Indigenous and quilombola communities already face attacks in first few days of 2020

Traditional and indigenous communities are victims of killings and assault in at least three Brazilian states

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Around 180 Guarani and Kaiowá indigenous families were attacked by private security guards in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, on Jan. 2
Around 180 Guarani and Kaiowá indigenous families were attacked by private security guards in Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, on Jan. 2 - Brazilian National Indigenous Mobilization

It’s a new year, but there is nothing new about the violent episodes against Brazil’s indigenous peoples and quilombolas. In the first 13 days of 2020, reports of killings and attacks against traditional communities echoed the escalating violence they face on a daily basis.

The number of indigenous leaders killed in land conflicts last year, for example, was the highest reported in at least 11 years. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) disclosed a preliminary survey showing that seven people were killed in 2019, over two deaths in 2018. And the number could be even higher, as the group is still looking into data and will disclose a consolidated report in April.

And this grim trend continues this year. Two days into 2020, around 180 Guarani and Kaiowá indigenous families were attacked by private security guards in the center-western city of Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, where the reserve with Brazil’s largest indigenous population is located. The clash lasted 16 hours and was only ceased the next day. Seven indigenous people were injured by rubber bullets and firearm projectiles.

One of the victims was a 12-year-old who lost three fingers on his left hand after he manipulated a grenade left behind by the police. The Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi) reported that the officers went to the area during the attack perpetrated by the private security guards and also used excessive force against the indigenous community.

The indigenous community currently lives on the boundaries of the Dourados Reserve, from where they were displaced, and faces continuous attacks promoted by guards hired by local big farm owners.

After the episode early this year, the Federal Public Defender’s Office filed a request with the Mato Grosso do Sul state government to deploy National Public Security Force troops to de-escalate the conflicts.

On the first Sunday of 2019, Jan. 5, two quilombola peasants were brutally murdered in the town of Arari, Maranhão.

Quilombolas are residents of quilombos, settlements set up in Brazil’s rural areas, mostly by escaped enslaved people of African descent.

The victims were two leaders of the quilombola association Cedro, Celino Fernandes and his son Wanderson de Jesus Rodrigues Fernandes. They were shot in the face after four gunmen broke into their home.

According to the CPT, the workers had denounced the agrarian conflict between the community and *grileiros*, illegal land grabbers who encroach into and devastate forests, fencing large pieces of public land, sometimes with electric fences, and raise buffalo in the area.

Paulo Moreira, from the CPT national board, points out that the first year of president Jair Bolsonaro’s four-year term has led to an escalation of the violence against forest communities.

“The government’s message was clear. It will provide absolutely no support for policies dedicated to traditional peoples and communities. In recent years, this has been inciting violence,” Moreira argues.

“The government has a policy of favoring capital, agribusiness, and miners. It deliberately and systematically halted policies for peasants and pushed [policies] in the opposite sense,” he adds, underscoring that the negative trend is likely to continue in 2020.

On the night of Jan. 6 this year, the day after the murder of the Maranhão quilombola leaders, three Miranha indigenous people from the Indigenous Land Cajuhiri Atravessado, in the town of Coari, Amazonas, were also killed as a result of a conflict between indigenous and non-indigenous people and disputes about local Brazilian nut extrative activities.

In this violent episode, the victim was Joab Marins da Cruz, an indigenous teacher who was murdered at home in the Cajuhiri Atravessado village. Local police claimed that Cruz had an argument with the owner of a shotgun allegedly stolen by his brother.

After his death, Marcos Marins da Cruz and Francisco Marins da Cruz were also killed while trying to locate and chase the gunmen. One of the murderers is in custody.

Paulo Moreira, from the CPT, says that it is not a coincidence that many of the conflicts and killings of indigenous and quilombola people have historically happened in the Amazon. He points out that the territories of traditional communities are extremely valuable and coveted by different industries.

“It’s a market that has been violently advancing, encouraged by the State, exterminating peoples to exploit the forest. It’s the end of the forest,” the CPT coordinator says.

Other forms of violence

Since early January, six indigenous children under one year of age died in the Indigenous Land Vale do Javari.

Jorge Duarth, the coordinator of the Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI), told the Cimi that the children died due to the unwholesome conditions they were exposed to in the local port, where indigenous canoes are docked and there is lack of proper sanitation.

According to the DSEI, most of the deaths were reported in the town of Atalaia do Norte, state of Amazonas.

Antonio Eduardo Cerqueira de Oliveira, the general secretary of the Cimi, points out that one of the reasons why the death rates of indigenous people are increasing is because the public services providing basic rights to these communities are being abandoned or eliminated in Brazil.

Oliveira mentions major institutions that have been deteriorating under the Jair Bolsonaro administration, including the indigenous agency Funai, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), and the Brazilian environmental agency Ibama.

“Indigenous and quilombola communities are being portrayed as enemies of the State, of the Brazilian people. That’s terrible. The Brazilian State is sponsoring such serious violence that children are dying, and it’s as if that was just natural. Three indigenous people were killed and it’s as if that was normal,” Oliveira says.

The Cimi general secretary also underscores that the Bolsonaro administration plans to sell health care services in indigenous communities to private initiatives, and the government has already started the process of phasing out the public health care network.

A vocal critic of the government’s plans to allow mining activities in indigenous land, Oliveira also says that the end of the More Doctors program and the removal of Cuban doctors from the most vulnerable areas of the countries have increasingly worsen the conditions available to provide health care services to indigenous communities.

“These are signs that we are living in a situation of barbarism. Indigenous, rural, and poor people are completely unaided,” he adds.

Edited by: Camila Maciel