Indigenous territories and their inhabitants are being increasingly threatened. Land grabs by illegal miners (garimpeiros), estate owners (fazendeiros) and timber entrepreneurs (madeireiros) are increasing, dramatically coupled by an growing death toll: from 110 in 2017 to 135 in 2018. The Report on Violence Against Indigenous peoples in Brazil – 2018” drawn up by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), presented yesterday in Brasilia, shows a worrying increase in land seizures, timber theft, illegal gold mining, water contamination, land invasion and even the demarcation of land lots in indigenous territories. In some cases, “the very survival of native communities in Brazil is at stake”, states the Report. SIR collected a number of urgent appeals and alarms, such as that of the Munduruku people, attacked and threatened by the garimpeiros.
Skyrocketing rates of land “invasions” in 2019. The figures speak for themselves. As many as 109 episodes of “possessive invasions, illegal exploitation of natural resources and damage to property” were registered last year, with 96 incidents in 2017. As many as 160 such cases were reported in the indigenous lands of Brazil according to data for the first nine months of 2019 released by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council – CIMI.
The number of reported murders of indigenous people, often social leaders fighting for their collective rights, has also increased, with as many as 135 deaths in 2018. The highest death toll was recorded in Roraima (62), followed by Mato Grosso do Sul (38), while 110 activists were killed in 2017.Of the 1,290 indigenous lands in Brazil, 821 (63%) are the object of legal disputes with the State, for example for the completion of the demarcation process and registration as a traditional indigenous territory at the Union Heritage Secretariat (SPU). Of these 821, 528 territories (64%) have not yet been recognized by the Government.
Ancestral lands sold lot by lot. “Invaders would enter our territory stealing timber, minerals, and undermining biodiversity. But we knew they would leave sooner or later. Today they claim ownership of invaded land. They parcel out ancestral lands which they sell lot by lot,” said Antonio Eduardo Cerqueira de Oliveira, CIMI executive Secretary. What is rarely mentioned is the fact that “these lands are exclusively reserved to indigenous populations but they are owned by State: indigenous lands are national heritage. So it can rightly be said that the entire Brazilian society is being damaged, somewhat extorted. In fact even when the lands are not destroyed completely, this natural heritage is seized and sold to a privileged few, namely, the criminal invaders.”
Attacks by illegal gold miners in the Parà State. An example of the incidents denounced in the CIMI Report comes from the Brazilian state of Parà, in the Amazon, where the indigenous Munduruku people living in the region of the Tapajós basin, in the southern area of the State, are victims of constant threats by groups of gunmen, with ongoing occupation of indigenous lands. It’s an increasingly insupportable “Far-West” situation, while judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies fail to intervene, despite repeated complaints.
“A few days ago bands of garimpeiros, the illegal gold miners, threatened the Munduruku indigenous people”, Franciscan Father João Messias Sousa told SIR. Father Sousa has been working in the Tapajós area for many years and will be attending a meeting in the next few weeks in the framework of the Synod for the Pan-Amazon. “They threatened me too”, he added. “The situation of indigenous people is growing increasingly insecure.”
The garimpeiros’ invasion continues unstopped. In addition to the threats, the effects of an indiscriminate and uncontrolled mining activity are clearly visible in the environment. “In particular – continued Fr Sousa – mercury pollution in water streams causes fish to die, depriving the Munduruku people of a fundamental source of sustenance. The gold miners also try to turn the natives against each other”, pointed out Father Sousa.
We have been denouncing this situation for a long time, and we recently lodged a complaint with the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in Santarém.It’s a long-dated problem, but with the ruling government in Brazil these groups feel invincible.” The situation was documented in footage and videos released by the native peoples. There appears to be an inexorable invasion with massive deployment of forces: “they arrived with 240 vehicles and lorries”, remarked the Franciscan Father. A small army of approximately 500 people, as documented in the above-mentioned CIMI Report.
The complaint was filed by the cacique, the leaders of indigenous groups in the region, requesting support against the threats and invasion of their lands: “We ask for help. We are asking you to intervene to prevent our lives and the life of creation from being destroyed. We urge the Federal Public Prosecutor to take action against these gangs that are occupying our land and are relentlessly destroying it.” “We are worn out, we want to live in peace”, added the Munduruku natives.