Brazil: Amazon road blocked to press demarcation

Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.

The protest campaign was launched following repeated invasions of indigenous lands by illegal loggers over the past months, and mounting attacks on the indigenous communities. In a June attack on the Akroá-Gamella community, several were wounded and two had ther hands severed by machete blows. The church-linked Pastoral Land Commission maintains that Maranhão had Brazil's second highest toll of assassinations of social leaders in 2016, with a total of 12 recorded out of 56 nationwide. Rondônia was in fist place with 17. Among the most notorious of the Maranhão cases was the March 31, 2016 assassination of Quilombola leader Zé Sapo. This was shortly followed by a wave of six slayings at the state's Guajajara indigenous communities. (Globo, Nov. 22; CIMI, Nov. 6; Justificando, June 2; CIMI, March 9)

The international rights group Global Witness put the total of assassinated social leaders in Brazil in 2016 at 49—marking the second year in a row that Brazil was in the top slot on its annual list of the world's most dangerous countries for environmental advocates. The 2015 Global Witness figure for Brazil was 29.