposa Serra do Sol. There are huge resources of gold, diamonds, uranium, niobium and rare soils, among others on these reserves.” He added.

According to Camila Asano, Programme Coordinator at Conectas Human Rights, Bolsonaro is distorting arguments about the autonomy of the indigenous people in order to deny rights that the Constitution guarantees.

“In contravention of the Constitution, the president categorically states that he will not promote new demarcations of indigenous territory.” Asano said. “Moreover, it is very serious that the president has used the UN General Assembly as a platform to attack an indigenous leader and threaten the legal security of the Yanomami and Raposa Serra do Sol territories.”

The inclusion of Kalapalo in the Brazilian delegation provoked an outcry among the leaders of fourteen Xingu communities for disrespecting the “indigenous people’s autonomy to decide and recommend who should represent them.”

Isolationist Policy

In an attempt to repair Brazil’s international reputation following the fires in Amazônia, the president attacked the media and called the international press coverage of this dishonest and sensationalist.

Going against the tide of the spirit of multilateralism, Bolsonaro has abandoned diplomatic decorum, voiced attacks on Cuba and Venezuela and made a number of insinuations about France and other European countries, further isolating Brazil on the political scenario.

“The ‘new Brazil’ announced by Bolsonaro in his speech is retrograde, stuck in the outdated model of the Cold War and a fundamentalist view of gender and sexuality.” Said Asano. “If his objective was to win back the world’s confidence, as he said at the beginning his speech, the result was to further tarnish Brazil’s international credibility.” She said.

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