September 25, 2019 / 7:11 PM / a month ago

Brazil's Amazon chief Raoni calls on Bolsonaro to step down

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire, proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize, said on Wednesday his people would not leave the Amazon and called on Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro to step down, a day after the head of state accused him of being a pawn of foreign interests.

Brazil's indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire gestures before meeting with politicians to discuss the environmental situation in the Amazon and a protest against the government of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro at the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil September 25, 2019.REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Brazil’s top indigenous chief was welcomed by opposition lawmakers with ovations and tribal chants at Congress, where he spoke to reporters through an interpreter.

“Bolsonaro said I was not a leader, but it is he who is no leader and should go,” Raoni, 89, said at the news conference to chants of “Raoni yes, Bolsonaro no.”

Raoni, an unmistakable Amazon icon with large lip plate, yellow macaw-feather headdress and bead necklaces, became known internationally as an environmental campaigner in the 1980s with musician Sting at his side.

The Kayapo chief has become the symbol of the fight to stop deforestation in the Amazon and a group of environmentalists and anthropologists put his name forward as a candidate for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime defence of the forest.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Bolsonaro took a swipe at Raoni as he rebuffed criticism of his slow response to combating fires in the rainforest and stated the Amazon was not part of a world heritage.

“Indigenous leaders like Chief Raoni are often used as pawns by foreign governments in their media war to advance their interests in the Amazon,” Bolsonaro said.

Bolsonaro wants to develop the Amazon and assimilate its indigenous people by allowing mining and farming on their reserves. At the UN he accused NGOs of wanting to keep the Amazon tribes living like “cavemen.”

Raoni made it clear his people want to continue living as they always have on the ancestral lands that are increasingly under threat of invasions by illegal loggers, miners and land grabbers since Bolsonaro took office in January.

“My concern is for the environment. Today everyone is worried. My work is to preserve the forest for all, for the survival of my grandchildren, the reservation lands, the indigenous peoples and the environment.”

Leftist PSOL party leader Ivan Valente said indigenous resistance was a roadblock to Bolsonaro’s plans to open up the Amazon to development.

“He is a national hero and known abroad as the greatest defender of the forest,” Valente said.

“That is why they fear the name Raoni,” he said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Giles Elgood

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