Journalism from the center of the world

Terrorists invade the Brazilian National Congress in Brasilia on January 8, 2023. Photo: Edison Bueno/Estadão Conteúdo

We breathed. For a week. And then Jair Bolsonaro’s terrorists invaded the Palácio do Planalto (Brazil’s seat of government), the National Congress and the Supreme Court, while their chief was conveniently in Florida, where he had fled even before his term in office ended. It is imperative that Bolsonaro is brought back to Brazil, to be tried and imprisoned for his crimes. And that each of the criminals who attempted a coup on Sunday, January 8, 2023, be identified, located, tried and punished. We cannot allow the air to be stolen from us again. The authorities must do their part, but it is not only down to them. Fighting for democracy is a non-transferable task for all of Brazilian society.

In his first speech after the attempted coup, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, suggested that illegal miners and loggers from the Amazon were involved in the acts of terrorism in the Praça dos Três Poderes. It is reasonable to assume the President is in possession of intelligence to justify this claim. When the investigations are complete, the link between the protagonists of the coup and notorious Amazon land grabbers, who often live in the central-southern states of Brazil, will come as a surprise to no one.

The terrorist who tried to explode a bomb at the airport in Brasília in December is a businessman from Pará, who works in the fuel and transport sector in cities in the arc of deforestation. His name, George Washington de Oliveira Souza, lends a note of fantastic realism to the terrorist attempt. Jair Bolsonaro had a similar idea when he was a soldier in the Army, hatching a terrorist plan to explode bombs in barracks as a strategy to achieve higher wages. Instead of someone of this level of cruelty and irresponsibility being punished and prevented from holding public office, he continued to commit crimes with impunity, and became President of the Republic.

Enough impunity. No amnesty for state criminals.

The impunity for violations committed by agents of the state during Brazil’s business-military dictatorship, which controlled the country between 1964 and 1985, spawned the monster in human form that is Bolsonaro, who held us hostage for four years, leaving behind a devastated country, a forest very close to the point of no return, and almost 700,000 dead from Covid-19 – there are solid research findings to prove that a large part of these deaths could have been avoided had he not boycotted the fight against the pandemic. The right-wing extremist encouraged, and continues to encourage, coups. Like the coward he always was, he now carries out his hateful acts beside Mickey Mouse, while his terrorist stooges expose themselves to shame and become part of the sewer of history. If we want a future, we cannot allow impunity to scar the present, as occurred in the past. As [indigenous leader, writer and philosopher] Ailton Krenak wrote, “the future is now, there may be no tomorrow”.

SUMAÚMA’s manual uses the term “corporate-military dictatorship” to refer to the 1964 coup in Brazil, which subjected the country to a 21-year state of exception, in which hundreds of civilians were arrested, tortured, kidnapped and murdered. Some of the bodies are still missing, torturing their families to this day. The number of indigenous people killed is many times higher: more than 8,000 indigenous people were murdered during the dictatorship, most of them in the Amazon..

We use business-military dictatorship to never forget the participation of a significant part of the country’s business community in the destruction of democracy and the crimes committed by it. Their involvement is notorious, and there is even a documentary about it, with one of those responsible, Albert Henning Boilesen, insisting on witnessing the torture in person. Once again, there is support from businessmen in the putschist acts following Lula’s election victory, and in the coup attempt on Sunday, as there was during the right-wing extremist Bolsonaro’s term in office. It is imperative that the financiers and organizers of terrorist acts are identified, prosecuted and punished. Just as it is imperative to establish how it was possible for a pre-announced coup attempt to be carried out without the responsible authorities, in every public sphere and level of government, preventing it. It is worth remembering that the coup plotters arrived at Praça dos Três Poderes on foot, and made their preparations in front of the headquarters of the Brazilian military.

If the coup was not consummated, it has succeeded in delaying every urgent action and debate in Brazil. Even ministerial inaugurations, such as that of Sonia Guajajara, at the new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, has had to be postponed. The catastrophic situation caused by the invasion of illegal miners in the Yanomami, Munduruku and Kayapó territories, among others, continues to worsen every day. Those threatened with death by land grabbers, such as the camponese (smallhold farmer) leader Erasmo Theofilo, the quilombola (member of a community founded by escaped enslaved peoples) Natalha Theofilo, and their four small children, remain refugees, to escape being killed. Bolsonaro and Bolsonarism keep trying – and succeeding – to hijack time, and submit us to their perverse reality, so we do nothing but react. We must regain control of the debate, and our days.

We at SUMAÚMA have always said that, once the catastrophe was overcome, we would face the truly difficult part. We breathed, yes, when Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva ascended the ramp next to Raoni, Brazil’s most important indigenous figurehead, as well as other representatives of minority groups who were massacred in the last four years of Bolsonarism. There could be no better symbology for Brazil’s new moment. We breathe, but without dropping our guard.

It’s time to keep fighting like a forest: upright and filled with vitality. We will not permit an amnesty for State criminals.

