Amazon deforestation soars in Indigenous lands as Bolsonaro moves to scrap environmental laws 

by Katie Nelson

May 8, 2020

Deforestation within Indigenous territories in the Amazon rainforest skyrocketed in the first four months of 2020, increasing by 59 percent compared to the same period last year, a Greenpeace Brazil analysis of official deforestation data shows. 

Manaus, Brazil Deforestation within Indigenous territories in the Amazon rainforest skyrocketed in the first four months of 2020, increasing by 59 percent compared to the same period last year, a Greenpeace Brazil analysis of official deforestation data shows. 

Deforestation alerts within Indigenous lands spanned nearly 3259 acres between January and April 2020 — equivalent to over 1,800 soccer fields — compared with 2043 acres for the same period in 2019. [1] As the Brazilian government retaliates against employees committed to protecting the forest and cuts back on efforts to fight environmental crimes during the COVID-19 outbreak, deforestation is expected to surge again in the second quarter of this year. [2] 

Currently, Bolsonaro is urging the Brazilian Congress to vote on a law designed to hand illegally deforested land over to land grabbers in the coming days before the proposed law expires on May 19. If passed, Provisional Measure 910 would legalize many land-grabs prior to 2018 and incentivize further destruction of the Amazon forest. [3] 

In March, Indigenous groups urged the Brazilian government to better protect their territories and remove invaders from their lands. They also called for improved healthcare measures to help prevent COVID-19 spreading to their villages. [4] But in April, another ruling (IN 09) was issued by FUNAI’s president the national organization concerning Indigenous affairs which further jeopardises Indigenous lands not yet protected. [5]

“Bolsonaro is not only turning a blind eye as land grabbers, illegal loggers, and miners continue to plunder Indigenous territories during the pandemic, he plans to make things easier for them. Whole groups and communities with no means of combating the virus are at risk of being wiped out if intruders carry COVID-19 into their territories. Bolsonaro’s actions are criminal and must be stopped. Those who best protect the forests must be protected,” said Carolina Marçal, a forest campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil.

A woman of the Kokama Indigenous group was the first to be confirmed with COVID-19 on April 1, 2020. To date, at least 125 people are reported to have been infected and 29 have died in Indigenous communities. [6] The Yanomami territory where the first Indigenous people died from the virus has been invaded by more than 20,000 illegal gold miners. According to the Yanomami, these miners continue to move freely within the land. [7]

“The international market is also complicit in this destruction — and profiting off this crisis. As international banks invest in high risk infrastructure in the Amazon, corporations import products like timber, minerals, and cattle products that drive deforestation,” said Daniel Brindis, Forests Campaign Director at Greenpeace USA.

“The alarm has been sounded about the crisis in the Brazilian Amazon for years, yet corporations purposefully ignore the fact that their profits are violating human rights and perpetuating climate disaster.” 

In response to the government’s abandoning its duty to the forests and Indigenous Peoples, solidarity campaigns are multiplying. An open letter published last Sunday by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, alongside a multitude of global figures, warned Indigenous peoples face a grave threat to their survival and urged the government to take preventative measures. Brazilian Indigenous leaders have also asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to set up an emergency fund to help protect their communities from the threat of the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Coalition of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) is calling for donations to buy food, medicine, and hygiene materials for their villages.



[1] This is according to the Brazilian Space Research Institute’s DETER monitoring system, which surveys and issues alerts of changes in forest cover spotted by Brazilian satellites. 

See Greenpeace’s map detailing the intersection of Indigenous lands and deforestation data here

[2] See Brazil scales back environmental enforcement amid coronavirus and Televised raid on illegal Amazon mining angers Brazil government leads to sacking from Reuters UK. 

[3] According to Imazon’s estimation, if passed, the proposal would open the door for the clearing of up to 6178 square miles of the Amazon rainforest by 2027 (in the case of privatizing 48.4 million acres of federal, public land). 

[4] See APIB’s note: The Brazilian government must present a plan for prevention and care to avoid risks of COVID-19 contamination in Indigenous territories (from March 20, 2020).

[5] Brazilian Indigenous health service SESAI only reports deaths in tribal villages and not those of tribe members who have moved to urban areas. Indigenous organizations counters can be accessed here and here.

[6] IN 09, strips yet-to-be-established Indigenous lands designated as “Indigenous” in the land registry regardless of whether or not Indigenous people, including isolated tribes, live on it. This could subsequently be used in support of a land-grabber’s claim to legalize property under the new Brazilian law, MP 910.

[7] Instituto Socioambiental expresses its concern on mining activities within Yanomami’s lands. 


Katie Nelson, Strategic Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (678) 644-1681, [email protected]

Katie Nelson

By Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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