Arson traps indigenous gathering in Brazilian Amazon

A group of some 3,000 indigenous people gathering to mark the official opening of a new reserve are trapped in the remote village of Maturca, Roraima state, after its bridge burned down. Authorities say settlers opposed to the creation of the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve deliberately burned the bridge, which is the only access into Maturuca. Brazil agreed to create the reservation in April, despite strong opposition from local landowners and settlers. Some 3,500 people had gathered at Maturuca for the celebrations. (BBC, Sept. 23)

Until the bridge is rebuilt, only the government officials who are attending the event can depart from the locale, by plane. Roraima’s secretary of Indigenous Rights, Adriano Nascimento said he believes that those responsible for burning the bridge were also behind the arson of the Raposa Serra do Sul Training and Cultural Center on Sept. 17. “I think they were the same people who set fire to the mission. But the state government does not accept this.”

The president of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), Mércio Pereira Gomes, the Army Engineers’ Batallion has been activated to rebuilt the bridge. “I believe that the buses that brought people to the region will be able to leave tomorrow.”

Some 15 thousand Indians live in the reserve, comprising 1.74 million hectares. The decree creating the reserve establishes a period of 12 months for non-Indians to vacate the area. Despite the tense atmosphere, Pereira Gomes says that the celebration will not be interrupted. “The indigenous peoples are relying on the authority of the state government. The state has the duty to identify and punish the guilty parties.” (Agencia Brasil, Sept. 22)

See our last post on the indigenous struggle in Brazil.

  1. More details…
    …from Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 25:


    About 150 armed and hooded men invaded the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous territory in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima the morning of Sept. 17, according to the Indigenous Council of Roraima. The men, armed with revolvers, shotguns, knives and clubs, set fire to the Training and Culture Center (formerly the Surumu Mission) and looted the center’s chapel, hospital, dormitories, cafeterias, bathrooms, library and teachers’ quarters. The invaders reportedly stopped a vehicle being used to transport a patient from a clinic. They held guns to the heads of two clinic workers, looted the vehicle and assaulted the patient, an indigenous person, who later had to be transferred by plane to a hospital. The Federal Police have started an investigation.

    The attack came as people were preparing for a 10-day festival scheduled to start on Sept. 21 to celebrate the ratification of the territory’s possession by the Macuxi, Ingariko, Taurepang, Patamona and Wapichana nations. [The ratification, signed by President Inacio Lula da Silva on Apr. 15, allows the Supreme Federal Tribunal to cancel legal challenges by landowners and developers seeking to use parts of the territory.] The festival was to include craft and photography exhibits, archery contests, soccer championships and traditional dances.

    The old Surumu Mission was invaded and looted in 2004 by groups linked to the mayor of Pacaraima municipality, Paulo Cesar Quartieiro, a major rice producer in the region. There are suspicions that the same group was responsible for the Sept. 19 attack. In comments to the media on Sept. 20, Quartieiro, a member of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT), advised people in the region not to attend the festival. [Adital 9/19/05, 9/21/05]