Pagina Principal

English Report

The year 2003 has seen a frightening increase in the number of murders of indigenous people in the country. In January alone, the first month of the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, five such homicides were recorded. By the end of February the number rose to nine. By the 29th of March, 12 indigenous people had been killed. Through the first 10 months of the year, there were 22 assassinations and one missing person. In 2002, there were seven such cases. The homicide rate of indigenous peoples is the greatest in the last 10 years, having reached a total of 276 victims in 245 cases.

Violence against Indigenous Peoples:
the Bitter Lessons of 2003

Rosane Lacerda*

I. Introduction

In November of 2002, the victory of president Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva generated great expectations among the indigenous movement and its allies. Hopes were raised that the new government would readily and democratically announce policies that would honor the historical debt of the Brazilian society to its original peoples and provide restitution. Measures were awaited and urgently needed to provide legal protection to indigenous people, their lands and its natural wealth, as well as to prevent the violence to which they have been victim and the impunity of those who have committed those violations.

Unfortunately, since the new government has taken power it has brokered its historical commitment to aboriginal lands. The lack of any specific measures of protection for indigenous peoples has led to a new outbreak of violence.

II. 2003: A year of violence

The year 2003 has seen a frightening increase in the number of murders of indigenous people in the country. In January alone, the first month of the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, five such homicides were recorded. By the end of February the number rose to nine. By the 29th of March, 12 indigenous persons had been killed. Through the first 10 months year, there were 22 assassinations and one missing person. In 2002, there were seven such cases. The increase in the homicide rate of indigenous peoples is the greatest in the last 10 years, having reached a total of 276 victims in 245 cases.

Some of the prominent cases were:

· Victim: Aldo da Silva Mota, of the Makuxi people, age 52: As early as the first week of the Lula government, the disappearance and later confirmation of the murder of Aldo Mota, in T.I. Raposa (the Raposa Indigenous Territory)/Serra do Sol, in the northern state of Roraima, called attention to the possibility of a new outbreak of violence against aboriginal peoples. On January 2, Aldo Mota,a Makuxi tribal councilman, had been summoned as a cowhand to the Retiro farm run by Francisco das Chagas Oliveira - known as "Chico Tripa" ["blood and guts"] - ostensibly to search for cattle that might have wandered onto the farm, which was located in the interior of aboriginal lands. After this, Mota was not seen again. After incessant efforts, Makuxi searchers found the body, buried in a shallow grave on the farm lands. The Institute of Forensic Medicine in Roraima, surprisingly, declared a finding of death by natural causes of undetermined origin. Following pressure by the Makuxi people, the Aboriginal Council of Roraima and the Ministério Público Federal (MPF), the Ministry of Justice, ordered the transfer of the body to the laboratory of Forensic Anthropology (IML) in Brasilia. On February 21, a new examination concluded that the cause of death was an internal hemorrhage due to thoracic trauma caused by a projectile from a firearm shot from top to bottom while the victim's arms were raised over his head. On August 4, the MPF filed charges against cowhand Elisel Sanuel Martin and Robson Belo Gomes. The criminal action (case number 2003.42.00.001839-9) was filed in the First Federal District Court in Boa Vista, Roraima. Legal proceedings began October 14, 2003.

· Victim: Leopoldo Crespo, Kaingang people, age 77: The death of Crespo, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul on January 6, 2003, recalled the murder of Galdino Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe (in Brasilia, in 1997), which shocked the nation both for its motivation of racial prejudice and its act of violence against one who was elderly and defenseless. A resident of the village of Estiva, T.I Guarita, near the city of Redentora, Crespo was old and sought a place to lie down and rest. At dawn, while he slept on a sidewalk of the main avenue of Miraguaí, he was kicked and stoned to death by adolescents. Identified by the police as youths, all from poor local families, they were charged with the crime and went to trial in Tenente Portela, Rio Grande do Sul. Unlike the events in the case of Galdino Pataxó, in which the defendants did not go to trial until four years after the crime, in this case the accused went to trial six months later, on June 27. They were found guilty and sentenced: Almiro Borges Souza, to 14 years and eight months in prison; Roberto Carlos Moiraski to 11 years and six months. An adolescent, age 15. who was also involved in the crime, was remanded to a juvenile detention center, Fundação de Atendimento Socioeducativo de Santo Ângelo, to fulfill requirements of rehabilitation and resocialization.

