Brasília, Brazil – In a weekend of violence against Indigenous peoples in Brazil, three Indigenous people were killed, two in the state of Maranhão and one in the state of Bahia, and two Indigenous adolescents were shot and seriously injured. The crimes took place amid an upsurge in anti-Indigenous violence that has marked the run-up to presidential and state government elections, scheduled for October.
On Saturday, September 3, Janildo Oliveira Guajajara was shot and killed in Maranhão state, in the Brazilian Amazon. Janildo’s 14-year-old nephew was also shot and seriously injured at the scene. Janildo was a member of the Guajajara Indigenous people and served in the Forest Guardians (Guardiões da Floresta), a self-organized Indigenous initiative that carries out territorial surveillance and denounces Indigenous land invasions and illegal resource extraction to government authorities. Janildo’s territory, Araribóia Indigenous Land, is severely threatened by illegal loggers, which the Guardians have been denouncing since 2012.
The direct confrontation with illegal loggers and encroachers puts the Araribóia Guardians under serious and constant risk. Janildo is the sixth Guardian to be murdered. In 2019, Paulo Paulino Guajajara was ambushed and killed by illegal loggers while carrying out a surveillance mission in the Araribóia Indigenous Land. In the months that followed Paulino’s execution, three other Guajajara men were killed, including two Indigenous leaders: Firmino Prexede Guajajara and Raimundo Benício Guajajara.
In a statement issued on September 4, the Guajajara Forest Guardians state that: “The Guardian Janildo Oliveira Guajajara joined our group in 2018 and worked in the Barreiro region of Araribóia Indigenous Land, in a village that is very close to a road that had been opened by illegal loggers and that was closed by the Forest Guardians. Since then, Janildo and other guardians from the region suffered constant threats, and these threats have been escalating.”
On the same morning that Janildo was murdered, Jael Carlos Miranda Guajajara was killed in the municipality of Arame, Maranhão. His death was caused by a hit-and-run, but community members suspect it was also a murder.
“The current federal government has taken a clear and consistent stance against Indigenous peoples in Brazil,” said Ana Carolina Alfinito, Brazil Legal Advisor at Amazon Watch. “Efforts to protect Indigenous lands have been abandoned by the government, despite its constitutional obligation to enforce Indigenous territorial rights. Meanwhile, the administration, including President Bolsonaro himself, downplays the violence committed against Indigenous peoples, and openly supports the political and economic groups benefiting from the illegal extraction of resources from protected territories. Indigenous communities have been abandoned to protect their lands on their own, and to face the violence of armed and emboldened militias who covet the wealth in their territories.”
More than 2000 kilometers away, in the northeastern state of Bahia, another murder took place the same morning of September 3. The victim was a 14-year-old Pataxó boy who lived in a reclaimed Indigenous area in Comexatibá Indigenous Land. The Pataxó community was attacked by a group of heavily armed gunmen, who fired on men, women and children with guns and tear gas. The young Pataxó was shot in the head and died instantly. Another Pataxó teenager, age 16, was also shot and is seriously injured.
The attacks against the Pataxó occur in a context of territorial disputes and increased anti-Indigenous organizing and violence in the region. In 2015, Brazil’s federal Indigenous agency (FUNAI), recognized that the disputed land is indeed traditional Pataxó territory. After waiting more than seven years for the formal demarcation of their land, and considering the ongoing omission of the government in recognizing their territorial rights, in June 2022 the Pataxó decided to reclaim the land. Since then, they have suffered a series of aggressions and attacks.
“The Guajajara and the Pataxó, like other Indigenous peoples across Brazil, are facing an escalation in threats, violence, and other hate crimes under the criminal negligence of the Bolsonaro regime,” said Ana Paula Vargas, Brazil Program Director at Amazon Watch. “The September 3 murders, despite having occured in different regions, are connected events, linked to a severe spike in anti-Indigenous violence that has engulfed Brazil, and which has worsened in the run-up to the October presidential elections.”