A Brazilian lawmaker who said Amazon tribal peoples should be left to starve to death and are “a bunch of little gays” has been named Racist of the Year by the indigenous rights group Survival International.
Fernando Furtado, a lawmaker in Maranhão state, was given the award for a speech he gave in July close to the border of territory of the Awá people, a tribe which has been pushed to the brink of extinction by deforestation and clashes with ranchers.
Addressing an audience of loggers and ranchers, Furtado said: “They don’t know how to plant rice, so let them die of hunger in poverty. That’s the best thing, because they don’t know how to work.”
He also called indigenous people “a bunch of little gays”, the NGO said.
Furtado’s outburst triggered an uproar in Brazil and he was forced to issue a formal retraction.
A string of fires have been set by illegal loggers in that region of Maranhão, the latest of them in October. For a month the flames scorched one of the main indigenous territories, threatening the lives of several hundred Awá people.
“This includes a group of uncontacted people, who are one of the most vulnerable societies on the planet,” Survival International said in a statement.
Furtado’s comments should be considered an incitement to racial hatred, the NGO said.
After a government operation to expel loggers from the Awá reserve – prompted by a high-profile campaign by Survival International – there is a strong resentment toward tribes in the region.
“These loathsome remarks indicate the extent of racism against tribal peoples among some of the most powerful people in Brazilian society,” Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said.
About 900,000 Indians from 305 ethnic groups live in Brazil, out of a total population of 204 million. Their reserves, mostly in the Amazon, account for 12% of Brazil’s territory.
But boundaries still remain to be set for much of that Indian land and much of it has been occupied by settlers.