By Val Reynoso
The indigenous population of Brazil is composed of at least 305 different tribes. The majority of native peoples live in the Amazon including 67 previously uncontacted tribes in the Javari Valley reported by the National Indian Foundation of Brazil (FUNDAI) in 2007.
Furthermore, the current right-wing Brazilian interim president Michel Temer incites violence against the indigenous peoples of Brazil.. A few ways through which this violence is imposed on them is through Amazon land, murders of native people and social justice activists, mining and corporate interests in the Amazon, and cuts to FUNAI.
Wikileaks documents show that Temer had been an intelligence informant for the US government and discreetly shared information with the US Southern Command in regards to the 2006 election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his leftist Worker’s Party.
Additionally, Temer also reassured the US State Department that the Brazilian Democratic Worker’s Party (PMDB) would eventually merge with conservative parties in the nation, hence reducing the platform of the Worker’s Party. The Worker’s Party advocated relief and socioeconomic support for marginalized groups in Brazil, including indigenous tribes, and with Temer actively stripping them of their platform, their assistance to natives are further limited; due to this, natives are more vulnerable to the anti-indigenous policies of the state.
Under Temer, state assets were sold to private sectors, thousands of government jobs were cut, poverty relief programs were scaled back, and border disputes with indigenous peoples have been nullified.
In July 2017, the Temer administration encouraged all government factions to accept a certain time frame for land claims. If the Court rules in favor of the recommendation, the only people who will be entitled to claim land are indigenous peoples who have occupied their regions since the approval of the most recent Constitution on October 5th, 1988. The time frame would not apply to those who were displaced prior to the approval of the Constitution, with the exception of those whose territories were taken from them during the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.
Those who oppose the time frames believe that it favors the interests of wealthy ruralists such as land thieves, cattle ranchers, soy farmers and mining companies, who want to obtain indigenous land for their own profits. Native Brazilians are being stripped of their territories for the fiscal benefit of corporations who are complicit in their oppression and violent displacement. The human rights group Amazon Watch stated that despite possibly freezing 748 pending cases to divide tribal lands, the time frame measure illegally violates indigenous self-determination, right to their ancestral lands, and their constitutional right to exclusive usage of their territories.
The plan proposed by the Temer administration would be initiated by the government in native regions without consent from the people who live there. This proposal would only serve government interests such as military operations and hydroelectric dams, and corporate profit. In addition to this, it would have a grave impact on the approximately 896,900 indigenous people living in Brazil, who make up 0.4% of the Brazilian population and whose territory occupies 12% of Brazilian land—predominately in the Amazon.
As a result of land disputes in Brazil between indigenous groups and the Temer interim government, the murder rates of indigenous people and environmental activists have skyrocketed. The Brazilian human rights NGO Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) and Greenpeace’s Energydesk have shown research illustrating that 37 people were assassinated in rural land conflicts during the first six months of 2017 with 8 more people than last year having been killed. Native people who are already marginalized under an administration that endangers their lives and homelands are also being subject to murder for defending their humanity and regions, and these massacres are being normalized.
These human rights violations towards Amazonians have also resulted in attitudes of impunity, due to the land conflicts and anti-native racism. CPT states that only 112 of the 1,800 murders recorded by the organization since 1985 had a court case and seldom ended with conviction.
Brazilian authorities are investigating reports of assassinations of up to 10 people from an uncontacted Amazonian tribe, which allegedly took place in Javari Valley, and were initiated by gold miners who illegally extract gold from Amazonian rivers. FUNAI sent three investigators to the town of São Paulo de Olivença due to claims that men working for gold prospectors were bragging in a bar about having killed a group of indigenous people and thrown their corpses in a river; however, the massacre is not yet confirmed and further investigations need to be made.
Moreover, the Temer administration has made plans to allow mining and development in protected areas of the Amazon. Temer has taken action on these prospects seeing that he eliminated a natural reserve in the Amazon rainforest consisting of an area larger than the size of Denmark with the purpose of stimulating more commercial activity.
The area is known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca), has existed since 1984 and attracts potential miners because it is believed to contain significant deposits of gold, iron, manganese and other valuable minerals. Initially, the Renca reserve was established with the motive of protecting the region from mining activities that would decimate its wildlife and residing indigenous communities. The Amazon is being ravaged solely for profit and the natives who live there have had to unjustly face the repercussions and extensive human rights violations.
According to mining lawyer Pedro Garcia who spoke with O Globo newspaper, virtually all mining companies in the world want to exploit the Renca reserve—especially the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa. The Amazon is being exploited and subject to deforestation under Temer with the sole purpose of benefiting the mining industry. The lives of the indigenous Amazonians are disenfranchised because because their gold is valued more by the right-wing government than their existence is.
The murders, land disputes and increase of miners in indigenous regions are occurring at the same time as Temer’s severe defunding of Brazil’s vital indigenous rights agency FUNAI and have all spiked following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. A report made to Energydesk in December 2016 reveals that several FUNAI regional offices had no staff and were unable to properly function.
FUNAI had to close two bases in the same region earlier this year and it has had its budget almost halved within the same time period. A congressional commission established by lawmakers from a major agribusiness caucus intend to remove the power of FUNAI to claim new indigenous reserves.
The congressional commission would also like to prosecute some FUNAI staff members for alleged crimes against what they consider public peace and the principles of public administration. Additionally, the Temer government has also sacked Antonio Acosta—the head of FUNAI—days after a militarized crackdown on native activists protesting against the oppressive agenda of the current administration.
Temer is dedicated to removing organizations and social leaders that serve Brazil’s vulnerable indigenous populations whom he is also consistently subjecting to state-sanctioned violence. Due to all this, it is evident that under the Temer interim government, native lives do not matter, are not valued and are seen as negotiable in exchange for more capitalist power.
Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.