Brazilian politician named Racist of the Year by Survival International
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Brazilian politician named Racist of the Year by Survival International

A Brazilian lawmaker has been named Racist of the Year 2015 by an international human rights organisation.

A deputy in the state of Maranhão, Fernando Furtado, of the Communist Party of Brazil, was announced the winner last week by Survival International, an NGO dedicated to protecting the rights of tribal peoples throughout the world.

Backward remarks

The non-profit organization, which has offices in Europe and the United States, awarded Mr. Furtado the title after he called indigenous Amazonians “a bunch of little gays”.

Referring to indigenous Brazilians, Mr. Furtado said in a speech at a meeting in July: “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.”

The deputy’s comments caused outcry in the country and he has since been made to retract them.

Survival director Stephen Corry said: “These loathsome remarks indicate the extent of racism against tribal peoples among some of the most powerful people in Brazilian society. It’s important that people both within and outside of Brazil are aware of the prevalence of these attitudes because they underpin the genocidal onslaught of violence that Brazilian tribes face today.”

Mr. Furtado gave the speech in the settler community of São João do Caru, which is close to Awá indigenous territory.

Survival International considers the Awá the world’s most threatened tribe and has launched a campaign to protect them and their territory.

Fires, believed to have been started by logging gangs earlier this month, have spread across large tracts of land in the state of Maranhão, endangering the lives of Awá.

Survival International are calling for Mr. Furtado’s comments to “be considered as incitement to racial hatred, and state that it is highly likely that such racist sentiments are behind the arson attacks”.

Audio recordings and written transcriptions of the “tirade” can be found on the website of Brazilian blogger Domingos Costa.

“Indians never did anything for me…”

The lawmaker is also quoted as saying: “I will say openly, Indians never did anything for me. I have no indigenous descent, I have no Indian relatives and I think the indigenous policy in Brazil is misguided: a policy that guarantees the Indians what they are not entitled to.”

The Costa’s posting of the controversial speech has provoked a debate about indigenous Brazilians, race, and racism.

One commentator agreed with the deputy, stating that Mr. Furtado was only voicing an opinion which many people in Brazil have, but “do not speak it for fear of repercussions”.

Another criticized the politician, stating: “My paternal grandfather was Indian. Every Brazilian has indigenous blood running through his veins. I think this idiot must have been born in Belgium or another European country.”

This is not first time that a Brazilian has received Survival International’s infamous award. In 2014, congressman Luis Carlos Heinze was named Racist of the Year 2014 after stating that “the government … is in bed with the blacks, the Indians, the gays, the lesbians, all the losers”.

Racial democracy

During Brazil’s formative years as an independent nation, the country considered itself a true rainbow nation where people of all races flourished – a ‘racial democracy’.

This myth of ‘racial democracy’, however, was first dispelled in 1950. A UNESCO report exposed Brazil’s illusion of racial equality, revealing pervasive racial inequality and deeply embedded racism.

Although considered one of the most racially diverse countries in the world, Brazil continues to grapple with issues of race, inequality, discrimination, and racism.

There are 305 ethnic groups in Brazil speaking 274 indigenous languages, and Indigenous Brazilian account for 0.47 percent of the country total population, numbering some 900,000 people.

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