· Victim: Marcos Verón, Guarani-Kaiowá, age 72: The third murder, on January 13, 2003, took the life of a chieftain and elder of the Guarani-Kaiowá tribal people. Verón was beaten to death in retaliation for leading a re-occupation of community lands in Brasília do Sul, a farm within the municipality of Juti, about 300 kilometers from Campo Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The Ministério Público Federal (MPF), initiated investigations and filed charges in Federal Court in Campo Grande against Nivaldo Alves de Oliveira, the administrator of the farm, (criminal action no. 200360.001193-3) and against both Estevão Romero and Carlos Robert Dos Santos (criminal action no. 2003.60.02.000374-2). Facts related to the death of Verón, and the violent attacks against other indigenous peoples related to the episode, were the subject of a Federal Police investigation (IPL no. 2003.60.000.728-0). On March 24, charges were filed against 23 people, including Nivaldo Alves de Oliveira, Jacintho Honório da Silva Filho and Orlando Pablo Mariano.

· Victims: Jose Ademilson Barbosa da Silva, Xukuru people, age 19, and Jozenilson dos Santos, Atikum people, age 25: The victims died when they fought to defend tribal leader, Marcos Luidson de Araújo, age 24, son of Francisco de Assis Araújo, the Xicão Xukuru - Chieftan of the Xukuru people - who was assassinated in May of 1998. The deaths had occurred on highway PE - 219, T. I. Xukuru, in the municipality of Pesqueira, state of Pernambuco, 215 kilometers from Recife, when the vehicle carrying the victims was forced to a stop in front of the farm called Curral de Bois (Ox Corral).
The property, before being occupied by Abelardo Maciel, cousin of the former-secretary of the Federal Revenue, Everardo Maciel, had been occupied as the traditional lands of the Xukuru. This group of aboriginals defaulted on a lease so the land was co-opted by local politicians, who leased the property to non-aboriginals, a situation that already had been denounced as a potential cause of local conflicts.
With the aggressors stopping the vehicle transporting Barbosa, dos Santos and Araújo, a physical struggle ensued leaving two victims dead from shots to the head, while the Xukuru chief, Marcos Luidson de Araújo, was able to escape into brushland, away from the gunfire. Revolted by the episode, a crowd set on fire the property and vehicles of both aboriginals and non-aboriginals perceived to be involved in the attempted murder of the chief. The investigation initiated by the Federal Police was harshly criticized by human rights groups in the state of Pernambuco for its assertion that the defendant in the shootings, Jose Lourival Frazão, was acting in self-defense and that Xukuru Chief Marcos Araújo was the initiator of the fatal incident. While charges were filed (case no. 2003.83.00.011297-6) in the Fourth District Federal Court in Recife, they restricted the criminal charges to the person of Frazão, excluding the involvement of Zequinha Vicente, a non-Indian who confessed to striking the head of one of the victims with a club. Chief Marcos, at least, is considered a victim of a murder attempt, but only by one witness. On the other hand are testimonies compromised by the witness's friendship and kinship both to the charged defendant and to Zequinha Vicente, who had admitted the clubbing.

· Victims: João Batista Rodrigues, Truk'á people, age 38 and Roberto Batista Rodrigues, Truká people, age 34: The brothers were assassinated on March 29 by shots from a rifle and a shotgun during an ambush, on Ihla de Assunção, on Truk'á Aboriginal Lands, in Cabrobó, 606 kilometers from Recife.

· Victim: Sergio Ribeiro da Cruz, Truk'á people, age 27: Died of gunshot wounds on Ilha de Assunção, on June 7, three months after the murder of the brothers, João and Roberto Batista Rodrigues. Killed along with Sergio was Geneíldo Júnior Gonçalves Araquã, who, contrary to Federal Police and press reports, was not a Truká aboriginal, but of a member of the Araquã family, feared in the region for the involvement of its members in drawn out disputes and vendettas with another local family.

The Truk'á Aboriginal Lands are situated along the San Francisco River in a valley on the border of Pernambuco and Bahia that supplies drug dealers in the major cities of Brazil in the area known as the "Marijuana Polygon." The Truk'á and their homelands are directly and indirectly involved in the problems related to the production and traffic of the drug. The aboriginal community is caught in the crossfire between the dealers (some aboriginals, some not) and the police. Moreover, the marijuana cultivation compounds the old problems of ownership of the land, which is still in the hands of non-aboriginal occupants. Despite the evident connection between drug trafficking and the oppressive violence that befalls the Truk'á People, the Federal Police have insisted on the hypothesis of internal dispute between groups led by Truk'á chieftains Aílson dos Santos and Joaquin Pereira da Silva as the cause of the increase in violence. Due to the climate of tension and instability, families have abandoned the area. Chieftains, community leaders and the normal life of the community itself have been systematically threatened, and school attendance and health services have been interrupted. In June, 2003, the case went to the Commission in Defense of Human Rights (CDDPH), resulting in a visit by Nilmário Miranda, minister of the Special Secretariat of Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic. At the present, there is still no solution in sight.

