RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Brazilian federal prosecutor’s office filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to suspend the appointment of a former missionary as head of the government body responsible for protecting uncontacted and recently contacted indigenous groups.
The suit asks for the suspension of Ricardo Lopez Dias’ naming to the post, citing an “evident conflict of interest” and a possible reversal in Brazil’s long-established no-contact policy with such indigenous communities.
The lawsuit also alleges a threat of “genocide and ethnocide” for indigenous people.
Funai had no immediate comment on the suit.
Prosecutors argue that to pick Dias, the indigenous affairs agency known as Funai, had to change its internal regulations and remove a prior requirement that meant the unit’s coordinator-general had to be a career public servant.
The suit says the move weakens Funai’s “institutional capacity to protect self-determination and the lives of indigenous peoples.”
In recent interviews before his nomination was made official by the Justice Ministry last Wednesday, Dias said he would not seek to evangelize indigenous groups.
But his work in the Amazon in 1997-2007 as a member of the New Tribes nonprofit group has worried activists and human right defenders. Currently called Ethnos360, the Florida-based group sends missionaries from local churches around the world, many to indigenous territory.
Brazil officially counts 28 groups of isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon and the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro has said that indigenous groups should be integrated into Brazilian society. The president also believes their protected lands can hinder the country’s full economic potential.