Illegal Gold Miners Attack and Burn Munduruku Village in the Brazilian Amazon

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Photo credit: APIB

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Jacareacanga, Brazil – On May 26, during a major Federal Police operation to remove illegal gold miners from Munduruku Indigenous Territory in Pará state, armed invaders attacked a Munduruku village, firing shots and targeting key leaders opposed to illegal mining on their lands. During the attack, two houses were set on fire including the house of Maria Leusa Kaba, coordinator of the Wakoborum Women's Association, and that of the village Chief, according to a statement from the Munduruku’s Ipereg Ayu Movement.

"Come, please, it's turmoil, they're going to burn my house. (...) They are shooting, please help me," said Maria Leusa in an audio message, after which the village’s internet communication was cut off.

In recent years, Maria Leusa has received death threats for her opposition to illegal mining and has had to leave the Jacareacanga region on several occasions to protect herself and her family. Today’s attack follows the burning of the Wakoborum Association’s office in March and is in retaliation to the Federal Police’s "Operation Mundurukânia," which aims to remove invaders from the Munduruku Indigenous Territory.

The attack was reportedly provoked by a news leak about the police operation, prompting protests and acts of intimidation against Munduruku leadership. In addition to the invasion of the village, a group of wildcat miners, known as garimpeiros, attempted to overrun a police base and plunder equipment to stop agents from reaching the illegally occupied lands.

"The presence of the National Forces in the region since Monday, May 24, does not inhibit the miners, who continue to commit acts of violence to threaten and intimidate leaders who are against illegal mining in Indigenous territories," said the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) in a statement.

"We urgently call for the presence of the Federal Police to prevent further violence, murders, and massacres that will continue so long as illegal mining activities are encouraged and impunity for these criminals is assured. We see this happening throughout Yanomami and Munduruku territories," the Munduruku Ipereg Ayu Movement and four other Munduruku associations said in an emergency statement. The statement also warns that other key Munduruku leaders could soon suffer the same attacks and threats as Maria Leusa.

"Brazil’s Indigenous peoples have suffered a campaign of terror and violence for weeks and Bolsonaro’s federal government has done nothing effective to protect them from the well-financed criminals brazenly invading their territories," said Christian Poirier, Program Director at Amazon Watch. "We express our full solidarity with the Munduruku people and their representative organizations resisting the destruction of Munduruku lands and waterways by illegal miners. Today’s criminal and brutal reaction to the police operation underscores the importance of instilling security measures and enforcement in an increasingly precarious environment, in order to stop the violence against Indigenous leadership and preserve these vital Amazonian ecosystems."

Bolsonaro is set to visit São Gabriel da Cachoeira on May 27, considered the "most Indigenous city" in Brazil. He may also visit the Maturacá community, where two thousand Yanomami live. Local Indigenous leaders said that they don't want Bolsonaro in their territory.

On April 29, in his weekly online "live" statement, Bolsonaro clearly announced his support for illegal mining, a hallmark of his government. He also stated that he was planning a visit to the military garrisons in the northern region of Brazil and to visit an illegal mining operation. "We are not going to arrest anyone. This will not be an operation to punish irregular miners. I want to talk to people, [learn] how they live there. To start to get a sense of how much gold is produced," he said.

The high-level support of both President Bolsonaro and his Environment Minister Salles for this highly destructive criminal activity sends a signal to garimpeiros that their activities – including violence against Indigenous communities – are not only tolerated but condoned by the federal government.

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