· Victim: Orides Belino Da Silva, Kaingang, age 47: Chief of the Kaingang community, situated in T.I. (Indigenous Territory) Chapecó, and vice-mayor of the city of Ipuaçu, west of Santa Catarina, Orides Belino was assassinated by blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun as he arrived at the house of a friend. The case was investigated by the Federal Police. The Federal Public prosecution service filed charges (Criminal action no. 2003.72.02.001706-2) against Sadi Ribeiro Lemos, Avelino Ribeiro Lemos and Claudir Martins for committing the crime, and against City Councilman Jose Carlos Gabriel and Valdo Correia da Silva for ordering it. With the exception of the councilman Carlos Gabriel, the men have been in prison since May, 2003. On August 19, 2003, the Seventh District Federal Court, unanimously denied a petition of habeas corpus (HC no. 2003.04.01.030579-9) by the male defendant Sadi Ribeiro Lemos. The criminal action against the defendant of the crime proceeded to the Second District Federal Court in Chapecó, Santa Catarina. On October 8, 2003, legal documents had been filed with the court for sentencing.

· Victim: Adilson Cardoso, Kaingang, age 23: Adilson was participating in an encampment - an occupation of land in aboriginal territory - in the city of Faxinal do Sul, in the state of Rio Grande Do Sul, when his throat was cut by an intruder on the aboriginal land on June 27, 2003. He died from the attack. The encampment had been mounted in protest of the failure to designate the indigenous territory of Votouro as Aboriginal Land. Rebelling, the Indians blocked two highways that gave access to the city of Faxinalzinho, 460 kilometers from Porto Alegre.

· Victim: Joaquin Maradezurro, Xavante people, age 72: Missing since April 2 from his village of Sangradouro, Mato Grosso. Due to conflicts of land ownership and boundaries, it is believed that the Xavante elder had been killed by ranchers in the region, which, if confirmed, would be the third case of an elder Indian victim of an act of violence during 2003. On April 9, FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio, National Foundation of the Indian -- Brazil's Indian Affairs Agency) announced that the clothes of the Indian had been found at the edges of a river that runs through the aboriginal land. Two days later, on the basis of information from a Xavante leader who was in Brasilia, the agency reported that a note had been found indicating that the missing man's nephew, Cassiano Wamo'ra, may have located the body inside of a chain link fence of the Volta Grande farm, which adjoined the T.I. (Indigenous Territory). According to the information in the note, Cassiano did not attempt to take the body because he would have had to remove its clothes and carry it all the way back to the village by himself. The note said that upon returning to the place the following day with other aboriginals, the body was gone. The same day, however that the information from the note was made known the Regional Executive Administration of FUNAI in Primavera do Leste, Mato Grosso, contradicted the information. The case has not been not clarified.

· Victim: Júnior Kings Loureiro, Kaingang people, age 10: This case drew attention and aroused public opinion in the country, as one more of about eight cases of children who had disappeared and been found deceased in recent months in the region of Passo Fundo, Rio Grande do Sul. Júnior came with his parents from the T.I. Votouro to sell crafts in the Nossa Senhora Aparecida neighborhood. He disappeared on Sunday, September 14, and his body was found the morning of September 22, on the edge of highway Rs-153 in Passo Fundo. Preliminary data offered by the IML at the Police Station of the Civil Police of Passo Fundo indicated that the death had been by strangulation. The murder has been linked to those of other poor boys that have occurred in the same period and region. There have been eight dead boys and two missing people, all of humble origin, who worked in the street to help their families.

· Victim: Ademir Mendes, Kaingang people, age 24: While the body of the Kaingang boy Júnior Kings Loureiro (see above paragraph) was found in Passo Fundo, aboriginal health agents, on an access road to T.I. Palmas, state of Paraná, also found the body of another Kaingang youth, Ademir Mendes, 24, the nephew of Kaingang Chieftain Albino Veri. Ademir was beheaded on the dawn of September 21 while returning to his village. The youth was an important leader in the community and had suffered threats since his leadership of and participation in the struggle for the demarcation of, and the expulsion of commercial lumbering from, designated Aboriginal Lands. Despite the suspicion of the community that the assassins were outsiders and intruders on their land, the case was treated by Civil Police of Paraná as an isolated incident unrelated to disputes over ownership and use of aboriginal land.

