Eye on the Amazon

Historic Indigenous Mobilization Confronts Spiraling Threats To Rights and Resources in Brazil

  • Photo credit: Midia Ninja / MNI
  • Photo credit: Midia Ninja / MNI
  • Photo credit: Midia Ninja / MNI
  • Photo credit: Midia Ninja / MNI
  • Photo credit: Midia Ninja / MNI
"We call on Brazilian society and the international community to unite with the struggle of native peoples in defense of traditional territories, Mother Earth, and the well-being of all forms of life."

The barbaric attack on a peaceful land occupation of the Gamela people last Friday is the latest example of the drastic and intensifying threats to the fundamental human rights and territorial protections of indigenous peoples in Brazil. As they confront political and physical threats unprecedented since the fall of the country's military dictatorship, Brazil's minorities remain resolute in their determination to resist the repressive political regime spearheaded by President Michel Temer's administration.

To that end, four days of intense activities and protest marked last week's "Free Land Encampment" (Acampamento Terra Livre - ATL), the largest gathering in the fourteen-year history of this yearly mobilization. More than 4,000 representatives of nearly 200 ethnicities converged on the capital city Brasilia, demonstrating the power and diversity of Brazil's National Indigenous Movement (MNI).

"We affirm that we will not permit violence, rollbacks, and threats perpetrated by the Brazilian government and economic oligarchies against our lives and our rights," proclaimed ATL's closing statement. "We call on Brazilian society and the international community to unite with the struggle of native peoples in defense of traditional territories, Mother Earth, and the well-being of all forms of life."

Throughout the week, ATL's participants organized debates, convened seminars and artistic events, and marched on congressional buildings where they were met with police intimidation and violence, rubber bullets and tear gas. While such treatment is nothing new to Brazil's indigenous environmental defenders – who are disproportionately targeted with violence – this form of state-sponsored oppression was brutally echoed by land-grabbers in the northern state of Maranhão last Friday, as a drunken party of local farmers and their hired guns attacked members of the Gamela people who had peacefully occupied parts of their ancestral territory stolen during the dictatorship, reportedly hacking the limbs off of two victims with machetes and injuring eleven others.

Such barbarity should not be seen in isolation, but rather through the lens of the government's antagonism toward indigenous and traditional peoples as it colludes and collaborates with ‘economic oligarchies' such as the ruralista agribusiness congressional bloc.

With this in mind, the MNI declined an offer to meet last week with Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio and President Temer's Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha, given their direct tie to the ruralistas. "At this moment, accepting a meeting with ruralista ministers would legitimize all that they are doing against indigenous peoples," affirmed MNI leader Kretã Kaingang.

Minister Serraglio's attacks on indigenous rights – such as his brazen efforts to end land titling of indigenous territories and defund the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI – have motivated the launch of a global "Land Rights Now" petition demanding that he and President Temer immediately cease these harmful policies.

The power, organization, and turnout at last week's Free Land Encampment demonstrates that Brazil's National Indigenous Movement is building and strengthening long-term strategies to oppose the government's racist and rapacious agenda. "I believe that the resistance and persistence of our leaders who fought for [landmark recognition of indigenous rights] the 1988 Constitution are here," said Toninho Guaraní. "Each act strengthens us more."

Throughout the week the MNI fomented unity among diverse indigenous representatives, including participants from as far away as Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Indonesia. Organizers aimed to elevate the protagonism of women and youth in the national movement while strengthening bonds with political advocates, solidarity organizations, and artists. These included a team of more than 25 luminaries of Brazilian music and culture, including Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania, and Chico Cesar, who produced a powerful music video entitled "Demaração Já" (Land Titling Now).

Last week's mobilization was a shining example that spirited resistance is alive and well in the dark days of the presidency of Michel Temer. This resistance provides a critical counterweight to growing repression and environmental devastation and deserves ample support, from local to global levels, to send a firm message to the Brazilian government: attacks on indigenous rights will not be tolerated.

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