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Indigenous people march in Brasília, on September 15. Photo: Tiago Miotto/Cimi

Asunción Gimenez, saw her husband, Vitor Fernandes murdered with two shots in the back and one in the thigh.

Hidden with her son in an oat field, she – and other members of the Guarani Kaiowá indigenous community – had sought refuge from the bombs and bullets fired by the Riot Battalion of the Military Police of Mato Grosso Sul state. From here, the 36-year-old witnessed the father of her children fall to the ground in Guapo’y, in Amambaí, a city 350km far from the state capital of Campo Grande.

The killing took place during an eviction operation on June 23 when police used live rounds to drive out indigenous people who had re-occupied their traditional land in the farm, Borda da Mata.

Around 65 police officers fired live rounds, rubber bullets and gas bombs against the Guarani Kaiowá who fled into nearby plantations. At least 20 were injured on that occasion and violence has continued in Amambaí since. Two other people from the ethnic group were murdered by gunmen in ambushes outside the indigenous land. In July, Márcio Moreira was shot and killed by two men on a motorbike. On 13 September, Vitorino Sanches, a 60-year old was executed with five shots in the back. The previous month Sanches had been shot twice in another attack.

The conflict centers on the border of the Amambaí Indigenous Land – a place demarcated by the state during the corporate-military dictatorship period (1964-1985) as a means of confining the indigenous people to one specific area. Today, at least eight thousand Guarani Kaiowá live in the region. They claim 269 hectares of the land occupied by the Borda da Mata farm was seized from their territory, which was supposed to total 3600 hectares.

Matias Benno Rempel, from the Missionary Indigenist Council, Cimi, believes the territory was stolen some time after 1990.  “We do not even know if the reserve actually ever had all the 3600 hectares. And then we had many moments in which these lands were being occupied with the support of the state itself”, Rempel said. “The indigenous people claim this land as  traditional, important territory. And they have the right to retake it because it is within the perimeter of their indigenous land.”

The negligence of governments, which has grown worse under Bolsonaro, leaves a trail of suffering that is impossible to measure. After her husbands’ funeral, sitting beside the grave, Gimenez vented: “I’m not happy anymore!”. This is a common lament in Guapo’y due to the violence, and it echoes in many other parts of Brazil.  According to Cimi, between September 3 and 13 alone,  seven murders and one suicide have been registered among indigenous communities in Maranhão, Mato Grosso do Sul and Bahia.

From these, three among the dead and two of the injured were under 18. While we were concluding this edition of SUMAÚMA, another indigenous man from Turiwara ethnic group was executed by gunmen in Tomé-Açu, northeast of Pará. The victim was in a pickup truck with three other indigenous people who were also shot at, according to information from the G1 news site. Locals link the crime to a palm oil company. Police are now investigating.

The climate of war is making the population sick, especially the young. On 11, in Mato Grosso do Sul, Cleiton Isnard Daniel, 15, was found dead with signs of suicide. Cleiton belonged to the Jaguapiru village, part of the Dourados Indigenous Reserve, which has seen a wave of suicides. State neglect, violence and environmental devastation have made many indigenous people feel the future is bleak.

In Southern Bahia, Gustavo Pataxó, 14, was killed with a shot in the neck, fired by gunmen who surrounded his village, in Comexatibá. “Gustavo was an innocent child who lived in the Aldeia Nova Reserve. He studied, planted, fished and liked to bathe and play in the river; he liked very much to draw Pataxó warriors”, recalls the community chief Mãdy. “May those who spilled blood pay for it. And may no more blood be spilled again!”

Suruí Pataxó, a leader of the Barra Velha village, also in Southern Bahia, said threats are constant. “We don’t want to see our children, our elders and our leaders being threatened with death inside our own territory. We don’t want to see our people dying by the hands of land grabbers, farmers and gunmen”, he said. “We ask for justice and respect, in the name of the Pataxó people and all indigenous peoples, for our children who are dying”.

With the demarcation process of their lands at a standstill, the Pataxó are suffering from a lack of space for subsistence farming even as monoculture businesses and real estate enterprises advance on their territory. It is a similar story in nearby indigenous territories in Barra Velha and Comexatibá. The state recognized traditional land use, but there is not enough political will to proceed with the demarcation process The Barra Velha Indigenous Land has been on hold since 2008, Comexatibá’s, since 2005. Without any prospect of governmental action, the indigenous people decided to retake their territory, which prompted conflicts with farmers and entrepreneurs. The disproportion of force often ends in massacres.

A cry against violence

Last Thursday, 120 indigenous people marched in Brasília to denounce violence in their territories. “Our children were supposed to bury our people. We, the elders, are the ones burying our children. We ask from the heart: enough blood! The people are asking for help”, lamented Pjhcre Akroá Gamella, in the demonstration. “We only want justice.”

The protesters held a press conference in front of the Ministry of Justice, where Edinho Macuxi, coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), said: “Our people are being murdered, our territory is being invaded, our water is being contaminated, our soil is being poisoned. We will keep fighting. Indigenous people will not give up on our rights, the right to our territories, to our freedom, to our dignity”.

Indigenous groups also took part in meetings and hearings to demand the demarcation and protection of their lands and communities. In an audience with the National Council of Human Rights, Sheila Xakriabá said: “The land is asking for help. We are crying to society that we need help. Where is the state, which is supposed to protect us? Where is Funai, which is supposed to protect us?”, she asks. “Why are our children and women dying? Our people are crying and no one does a thing”.

Contacted by SUMAÚMA, the Federal Public Defender Daniele Osório said prejudice-filled statement by politicians and officials reinforced structural racism against indigenous people and contributed to the escalation of violence. “The politicians’ speeches about the defense of private property with lethal weapons, for instance, contribute to the systemic violence against indigenous peoples”, explains Osório. “There is a common thought that the private property of a few is worth more than the life of thousands of people who fight for housing or for the reoccupation of traditional spaces, from which they were evicted or expelled”.

This conflict, she says, is uneven. “The disproportion of forces is evident: on one side are people with economic power, firearms and contracts with private security firms. On the other are women, elderly people, children and unarmed communities who try to retake spaces for housing and preservation of their traditional culture”.

Escalation in violence

According to the Cimi report “Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil”, the number of aggressions against indigenous peoples, in 2021, is the highest in the last nine years. The document registered 355 cases this year, up from 304 in 2020. These cases include murder, attempted murder, racism, sexual violence and death threats.

Roberto Liebgott, coordinator of the Missionary Indigenist Council – Cimi Sul, said the report seeks to denounce brutalities against indigenous peoples in Brazil and, at the same time, to demand government measures to prevent violences and punish perpetrators. “We registered cases of brutal murders against indigenous people, including stabbings, poisonings and even quarterings”, Liebgott said.

Systemic land invasions have caused devastation in the last three years, he explains. “Loggers, miners, land grabbers, tenants subsidized by companies or backed by the government, and big infrastructure projects have done huge damage. Before, they used to deforest with axes and chainsaws; today they use bulldozers and crushers”, Liebgott remarks. “There is an urgent need for an indigenist policy. If measures of territory protection and safeguarding of rights are not taken, the situation will grow even darker”.

Translation by Thiago Leal

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