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Church warns of record violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil

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SÃO PAULO — Violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil increased in 2021, reaching its highest level since 2013, according to an agency of the episcopal conference.

The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) said 355 cases of physical violence against indigenous peoples were reported last year, including 176 murders, 20 cases of manslaughter, 12 attempted homicides and 14 acts of sexual violence.


The number of suicides, 148, was the highest on record, according to the report.

“Violence against indigenous peoples has reached a level of extreme cruelty. It has become something commonplace. We had already denounced the increasing violence in 2020, but nothing was done by the government,” said Antonio Eduardo de Oliveira, Executive Secretary of CIMI. Node.

The main reason for this increase was the increase in incursions into indigenous territories. The CIMI report claimed that there were 305 cases of outsiders entering indigenous lands with the intention of taking control of the territory or exploiting their resources. This is the sixth consecutive year that incursions into indigenous lands have multiplied in Brazil.

The number of occurrences in 2021 was almost three times higher than in 2018, a year before conservative President Jair Bolsonaro took office. During his election campaign, he claimed that indigenous peoples had too much land in Brazil and vowed that he would not grant them “an extra square inch” of territory.

He also gave his support to illegal miners and ranchers who invaded indigenous lands. According to CIMI, all of these policies have ended up intensifying the illegal occupation of indigenous reservations.

“Support for these criminals also came in the form of bills to loosen the protection of indigenous lands and allow economic activities within them,” de Oliveira added.

Bill 191 was introduced by Bolsonaro in 2020 with the aim of opening up indigenous territories to mining companies and oil drilling. The proposal provoked several protests from indigenous groups and environmental organizations. It is still debated in Congress.

“The current president has also weakened government environmental agencies and the National Indigenous Foundation, so the number of monitoring and control operations has been drastically reduced. We are absolutely unprotected,” said Adriano Karipuna, a member of the Karipuna people from the state of Rondônia.

Adriano said his people’s territory was first invaded in 2017. The situation quickly deteriorated when Bolsonaro took power in 2019. Today, more than a third of their land is occupied by illegal breeders. Portions of the Amazon rainforest have been replaced with cattle pasture.

“We reported this situation several times to the authorities, but nothing was done,” he said.

Heavy machinery can be heard day and night. Unaccustomed to noisy environments, the Karipuna have trouble sleeping because of the equipment. They also fear that intruders will also attack their village.

“We have received threats from them several times for denouncing their activities. They say they will attack us in the river or on the road. A massive invasion or a murder can happen anytime,” he said.

The expensive machinery employed by these invaders shows that they are not small farmers or laborers, as Bolsonaro repeatedly asserted, Adriano claimed.

“They are part of powerful groups who have the money to carry out their projects,” he said.

Seeking re-election, Bolsonaro told Brazil’s main television channel, Rede Globo, on August 22 that herders’ agricultural equipment could not be destroyed by environmental agents in raids.

“It’s very cynical of him. He obviously protects these people,” said Adriano Karipuna.

On August 12, members of the indigenous group learned that the illegal occupiers of the land were planning to burn large areas in order to accelerate deforestation. On August 15, the forest fires started – and they destroyed large areas of Karipuna territory.

“This kind of orchestrated action shows us that the invaders are backed by powerful people. The current administration encourages this behavior,” said Sister Laura Manso, CIMI agent and member of the Amazon Ecclesial Conference.

Manso has worked with the Karipuna for several years and has seen how the intruders have gradually taken over a large tract of the group’s lands.

“They are under great pressure. They have received several threats. But they have nowhere to go,” she said.

The nun has received several death threats and she says she fears for her life, but that won’t stop her.

“We are part of a Church that believes in life. We know that life always goes on despite so many circumstances of death. We are hopeful for life and we have to keep fighting for it,” Manso said.

The escalation of violence has forced CIMI agents to be extra cautious in recent years. According to de Oliveira, territories that have suffered from large incursions by illegal miners, such as Yanomami land, have also seen the emergence of drug cartels from southeastern Brazil, which has made the region even more dangerous.

“They took advantage of the atmosphere of deregulation and took control of illegal mining in different areas of the Amazon. We had to withdraw our agents from these territories,” he said.

CIMI also advised caution to Indigenous activists across the country. De Oliveira claimed that the number of natives killed in 2021 could have been much higher.

“We are going through a period of violence,” he said.

Many CIMI workers fear things will get chaotic in the final months of 2022. Brazil holds its presidential election in October, pitting Bolsonaro against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leads all polls .

“If Lula is elected, the ground invaders could try to step up their actions before Bolsonaro leaves office on December 31. This can be a very dangerous situation for indigenous groups across the country,” de Oliveira said.

Adriano Karipuna says his people won’t see a sudden change even if Lula wins.

“We don’t know how these invaders will react to a change in political power, but we know they won’t leave our land the next day,” he said.

Manso stressed that the land dispute in Brazil is a structural problem and has always been linked to political and economic power.

“That’s why violence against Indigenous peoples is systemic. We know they will always have to fight for their territories,” she said.