As journalists, we fought hard for Bolsonaro to be defeated within the democratic process he violated so terribly. But we know the war being waged against nature continues, and that, after the well-earned euphoria, the hardest part is yet to come. And it has come. And there will be many more battles, including between the internal forces of the government itself. Jonathan Watts and Talita Bedinelli paid close attention to the promises Brazil president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula, made in his inauguration ceremony speeches. SUMAÚMA‘s commitment to our community of readers is to follow and monitor these promises, and make sure each one is kept.

Being a journalist is documenting history in motion. And for a long time no movement has been as fascinating as the arrival of indigenous women in the heart of power. Not as supporters, but in strategic command posts. To tell the stories of this moment, SUMAÚMA has Letícia Leite. Until this issue, Letícia worked behind the scenes, in charge of Radio SUMAÚMA – the powerful oral branch of our tree, a partnership with the Rede Wayuri de Comunicadores Indígenas (the Wayuri Indigenous Communicators Network), a podcast presented by two journalists from the forest: Elizângela Baré, an indigenous woman from São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the state of Amazonas, and Maickson Serrão, a ribeirinho (a member of a traditional forest community) from the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve, in the state of Pará.

In this issue, Letícia Leite shows why she is one of the journalists who best understands the new indigenous generation in Brazil. A journalist and podcaster, with a master’s degree in Sustainability with Territorial Peoples from the University of Brasília, focusing on indigenous youth and new technologies, Letícia worked for nine years at Brazil’s Instituto Socioambiental (Socio-environmental Institute) and, in 2017, created Copiô, Parente (loosely meaning “Get it, Relative” – “relative” being a term indigenous people use for one another), “the first podcast made for indigenous and forest peoples in Brazil”. In 2021, she founded Vem de Áudio, a podcast production company focused on generating content together with the forest peoples. Letícia’s smile is as incredible as her voice – in addition to her many skills, she brings positivity and good humor to SUMAÚMA from Manaus, where she moved last year, with a backpack full of ideas and excitement.

Thus, only Letícia could tell the story of how indigenous women, notably Minister Sonia Guajajara, of the Socialism and Liberty Party, and the president of the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples, Joenia Wapichana, of the Sustainability Network Party, came to occupy positions of power. Her political story on the behind-the-scenes “gossip” of the movement is fresh, but doesn’t lack density. It is a story from someone who, rather than passing over the scene, has followed developments on the ground, and has done for at least 13 years. Also written by Letícia is a beautiful interview with her parentíssima (an indigenous term meaning an “excellent relative”, or close friend), Célia Xakriabá, also of the Socialism and Liberty Party, a congresswoman who promises to use her poetic words as a borduna (a type of wooden weapon used by indigenous peoples) in Congress. These two articles are the highlight of this eighth newsletter, the first of 2023.

For those who are on vacation – and those who aren’t – editor Talita Bedinelli has prepared a list of ten documentary films with which to (start to) get to know the Amazon, or to immerse yourself in a forest that, despite all the attacks on it, still regulates our climate. Talita was careful to only choose works that are accessible to readers, and tells you where to find them. Each one will bring you closer to the largest rainforest on the planet.

Between December XX, the date of our last newsletter, and today, we have kept our promise to deliver at least one report or article per week to our community of readers. We went further, in fact. We paused to reorganize our very young platform-tree, but never stopped completely. In the run-up to Christmas, we published XXX articles, and have included them in this newsletter. I’d like to highlight an article I wrote with Jonathan Watts, which shows what is really at stake when Ronaldo, the “ex-Phenomenon”, and players from the Brazilian national football team eat gold. The World Cup already seems far away, but the destruction caused by gold mining has never been more present – and to stop the buying of gold jewelry is a permanent SUMAÚMA campaign. Between Christmas and the first day of 2023, we halted work to reorganize our internal, personal lives, make our families happy, read some dusty novels, watch some silly movies, because, as Célia Xakriabá also reminds us, we also need to have a politics of time.

Sadly, we have been in mourning since dawn on the first day of 2023. Joaquim Melo, the founder of the smallest great bookstore in the world, who we were delighted to report in our previous newsletter had joined us as our new collaborator, has left us. He had suffered a heart attack, without warning, a few days earlier, and kept on fighting for days in the hospital. Joaquim had a great deal to live for. I think that when my friend understood he’d opened his magical Banca do Largo bookstore, in Manaus’s main square, for the last time, he fought on so he would die with Brazil under a new government. In this newsletter we bring you our first collaboration with Joaquim, which he created with a care as immense as his knowledge: a list of ten books to (start) to get to know the Amazon. We invite you to explore this forest of words.

We have many dreams, and we think they exist to serve as a reality that can change realities. We have a lot of imagination – and we believe imagining is a powerful tool to create futures. What we dream and imagine you will be able to follow in our next issues, and we hope you can join our community, if you haven’t already, and participate more, if you’re already with us. In December, we held two online meetings with our community. It was beautiful. At least, we think it was. It makes us proud to see how great our readers are. We promise to create more spaces for participation throughout the year, a promise that you must follow, monitor and make sure we keep.

2023 will be what we imagine 2023 will be. We will continue to fight, upright, like a forest. We will not permit an amnesty for State criminals.

Eliane Brum

SUMAÚMA creator and editor in chief

Translated by James Young

© All rights reserved. Written authorization must be obtained from SUMAÚMA before reproducing the content of this page on any channel of communication