Yanomami leader pleads with world to save Amazon from Bolsonaro

3 min

Paris (AFP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro "does not understand the value of the Amazon forest... nor like the people who live in it", the leader of the Yanomami people said Thursday.

Davi Kopenawa hit out at the far-right leader of his country, and at US President Donald Trump, at the opening of an exhibition in Paris on the best known indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest.

"Just like during the military dictatorship (in Brazil), we have someone in power who does not like the indigenous peoples, doesn't like the environment, doesn't understand the value of the Amazonian forest and who doesn't understand the native peoples," he told AFP.

"We respect the forest and we defend it," said Kopenawa, who last month won the "alternative Nobel prize", The Right Livelihood Award, with the teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

"Bolsonaro and the US President (Donald Trump) unfortunately are friends. They have both the same aim, to wipe out indigenous peoples so they can further enrich themselves and their friends," the chief claimed at the opening of "The Yanomami Struggle" show by the acclaimed Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar in Paris.

Kopenawa appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron and the international community to continue to criticise Bolsonaro, a climate change sceptic who scrapped restrictions on exploiting the Amazon's vast riches.

- Massive forest clearance -

This month experts said deforestation jumped by 85 percent in his first year in office.

Macron led the European outcry at the fires that ravaged swathes of the Amazon basin last year, sparking a feud with Bolsonaro.

Campaign groups including Human Rights Watch have accused the Brazilian president of accelerating land clearance and encouraging attacks on indigenous people and forest defenders.

"We are very worried by what is happening," Kopenawa, 63, told AFP.

"The world has to stand up and criticise the Brazilian government. You must be at our side and not let us suffer alone."

Kopenawa praised "the very important role" that Pope Francis has played pricking the world's conscience, organising a synod on the Amazon last year.

The chief called him "a friend of indigenous people. He is connected to the soul of the forest because he is a man who has a connection with God," he said.

- 'Our weapon is our words' -

"The world should not believe what our president says because he just wants to get money to give to his allies. The Brazilian government does not want to talk to us, they just want to extract the riches of the earth.

"That is why we the indigenous peoples are rebelling" against him, he added.

Kopenawa said he was fighting "a war so that the forest remains standing.

"Our weapons are our words. When I speak, I speak to defend myself and for the Yanomami, so that the people who do not want to hear me, who do not know the reality (of our lives) will understand why we are fighting.

"Long ago we used bows and arrows... now we have learned to use a pen and paper to fight for ourselves," the chief added.

Kopenawa hailed Andujar and her show at the Fondation Cartier in the French capital, which runs until May 10.

"She has been my friend for a long time. It's fantastic that this white woman has come to see us with one and only aim, to ensure our survival and that of the forest."