Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, the Ticuna tribe celebrates the victory of the Lula

Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, the Ticuna tribe celebrates the victory of the Lula


Deep in the Amazon, near the region where British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were murdered in June, local Ticunanes sit in front of a TV and watch the results of Brazil’s presidential election.

Wearing traditional face paint and feather headdresses, they suddenly erupt in cheers and set off fireworks: veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was declared the winner.

The former president (2003-2010) defeated far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in Sunday’s runoff by a razor-thin margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.

But on the Umariacu 2 indigenous reservation, a community of mostly wooden and tin-roofed houses near Brazil’s borders with Peru and Colombia, Lula won by a landslide victory.

The left-wing icon received 67 percent of the votes in the Tabatinga district, where the municipality votes.

Bolsonaro has been vilified in many Indigenous communities for leading a wave of destruction in the Amazon, pushing to open Indigenous reserves to mining and vowing not to allow “another inch” of indigenous land to be given protected status.

“I was very nervous waiting for the result but when Lula won I was so happy,” indigenous councilor Nagela Araujo Elizardo told AFP.

“Lula will do a lot of good for this region. He is very different from Bolsonaro.”

The first thing Lula should change, Elizardo said, is the state agency for indigenous affairs, FUNAI, which Bolsonaro has been accused by the indigenous people of gutting them and turning them into an organization hostile to their interests.

– “We suffered four years” –

Tabatinga has 57 indigenous villages including Umariacu 1 and 2, home to around 12,000 Ticunas.

The far-flung region was ravaged by violent crime and rising lawlessness, including drug trafficking, poaching, and illegal logging.

It is close to the sprawling Javari Valley Indigenous Reservation, home to the largest concentration of uncontacted tribes on earth.

Phillips, a correspondent for The Guardian, the New York Times and other leading media 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 who were enraged by Pereira’s work organizing tribal patrols to combat poaching on their land.

The case sparked international outrage and drew renewed attention to rampant crime and environmental degradation in the Amazon under Bolsonaro, who was responsible for a 75 percent increase in the average annual rate of deforestation.

The people of Tabatinga know the violence all too well: the anti-poaching chief of FUNAI in the region was murdered there in a gangland-style execution in 2019.

“We suffered for four years, it seemed like there was no way out. Now my community is celebrating,” said Sebastiao Ramos, 57, head of the indigenous council for the Ticuna villages in the Amazon, who wore a yellow and blue dress with a feather headdress.

Ticuna residents said they hoped for a change for the better as they partied, played music and waved “L” hand signs to Lula.

“I’ve been following Lula for a long time,” said 53-year-old teacher Luz Marina Honorato, praising the former metal worker’s focus not only on Indigenous but also on women’s issues.

In his victory speech, Lula vowed to work towards zero deforestation and said, “We need a vibrant Amazon.”

He has also pledged to create a ministry for indigenous affairs and appoint an indigenous person to head it.

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