Brazil: indigenous protester killed in land dispute

Osiel Gabriel, an indigenous Terena, was killed on May 30 when Brazilian federal police violently removed a group of Terena protesters who had been occupying the Buriti estate in Sidrolandia, in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, since May 15. At least three indigenous people and one police agent were treated at a local hospital with light injuries; eight protesters were arrested. The occupiers reportedly fought back with wooden clubs and bows and arrows and set some of the estate’s buildings on fire. The authorities claimed police agents only used rubber bullet and tear gas; according to state police superintendent Edgar Paulo Marcon, the protesters fired on the agents.

Hundreds of Terena have occupying four estates in what they say is their territory. The Buriti estate, the first to be taken over, is claimed by Ricardo Bacha, a former legislative deputy for the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) who says the property has been in his family since 1927. According to the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), the estate is on land that the Justice Ministry designated as traditional indigenous territory in 2010; of the 17,000 hectares recognized as indigenous in the area, indigenous people currently occupy just 3,000 hectares. “We aren’t dogs, we aren’t savage animals,” Argeu Reginaldo, an indigenous leader injured in the confrontation, told reporters. “We have dignity…. We’re people, we’re a nation.”

The Terena protesters reoccupied the Buriti estate on May 31. As of June 1 negotiations between the Terena, landowners and the National Justice Council were under way but hadn’t resulted in an agreement. The government started an investigation into possible police abuse in the May 30 confrontation, and Justice Minister JosĂ© Eduardo Cardozo said it would be pursued rigorously. (Servindi, May 31; AgĂŞncia Brasil, June 1)

Meanwhile, on May 28 some 200 protesters from the MundurukĂş, Xipaya, KayapĂł, Arara and Tupinambá indigenous groups resumed their occupation of a construction site for the massive Belo Monte dam, being built in the northern Brazilian state of Pará. In an open letter they condemned the presence of the National Public Security Force in their territory and repeated their demand for an independent environmental study on the dam’s impact. Indigenous groups have occupied the dam several times over the past year, most recently from May 2 to 9. According to the letter, the protesters ended the previous protest because “[t]he government said that if we left the construction areas, we would be listened to. We left quietly, but they didn’t fulfill their promise; the government didn’t receive us; and we called [Presidency Minister] Gilberto Carvalho, and he didn’t come.” The protesters are now demanding direct talks with President Dilma Rousseff. (Prensa Latina, May 28)

“History is repeating itself,” Stephen Corry, the director of the British-based nonprofit Survival International, said on May 31, charging that the “attacks on the Indians are unleashed” at the same time that a report “chronicling the genocidal atrocities of a past generation has been unearthed.” He was referring to a 7,000-page report that public prosecutor Jader de Figueiredo Correia submitted in 1967 detailing abuses by the federal government’s Indian Protection Service (SPI). The report was supposedly destroyed in a fire at the Agricultural Ministry, but most of the document was rediscovered recently and is now being used by a National Truth Commission investigating human rights violations between 1947 and 1988.

Figueiredo wrote in the report that the SPI “degenerated to the point of chasing Indians to extinction,” with officials stealing indigenous land, property and funds and sometimes resorting to torture or even mass murder to achieve their ends. Among the atrocities are an attack on a community of 30 indigenous Cinta Larga in Mato Grosso with dynamite dropped from airplanes and incidents in which officials and landowners infected isolated villages with smallpox and donated sugar mixed with strychnine. None of the 134 people charged because of the Figueiredo report were ever imprisoned. (The Guardian, UK, May 29; Survival International, May 31)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 2.