Eye on the Amazon

Indigenous Rights and Territories Under Attack in Brazil

Munduruku assembly to oppose the Belo Monte dam. Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Make no mistake about it, indigenous rights and territories are under attack in Brazil.

We recently reported on attempts by the administration of President Michel Temer to roll back indigenous rights and environmental protections, moves that fundamentally undermine land demarcation norms while portending dire consequences for the Amazon and its people. Meanwhile, we continue to highlight the many ways large-scale hydroelectric dams are anything but clean energy sources, despite the Brazilian government's continued push to build them.

And the news from Brazil keeps getting worse.

54 land rights defenders were killed in Brazil in 2016, the highest since 2003, The majority of those under attack are indigenous people. And rural militias are forming to continue attacking those defenders, Human Rights Watch reports.

Revelations continue to surface about the corruption and damage to the environment and indigenous communities from the Belo Monte dam, as reported by the BBC in this article and video, which features our own Andrew Miller.

A recent report from Mongabay and The Intercept documents the environmental damage and cultural destruction of the Munduruku people caused by the construction of four smaller dams on the Teles Pires River in the Tapajós Basin region.

Revelations by a former official of Brazil's indigenous agency, FUNAI, have exposed the fact that new demarcations – similar to formal land titles – of indigenous territories haven't been issued since August, in a bow to the interests of the the country's agribusiness industry, known as ruralistas, who wield increasing political clout with the ascension of Michel Temer to the presidency. Indeed, last month's brazen move by Mr. Temer's Justice Minister to decree fundamental changes to Brazil's land demarcation process is a keystone of the ruralista agenda, potentially freezing future demarcation while opening up past demarcations to new scrutiny.

That last item is particularly bad news for the Munduruku people, who have fought for years against the dam-driven destruction of their rainforest homes through legal means and direct action. The Munduruku's struggle for demarcation of their ancestral land, which they call Sawre Muybu, has taken them from the halls of power to the streets of Brasília, and they did win a historic victory in August 2016 when Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA recognized their land claims and discontinued the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam. But the new demarcation freeze immediately followed that victory, and subsequent advocacy – like the "mannequin challenge" they staged in Brasilia in late November 2016 calling for immediate demarcation of their land – appears to have fallen on deaf ears. They've also filed lawsuits for fraudulent issuance of environmental and building permits – 80% of which they've won – but all of those rulings have been overturned by the government using the Brazilian equivalent of eminent domain for "security" reasons.

"The ethnocide continues," a Munduruku named Marcelo told Mongabay. "In the way people look at us, the way they want us to be like them, subjugating our organizations, the way they tell us that our religion isn't worth anything, that theirs is what matters, the way they tell us our behavior is wrong. They are obliterating the identity of the Indian as a human being."

Today's shameless attacks against indigenous peoples and the Amazon in Brazil should be a call to action for all of us. The Munduruku won't back down, and neither will Amazon Watch in our support of their struggle.

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