Lawyer and former operator of Funai (the Brazilian agency that deals with indigenous peoples) Ricardo Rao left Brazil in 2019 following the threats received.
How did your commitment in defense of indigenous peoples begin?
My mother worked for Funai as a nurse since 1982, I lived with her and saw the situation in the villages. I was studying law and after winning a competition I went to Brasilia, where I met Bruno Pereira, the activist killed in June 2022 together with the journalist Dom Phillips.
What kind of conflicts did he face?
There was the problem of timber traffickers, poachers: they used the peasants, the poor to do the dirty work. We destroyed their machinery: they often shot at us.
When did the threats start?
In 2019. With Bolsonaro’s arrival in government, threatening indigenous leaders is now tolerated. First they killed Maxciel Pereira, who worked with Bruno, then my colleague Paulo Guajajara. I knew I was going to be next.
You don’t believe the official story about Pereira’s death.
In my opinion Bruno had obtained some sensitive documents on organized crime in the Amazon. He gave them to the institutions, without understanding that inside them there are accomplices of the militias.
How is the Bolsonaro government complicit in persecuting indigenous people?
I once set fire to a truck belonging to one of the largest timber traffickers in the state of Amarante: it was full of stickers with the words “President Bolsonaro”. He had bought many votes for Bolsonaro. Funai is also paralyzed: there is no money to repair cars, there is no fuel, no inspections are carried out. The systematic persecution of activists, which was already taking place, has worsened. In my opinion we need to internationalize the Amazon. It is now ruled by organized crime.
(Translation by Stefania Mascetti)
Ricardo Rao will be in Ferrara on October 1st at Apollo 2 together with the writer Angelo Ferracuti and the writer and documentary maker Andrea Palladino. The meeting will be moderated by Valerio Cataldi of Rainews24