Brazil: land barons set up arrests of indigenous leaders

According to the Indianist Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic church-based group which works in solidarity with Brazil’s indigenous communities, 15 Tupinikim and Guarani indigenous people and seven non-indigenous people have been jailed since Aug. 9 in the city of Aracruz, in Espirito Santo state. The Tupinikim and Guarani communities have been challenging the multinational corporation Aracruz Celulose over ownership of 11,000 hectares of land in the area. The government’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) has recognized the land as indigenous territory, but Aracruz Celulose has appealed. Brazil’s justice minister has until Sept. 20 to make a decision in the case; in the meantime, both sides are barred from entering the disputed area.

According to information obtained by Humberto Gomes Serafim, FUNAI’s ombudsperson for the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, private security guards contracted by Aracruz Celulose through the Vigilancia e Seguranca Ltda (VISEL) company called agents of the Military Police (PM) to the area to carry out the arrests. On Aug. 15, Serafim asked the judge to grant the detainees provisional release, but the judge refused and said they will be freed after they are interrogated during the week of Aug. 21.

Initial reports claimed the indigenous people were arrested because they were harvesting eucalyptus on the disputed land. But according to information obtained from the Espirito Santo State Human Rights Council, those arrested were in an undisputed indigenous area when PM agents lured them to the disputed land by telling them a PM captain was waiting there to meet with them. When the indigenous people arrived at the site, armed agents from the VISEL private security firm were waiting with cameras to film the “crime.” Several PM agents confirmed the detainees’ version of events. (CIMI, Aug. 16)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 20

See our last posts on Brazil, the Guarani struggle and the politics of eucalyptus.