Brazil Assaults Indigenous Rights, Environment, Social Movements

Featured image: A pair of macaws in flight. The Amazon basin is under extreme threat, as the Brazilian government passes measure after measure to gut environmental, indigenous and social movement protections. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

     by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres / Mongabay

“The first five months of 2017 have been the most violent this century,” Cândido Neto da Cunha, a specialist in agrarian affairs at the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) in Santarém, Brazil, told Mongabay. According to the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), which has been compiling statistics on rural violence since 1985, 36 people have already been assassinated in rural conflicts this year.

The latest violence came on 24 May when nine men and a woman were killed in what seems to have been a deliberate massacre on the Santa Lúcia estate in the rural district of Pau D’Arco located 860 kilometers (535 miles) south of Belém, the capital of the state of Pará.

For many years, landless families had lobbied for the creation of a land reform settlement on this estate, saying that the man claiming to own the land, now deceased, was a land thief. His widow agreed to hand over the property, but had second thoughts when INCRA officials, who cannot pay above the market price, refused to pay her what she asked.

In the meantime, landless families had occupied the area and a security guard, working for the ranch, was killed on 30 April. A posse of military and civil police went in to evict the families and to investigate the death. The families say the police arrived shooting. This version is disputed by the police, who claim that the peasant families shot at them first. However, no police officer was killed or wounded.

A landless peasant occupation at KM Mil, a settlement near the Thousand Kilometer marker on highway BR 163 near the town of Novo Progresso in Pará state, Brazil. Violence against peasants involved in the agrarian reform movement is increasing across the nation as wealthy land thieves are emboldened by the Temer administration which has done little to stop the attacks. Photo by Thais Borges

As Cunha pointed out, this is only the latest in a series of violent land conflicts this year. On 19 April, ten peasants, including children, were tortured and then murdered in the rural district of Colniza in the northwest of Mato Grosso. On 30 April a group of Gamela Indians were attacked by a large group of armed men sent in by farmers. Over two dozen Indians were injured, with four hospitalised in critical condition. Two had their hands lopped off and their legs cut at the joints.

On 25 May, 19 organizations, including the CPT and the landless movements (MST), published a letter in which they railed against the systematic “impunity of human rights violations in the countryside.” They went on: “The State is not only complicit and absent… but also an active agent in encouraging the violence, not only through the policies and programs carried out by the Executive, but also by the action of the Legislative which is destroying rights won by the workers.”

Wave of violence spurred by bancada militancy

Cunha made a similar point, linking the spike in violence to the government’s rapid dismantling of environmental laws, agrarian reforms and indigenous protections, a process that gained greater momentum, he said, after Osmar Serraglio, a well-known member of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress, was appointed Justice Minister in February.

“Violence is one of the ways in which agribusiness and land thieves get rid of ‘obstacles’ to their never-ending expansion,” explained Cunha.

Indigenous leaders tear-gassed by police in front of Brazil’s National Congress in April. They were protesting the surging violence against Indians seen since Temer took power, as well as the government’s assaults on indigenous land rights. Photo by Wilson Dias courtesy of Agencia Brasil

This past weekend, Serraglio was suddenly sacked by Temer without explanation, though possibly because of the Justice Minister’s alleged involvement in the Weak Meat (Carne Fraca) scandal. He had received large donations from JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, a company at the heart of the scandal which threatens to bring down Temer’s government

However, his, or even Temer’s, removal seems unlikely to threaten the power of the bancada. Even if the President falls, a scenario that seems increasingly likely, the agribusiness lobby will remain strong — or grow even stronger. That’s because the bancada holds a firm grip on Congress, which will likely have a big say in selecting Temer’s successor who will most likely be chosen in indirect elections in Congress.

The only way that the agribusiness lobby’s power might be challenged is if Congress passes a constitutional amendment that mandates immediate direct elections for president — a solution to the crisis many social movements are demanding, but which, as yet, seems unlikely to happen.

Agribusiness attacks on indigenous rights

For the moment, the bancada (the members of which have again refused to grant Mongabay an interview), is pressing ahead with a program that heavily favors agribusiness and is extraordinarily hostile to Indians, the environment and social movements.

On 30 May a Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry into FUNAI, the federal agency responsible for Indian affairs, and INCRA (the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform), approved the final version of its report. The Commission, whose members came mainly from the bancada, called for 67 people to be indicted for allegedly illegal activities in support of the indigenous movement. The list included a former justice minister (José Eduardo Cardozo), anthropologists, FUNAI employees, INCRA employees and 30 Indians.

Brazil’s large scale farmers and commodities companies (such as Amaggi), aren’t the only ones to benefit wildly from an agribusiness-friendly Brazilian government that attacks indigenous land rights and environmental protections. International commodities companies like ADM, Cargill and Bunge will also greatly benefit. Photo by Thais Borges

The list of names will be handed to the Public Ministry and other authorities for possible prosecution. Though no other action has yet been taken against those named in the list, the report has created a climate of trepidation, with many of those named by the Parliamentary Commission fearful of possible arrest and prosecution.

The report’s rapporteur, Nilson Leitão, who had initially called for the closing down of FUNAI, changed his position, in the face of widespread criticism, with the report proposing, instead, the “restructuring” of FUNAI.

Partially republished with permission of Mongabay.  Read the full article, Brazil assaults indigenous rights, environment, social movements

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