Brazil's Bolsonaro says no evidence indigenous leader murdered

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday said there was no evidence an indigenous chief, whose death was decried by the U.N. commissioner for human rights, was killed by wildcat miners said to have invaded protected tribal lands.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a ceremony to launch the new worker fund stimulus at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

The far-right Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the existence of protected lands, saying there are too many of them and that they prevent Brazil from profiting from its natural resources.

Emyra Wajapi, a leader of the Wajapi tribe who lives on a reservation near Brazil’s northwestern border with French Guiana, was found dead last week.

The state indigenous affairs agency Funai, headed by a Bolsonaro appointee, said on Monday the most recent police report on Wajapi’s death showed no evidence of the “presence of an armed group” on the reservation at the time.

But an internal memo from Funai’s office in Amapá state seen by Reuters said 10 to 15 armed men had invaded Wajapi land and occupied a village last week. The memo sent on Saturday evening said it was not clear yet how Wajapi died.

Brazil’s federal police are investigating the death and allegations by tribe members that their lands were invaded by wildcat miners.

“There is no solid evidence as of now that that Indian was murdered,” Bolsonaro told reporters in Brasilia.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, called for an investigation, describing Wajapi’s death “a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil.”

In a statement, Bachelet also urged Bolsonaro to reconsider his government's proposal to open up more of the Amazon rainforest area to mining. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation of the Amazon has accelerated here, according to a state-run agency.

Bolsonaro has called the deforestation numbers false. here

“Brazil lives from commodities,” Bolsonaro said on Monday. “What do we have here in addition to commodities? Do people not remember this? If the [commodities] business fails, it will be a disaster.”

Bolsonaro said he was planning to regulate and legalize wildcat miners, who critics say heavily pollute rivers and clear forests in their search for gold and other minerals. Bolsonaro said he wanted regulations to allow indigenous people to mine their reservations.

The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) rights group called on Bolsonaro to defend the constitutional rights of Brazil’s native people to their tribal lands.

“Aggressive hate speeches by Bolsonaro and members of his government are encouraging the invasion and pillage of land and violence against indigenous peoples,” CIMI said in a statement.

Reporting by Lissandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia, additional reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun in Sao Paulo; Editing by Tom Brown and Grant McCool