III. Beyond the murders

The year 2003 was also marked by a strong reaction of local and regional anti-indigenous sectors against the movement for the demarcation, re-occupation and ownership of indigenous lands by indigenous peoples. Generally, it was farmers, agro-economic entrepreneurs, lumbering and gold strip-mining companies, along with politicians and certain segments of the press, who had the greatest interest (in the non-aboriginal development of Indigenous Territories,) and who mobilized to advance their interests and to impede the advance of the indigenous struggle.

Confrontations between indigenous peoples, farmers and ranchers were recorded in the states of Mato Grosso (where the Xavante people demand a revision of the boundaries of traditional lands) and in Mato Grosso do Sul (involving the Terena and Guarani-Kaiowá peoples).

In Rondônia, serious conflicts continued due to the incursions of gold and lumbering companies, effecting the Cinta Larga and the Urueu-Uau-Uau peoples.

In Roraima, the absence of Government policy on demarcation of the land in the Indigenous Territory of Raposa/Serra do Sol continued to feed the terrorist campaign conducted by farmers and goldsluicers against the indians.

In Bahia, tension in the situation in the areas Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe and Pataxó in the region of Monte Pascoal continued long into the year, with the Indians being the object of persecutions, threats and eviction notices.

In Pernambuco, official lack of policy toward the Truk'á question, added to the myopic vision of the Federal Police, and sustained a situation in which violence was totally out of control, leaving the lives of the Indians without support. Meanwhile, the persistence of the business sector in using the Xukuru lands as a principal part of their tourism enterprises, allowed local reactionary forces to continue to destabilize the indigenous communities, and even to eliminate the traditional leaderships opposed to outside projects.

In Santa Catarina, the Kaingang and Guarani peoples had been the target of an intense offensive campaign against the demarcation of aboriginal lands in the state, leading to the episodes of September 4, in Cunha Porã, where representatives of CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council), FUNAI and indigenous leaderships were invited to address a public audience when they were advised by state parliamentarians to immediately leave the city for security reasons. The situation led the Commission of Human Rights of the House of Representatives to institute, in October, a fact-finding committee to visit the various states to conduct up close investigations of the conflicts, and to directly report its findings to the Ministry of Justice, the Public Prosecution Service and appropriate groups.

Perhaps the most worrisome event of the year 2003 has been the deterioration of indigenous peoples rights. It was what Maria Gorete Barbosa da Silva, mother of the Xukuru Jose Ademilson (who died of a gunshot to the head on February 7, 2003), discovered when she looked for an attorney in the process of petitioning the court in the case of her son. The order of the Ministry of Justice (MPF) in Pernambuco, the Federal Office of the attorney general of FUNAI, and the Fourth District Federal Judge in Recife, rejected the mother's right to act relative to the criminal charges or actions in the case of the death of her son. The federal judge not only rejected the participation of the mother in the process, but determined that she "was substituted" by the legal office of the attorney general of FUNAI.

Another serious example occurred in a case in Baú, Pará. On September 26 a representative of the Ministry of Justice, under intense pressures by sectors opposed to demarcation of indigenous lands, made a decision in direct violation of the Constitution. The MPF representative, through application of a Term of Reconciliation and Adjustment of Conduct, that had been accepted by the Kayapó people - with assistance by FUNAI - accepted a proposal of reduction of the size of Kayapó Aboriginal Lands in exchange for one million and two-hundred thousand Reals (about US$500,000). This decision and order is totally illegal and in violation of Article 231, paragraph 6, of the Federal Constitution of 1988. This article determines the nullity of all acts that have as their objective the occupation of the domain and the ownership of aboriginal lands. However, with this decision, on October 8, 2003, the Minister of Justice reduced the size of the Indigenous Lands of Portaria by 300,000 hectares. The signal being sent is that from now on, the country is green for more intense pressures to reduce the size of indigenous territories.

Finally, there is the matter of the accumulation of complaints recorded every year relative to the performance of the Federal Police in aboriginal lands. Without a specific Federal plan to deal with the aboriginal question, the corporate sector tends to have its way and its modus operandi has already been contaminated by a prejudiced vision concerning the Indians and their practical cultural and social organization, further intensifying situations that could be prevented.

Worrisome still is the long year without any signal from the Government of President Lula about what it intends to do to address the measure - submitted by the aboriginal movement and indigenous groups - to revoke Decree No. 4.412/2002, which allows the installation, on aboriginal lands, of military units and the Federal Police.

* Rosane Lacerda is a lawyer and legal advisor for CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council), a branch of CNBB ( National Conference of Brazilian Bishops)