30 Sep

Presidential candidates change tone on Twitter and soften statements against demarcation of indigenous lands

by Info Amazônia

Updated 21 de October, 2022 at 11:15 am

After a sequence of measures against the environmental agenda and the attempt to pass the ‘cattle’, candidates change their discourse during the campaign, even though they continue to defend the economic exploitation of traditional peoples’ territories


After a general dismantling of the environmental cause, the theme of “indigenous peoples” has been addressed by all the main presidential candidates in 2022. Even the right-wing candidates adopt a protocolly positive tone when dealing with the issue. This was not always the case, however, especially in the case of president Jair Bolsonaro (PL), Simone Tebet (MDB), and Soraya Thronicke (União Brasil). Although they use softer and even kinder words to refer to the indigenous people, all three continue to defend the economic exploitation of their territories.

InfoAmazonia and PlenaMata’s analysis of the candidates’ tweets, published in recent years and obtained through Twitter, shows that the three used to make strong criticism of the demarcation of indigenous lands. With the election campaign and, in Bolsonaro’s case, after the Covid-19 crisis, the tone of the speeches has changed at least slightly, masking the content.

According to Eloísa Machado, a professor at FGV Direito, the demarcation of indigenous lands is a central factor for the existence of and respect for the peoples. The resistance of political groups to this constitutional precept, according to her, has an economic basis.

“Unfortunately, indigenous lands – and, consequently, indigenous peoples – have been the target of attack by the Legislative and Executive branches of government, more concerned with defending unrepublican interests and a predatory and unequal development model”, she says. “It is unfortunate that parliamentarians and candidates for the highest office in the country show no loyalty to the constitutional text”.
Eloísa Machado, professor at FGV Direito

The data collection has different periods for each candidate, since the platform has a limitation of extraction by volume. Thus, candidates who participate little in the Twitter debates end up having a longer period of coverage than others who are more assiduous. In the case of President Jair Bolsonaro, previous messages were obtained from independent projects (read more about them at the end of the report) and checked for authenticity by PlenaMata’s report.


Changes of tone

President Jair Bolsonaro began calling indigenous people “brothers” after the criticism he received in the fight against Covid-19, but a significant portion of his mentions of indigenous people speak of “integrating” them into society. In his 2018 campaign, he promised that he would not demarcate indigenous lands – and he has delivered, implementing a pro-exploitation agenda for these territories.

Since 2020, with the criticism over the deaths of traditional peoples due to the coronavirus, most of the mentions of indigenous people on Bolsonaro’s Twitter have an institutional tone, probably prepared by advisors. He defends the mining in these lands, but, in more recent mentions, he tries to point the finger at FHC and Dilma’s governments, who would have similar proposals. He also maintains the integrationist agenda.





“The president of the Republic continues to use the Brazilian public machine to promote an anti-indigenous policy, through the issue of normative acts, the destruction of institutions aimed at the defense of indigenous peoples, and also through speeches that incite violence against indigenous peoples – as he does when he celebrates prospectors, for example”, says Machado.

In 2019, Bolsonaro’s treatment of the indigenous issue, in actions and words, was analyzed in a complaint filed by the Human Rights Advocacy Collective (CADHu) and the Arns Commission to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The document, signed by Eloísa Machado and other colleagues, including indigenous lawyer Luiz Eloy Terena, calls for an analysis of the systematic attacks and incitement to genocide by the president of the Republic against indigenous peoples.

As of December 2020, the reported facts are formally under preliminary justification evaluation. After this phase, Bolsonaro may be tried before the ICC, which has the possibility of convicting him of crimes against humanity and indigenous genocide.


Simone and Soraya

Before Simone and Soraya were presidential candidates, they were very concerned about the compensation of farmers who occupied potentially definable land for indigenous peoples.

Simone posted photos receiving ruralists concerned about the issue and fellow senators. An image, now circulating on social media again, shows the candidate doing the V for victory when the PEC on indigenous lands was passed in 2015; today, she talks about investigating crimes against indigenous people and defending the rights of indigenous peoples.




Soraya based her statements on the theme on Bolsonaro’s speeches, who in the last SBT debate accused her of opportunism; today, she regrets that the indigenous people are “abandoned by the government” and says that they deserve to “work and prosper”.




“It is not possible to imagine that an assimilationist and integrationist discourse is favorable to indigenous peoples”, says Eloísa Machado.


Other candidates

In the group of messages collected, Lula (PT) and Ciro Gomes (PDT) only speak positively about the indigenous cause – when they do. Since their accounts have a high volume of tweets, however, the period collected is limited by the platform, so it was only possible to observe less than a year of messages in each case.

Lula talks about banning mining on indigenous lands, criticizes the transformation of Funai into an anti-indigenous body during Bolsonaro administration, and promises the creation of a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples. On his Twitter account he expressed his solidarity with the family left by the indigenous activist Bruno Pereira, who was murdered along with reporter Dom Phillips while they were investigating cases of violence against indigenous people in the Amazon.



Ciro several times mentioned members of the indigenous movement of PDT and pointed to the fact that journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous activist Bruno Pereira were killed investigating cases of violence against indigenous people. He also often deplores cases of violence directed against the peoples.



Felipe D’ávila (Novo) did not address the issue. Of the vice-presidential candidates, Geraldo Alckmin (PSB, Lula’s vice-candidate) spoke on the subject lamenting Bolsonaro’s stance, and Marcos Cintra (União Brasil, Soraya’s vice-candidate) criticized land demarcation. Less targeted in the public debate, they do not suffer as much pressure to take a position on most of the issues.



Methodology – how we collected the data

Most of the tweets analyzed in this report were collected through Twitter’s own platform, via API. A total of 33 thousand tweets from the presidential candidates and their coalition partners were collected, 129 of which mentioned keywords related to the indigenous issue. However, the platform imposes volume restrictions for collection. Thus, of the candidates who use the social network more and therefore generate a higher volume of data, the period collected turned out to be shorter.


To make up for the limited reach of the platform, in the case of president Jair Bolsonaro, PlenaMata consulted independent projects. A user of the Kaggle platform, which offers programming challenges, has organized a collection of almost 10 thousand tweets from Bolsonaro, published over 10 years, to those interested in experimenting with natural language processing techniques. Of these, 49 addressed the subject. The authenticity of all of the tweets used in this report was checked on the platform, and those that were no longer published (because they had been deleted, for example) were disregarded.

There are no similar collections for messages from any other presidential candidate. With Bolsonaro’s collection, however, it is possible to see the differences in how he referred to indigenous people before and after the Covid crisis, when he was accused of promoting a kind of indigenous genocide through public policy actions and omissions.

InfoAmazonia’s report for PlenaMata, in partnership with Sala de Democracia Digital at FGV ECMI, an initiative for monitoring and analyzing public debate on the internet.


The Digital Democracy Room at FGV ECMI is an initiative to monitor and analyze the public debate on the internet. Currently, it has partnerships to help monitor politics on the networks in Brazil and in Latin America. This content was produced by the partner InfoAmazônia.