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  HOME | Brazil (Click here for more)

Violence against Indigenous People Rises in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

SAO PAULO – Violence against indigenous people in Brazil increased markedly in 2019, rightist President Jair Bolsonaro’s first year in office, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The Indigenist Missionary Council (Cimi), which authored the study, painted a bleak picture for a native population threatened by criminal fires and encroaching loggers, garimpeiros (small-scale illegal miners), small farmers and poachers.

That organization said the government has neglected to protect indigenous people and is purposefully making their lands available for exploitation by agribusiness, mining and logging concerns.

“The biggest aggressor toward indigenous people and the rainforest is, unfortunately, the Brazilian government itself,” said Roque Paloschi, the archbishop of the Amazon city of Porto Velho and the president of Cimi, a Catholic Church-backed organization.

The Council said a significant increase in cases was noted in 16 of the 19 violence categories analyzed in the report.

Since 2003, we had never had such a big increase in violence and attacks against indigenous people and their lands,” said anthropologist Lucia Helena Rangel, the report’s coordinator.

Illegal invasions of indigenous lands skyrocketed 134.9 percent last year compared to 2018 (from 109 to 256 cases), affecting 151 villages inhabited by 143 indigenous peoples in 23 of Brazil’s 27 states, according to Cimi.

It said lands in the Amazon region were particularly affected; a total of 56 incursions were documented there, several of them in Vale do Javari, the region home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous communities.

The situation is particularly grave in the Arariboia reserve in Maranhao state, where some leaders of the Guajajara ethnic group have been killed. One of the murder victims was Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a member of a group of so-called “forest guardians.”

“Invasions by loggers, landowners, poachers are steadily increasing … We want to be protected. We’re constantly under threat. We feel a great sadness. When is all of this going to stop?” said Lenice Guajajara, Paulo Paulino’s sister.

The 216-page report, based on testimonies, official data and documents released by other civil society institutions, states that some land invaders mentioned Bolsonaro by name to justify “their criminal actions.”

The sharp rise in land invasions in 2019 also is linked to a “marked decrease in oversight actions” on the part of official environmental protection bodies.

Less money was available for those watchdog efforts after their budgets were slashed following the January 2019 inauguration of Bolsonaro, who calls for the development of the Amazon’s natural resources.

There also was an increase in the category of death threats, although the number of indigenous people murdered last year (113) was down slightly from 2018 (135).

In addition, the study noted that there was a rise in suicides among members of the indigenous population (from 101 in 2018 to 133 last year) and in the number of deaths of children under one year of age (from 591 to 825).

Furthermore, 2019 was the year in which images of devastating fires in the Amazon region, which in August were the worst for that month in a decade, captured the world’s attention.

Indigenous lands were not spared from that tragedy, with 16,680 fires reported in those territories, up 87 percent from 2018.

One of these territories was the Kraho-Kanela ethnic group’s reserve in the north-central state of Tocantins, 92 percent of which was affected by the blazes, Cimi said.

“The fire came from an agribusiness landholding” and devastated our entire territory,” community leader Wagner Kraho-Kanela said.

Wagner also criticized Bolsonaro’s remarks this month before the United Nations General Assembly, where he blamed the fires this year in the Amazon and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland area, on indigenous land practices.

Bolsonaro, as he promised prior to winning the October 2018 election, has not demarcated any indigenous land. According to the report, his Justice Ministry in the first half of 2020 also halted 27 procedures whereby indigenous people are claiming title to ancestral territories.

These government actions, according to Cimi, led to an increase in territorial conflicts in indigenous areas from 11 in 2018 to 35 last year.


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