A former missionary who was appointed as the head of the Uncontacted Tribes Unit in Brazil was removed from his post last week.
Ricardo Lopes Dias, who is an anthropologist and theologian, was forced out of his position following an investigation about his alleged visit to the Javari Valley, which has the most number of uncontacted tribes in the world, Morning Star reported. According to a “whistleblower,” Dias reportedly took a secret trip to the said location.
The Uncontacted Tribes Unit oversees all the isolated tribes and the recently contacted tribes in Brazil. It is under the government agency called Funai, which handles the country’s indigenous affairs overall.
Human rights groups celebrated the removal of Dias, whom they view as a threat to the indigenous people of Brazil.
Dias’ appointment in February was met with much criticism because of his background as an evangelical missionary. He was a former member of Ethnos 360 (formerly known as New Tribes Mission), an organization that helps local churches bring the gospel to unreached people groups by evangelizing them and translating the Scripture in their native language.
Dias was with the organization from 1997 to 2007 and was involved in its work in the Javari Valley. Human rights groups and activists were opposed to Dias leading the Uncontacted Tribes Unit because of fears that he might convert the tribes to Christianity, even though Dias already said he would not evangelize them.
“A fundamentalist missionary at the head of Funai’s Uncontacted Tribes Unit was above all an affront to the self-determination of these peoples,” Leonardo Lenin, executive secretary Observatory for the Human Rights of Uncontacted and Recently Contacted Tribes, said.
Citing conflict of interest, they asked the court to suspend Dias’ appointment, claiming the former missionary posed the threat of “genocide and ethnocide” on the more than 100 uncontacted indigenous groups in the Amazon, according to Reuters.
In May, a judge ordered that Dias be removed from the agency, saying his appointment was unlawful. However, that decision was overturned, and Dias continued to lead the Uncontacted Tribes Unit until last week.
Human rights activists have long been fighting against the work of missionaries in the Amazon, which appears to have the support of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose famous motto is “Brazil above everything, God above all.”
In April, when COVID-19 spread in the country, rights groups asked the court to stop missionaries from going to the Javari Valley to prevent the coronavirus from entering the tribes. This issue was brought to the court after allegations that New Tribes Mission continued to send people to the Javari Valley during the pandemic.
The organization denied the accusations and said in a statement to Huffpost that its missionaries have been pulled out of the area since March. The court granted the injunction and banned three missionaries and New Tribes Mission from entering the place.