Brazil Olympics amid invisible terror

More than 20 land rights activists have been killed in Brazil so far this year, with most deaths linked to conflicts over logging and agribusiness—ongoing terror amid the Olympics spectacle. According to data from Brazil's Pastoral Land Commision (CPT), 23 activists have been killed in 2016 for trying to protect forests from illegal logging and the expansion of cattle ranches and soy plantations. Fifty land rights campaigners were killed in Brazil last year, up from 29 in 2014, according to the UK-based advocacy group Global Witness. Released as the Olympic Games opened in Rio de Janeiro, the figures indicate a crackdown on land rights campaigners in South America's biggest country, with indigenous people particularly affected. "For many visitors to the Rio Olympics, Brazil is synonymous with its vast, plentiful rainforests and traditional ways of life," said Global Witness campaigner Billy Kyte in a statement. "Yet the people who are trying to protect those things are being killed off at an unprecedented rate."

The Guarani-Kaiowa have been among the hardest hit communities from recent escalations in land-related violence, according to the Conselho Indigenista Missionario (CIMI) advocacy group. Matto Grosso do Sul state, home to the Guarani-Kaiowa people, has become the biggest site of clashes over land nationally. The agricultural powerhouse on Brazil's border with Paraguay has seen at least 30 assaults on land rights activists since January. In June, dozens of armed men riding motorcycles attacked a Guarani-Kaiowa camp on disputed lands at Caarapó, killing one indigenous campaigner and wounding six others.

The recent escalation of violence is linked to Brazil's broader political crisis, indigenous leaders say. In a bid to kick-start growth in the recession-hit country, Brazil's interim government is planning to open up more indigenous areas to farming and resource extraction. Nearly one third of territories demarcated for Brazil's indigenous peoples have faced invasions from illegal loggers or farmers, advocates say. (Thomson Reuters Foundation, Aug. 4; El Pais Brasil, June 16)

Ahead of the opening of the Olympics, advocacy group Survival International issued a statement saying Brazil's new push to open forested lands to development has genocidal implications. After years of decline, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon began to increase in 2012—a trend which continued through last year. Satellite data from Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) revealed that 5,831 square kilometers of land was cut down or burned in the Brazilian Amazon over the year that ended July 31, 2015—a 16% increase on the destruction of the previous 12 months. Deforestation accounts for some 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Mongabay, Nov. 27; The Guardian, Nov. 17, 2015)