Indigenous leaders in Brazil denounced Jair Bolsonaro's "colonialist and ethnocidal" policies when the far-right populist went to New York to defend his treatment of the Amazon and its inhabitants.
Bolsonaro is due to make the opening speech at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday morning, after a few miserable weeks of Brazil's international reputation, in which reports of increasing deforestation and its response to Amazon fires have consolidated its reputation as “ Captain Chainsaw ”from South America.
Brazil's president must use his UN debut to launch a Trumpian attack on the left and back off foreign criticism of his treatment of Brazil's environment and indigenous communities. He enlisted a rare pro-Bolsonaro indigenous voice, Ysani Kalapalo, to travel with him to New York in an effort to soften his notoriety as a destroyer of rainforests.
But in an open letter with strong words, 16 indigenous leaders of Brazil's Xingu indigenous park rejected Bolsonaro's “colonialist and ethnocidal” program for their communities, which he promised to open for commercial exploitation.
The leaders claimed that Kalapalo's only interest - which recorded a recent video denying that Bolsonaro was to blame for the Amazon fires - was to "insult and demoralize Brazil's indigenous leaders and movements" in social media.
"Not content with its attacks on indigenous peoples, the Brazilian government now seeks to legitimize its anti-indigenous policies by using an indigenous figure who sympathizes with its radical ideologies," they added.
Xingu's best-known leader, Raoni Metuktire, accused Bolsonaro of doing nothing to prevent farmers from invading indigenous lands.
Bolsonaro's appearance at the UN will be the culmination of a government propaganda campaign designed to repair Brazil's global image and avert the threat of economic sanctions.
"We are not environmental villains," Bolsonaro environment minister Ricardo Salles insisted during an interview in New York.
But observers await Bolsonaro's speech - which one commentator hoped to focus on "sovereignty, liberalism, communism / left, Christianity and the Amazon" - with considerable concern.
In January, Bolsonaro's unusually brief international debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos was widely criticized and was overshadowed by a snowball scandal linking one of his political sons to Rio gangsters.
Writing in the newspaper O Globo do Rio, former head of Brazil's foreign service, Marcos Azambuja, was concerned that Bolsonaro's speech showed a new look that shocked the world: a place of narrow sectarianism, religious zeal and naive and reckless diplomacy.
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