Pagina Principal  

English Report

The continued persistence of violent attitudes toward Indigenous people on the part of the Military Police—killing, abusing, and humiliating—is a serious problem, as are the cover ups and impunity for these police actions. Between the years of 2005 and 2006, more than 80 Indigenous people were criminally prosecuted in an unjust and illegal manner, in relation to conflicts involving struggles for land.  Problems such as prejudice, unjust criminalization, ethnic hatred, and disrespect for the rights of indigenous peoples, still persist in Brazil.

Violence Against Indigenous Peoples[1]

Paulo Maldos*

             The indices of violence against Indigenous people in Brazil in 2006 remain high, as in all preceding years. Each year, the numbers or emphases may change, but the origin of this problem continues to be the same. The principal cause of this violence is the absolute lack of urgency in dealing with this issue, within the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as in the case of all previous governments. This is reinforced by two other causes:

· The absence of resources for the demarcation of Indigenous territories, and for the many policies that apply to Indigenous peoples, and

· The dismantling of indigenous organizations—FUNAI, the National Foundation of the Indian (Fundação Nacional do Índio)—and many government institutions responsible for Indigenous affairs.

              The federal government does not see Indigenous people as an ethnically distinct society, to whom Brazilian society as a whole has an enormous historical debt.  These communities have rights that precede the formation of the Brazilian nation, and they contributed actively to the consolidation of this nation and of its territory.  These communities need to exercise control over their own destiny, and to guide the policies that affect them. The government needs to allocate resources to demarcate traditional territories of Indigenous people, assuring the implementation of specific policies in the areas of health, education, and environmental protection.

Cases of Murder

Between January and October of 2006, 31 cases of murder of Indigenous people were reported.  In this figure, the number of murders of Indigenous people also committed by Indigenous people deserves attention: 17. In almost all of these 17 cases, the cause was either “internal conflict” or “consumption of alcohol and drugs.”  Fourteen of the victims, or almost one-half of the total, were from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, all from the Guarani-Kaiowá people.

These figures demonstrate that the external stresses endured by Indigenous communities are being transferred to their interior, causing disequilibrium in social relations, leading to fights, exacerbating the consumption of alcohol and drugs. The external origin of these conflicts is easy to perceive in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, a region where Indigenous land has not been protected by the state government, who defends the interests of large landowners.  In this region, Indigenous communities live confined to marginal lands, and are subject to all sorts of violence.

Attempted murders

The same pattern was observed in relation to attempted murder cases.  That is, of a total of 14 victims, five were also committed by Indigenous people.  Seven cases occurred in Mato Gross do Sul among the Guarani-Kaiowá people, and the rest in the states of Roraima, Rondônia, and Mato Grosso.

The assaults committed by Indigenous people are again linked to internal disputes in the community, and to the use of alcohol and drugs. The violence committed by non-Indigenous people was characterized by a brutality typical of crimes when the motivation is strong prejudice, as in the case of an attack upon a birthday party by masked men, who entered firing at people.

Cases of Suicide

In relation to suicides, we find the same the pattern of exterior conflicts internalized within Indigenous communities. We call attention, once again, to cases in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul: 13 of the total of 14 cases in the whole of the country. Cases of suicide occur with greater intensity in communities characterized by insufficient land, such as the Guarani-Kaiowá village of Dourados, where eight suicides occurred.

Another distinctive trait of the suicides this year was the premature age of Indigenous victims, in great majority between 11 and 18 years old (nine cases).  The fact that young Indigenous people committed suicide is not new. What is new this year is the increase in the cases among adolescents, and the fact that five of these occurred among children from 11 to 15 years old.

Death due to neglect

This year, we documented 21 cases of children who died in situations characterized by neglect, such as illnesses that are easy to control and treat: diarrhea, malnutrition, respiratory problems, and hepatitis.

There were also cases reported specifically in the Valley of Javari, in the state of Amazonas.  There, the local indigenous organization, CIVAJA (Indigenous Commission of the Valley of Javari), which brings together the Mayoruna, Marubo, Matis, Kanamari, and Kulina peoples, has complained that one-quarter of a population of 3,500 Indigenous people had hepatitis.  They have protested that, in the first half of this year alone, 23 deaths occurred from hepatitis, malaria, and other illnesses.

These deaths of Indigenous people stand out in a context of repeated complaints by indigenous communities to the public authorities, in thirteen states, in all regions of the country.  The following forms of neglect stand out: shortage of treatment or bad treatment; lack of medicine; health clinics were closed due to problems with sanitation; FUNASA (the National Health Foundation) does not fulfill its agreements, leading to suspension of service by health providers; deplorable hygienic conditions in locations for treatment and recuperation, etc.

Aggressions against Indigenous communities

In nine states, we registered complaints of aggression against Indigenous territories of 14 different Indigenous peoples. These complaints included cases of deforestation by agro-industries, illegal fishing, pollution of rivers by the use of pesticides, mercury contamination of rivers, illegal logging, seizure and occupation of Indigenous lands by squatters, armed attack by gunmen, and the destruction of homes in Indigenous communities.

It is important to highlight the violence committed by the Federal Police and the Military Police in the state of Espírito Santo, which under the excuse of a “reintegration of possession” order in favor of the multinational corporation, Aracruz Celulose, violently expelled the Indigenous Tupinikim and Guarani from their own territory. In this police operation, nine Indigenous people were injured by bullets and bombs, and several Indigenous homes were burned.

According to studies by CIMI, more than 18% of the 382 registered Indigenous areas suffered some sort of invasion; at least 61 recognized Indigenous communities had their land taken by farmers and loggers. These crimes affected more than 65,000 Indigenous people.

Discrimination and ethnic, racial and cultural aggression

            Nine cases were reported in six different states, all involving discrimination against Indigenous people. In the states of Amazonas and Espírito Santo, local congressmen engaged in anti-indigenous speech.  In the case of Amazonas, the very president of the Legislative Assembly explicitly attacked Indigenous communities; in the case of Espírito Santo, the congressmen said that Indigenous people are “rowdy and vagrant.” 

            In the states of Goiás and Maranhão, there were reports of discrimination and aggression towards Indigenous people by the staff of FUNASA, the National Health Foundation, and by employees of the Secretary of Education. 

            In the states of Espírito Santo and Bahia, there were reports of violence by the Military Police. In Espírito Santo, police officers and armed militia groups hired by Aracruz corporation humiliated and detained 15 Indigenous Tupinikim and Guarani.

In Bahia, 15 Indigenous Tupinambá, including two adolescents, were beaten, threatened, and imprisoned by Military Police officers.

            These cases reveal how prejudice against Indigenous people still persists in different regions of the country, in different areas of social life, public and private, and in diverse Brazilian institutions. 

Slave labor

Cases of slave labor were reported in Mato Grosso do Sul, involving the Guarani-Kaiowá people of Terra Indígena (Indigenous Lands) of Dourados.

Indigenous people were brought to work in the cutting of sugarcane, in conditions of slavery. They received no payment and very little food. As a consequence of excessive heat and excessive work, cases of skin cancer and spinal problems are frequent. 

Traffic accidents

Five cases of traffic accidents were reported in three states, with a total of 11 deaths among a total of 30 victims. These cases happened in the states of Rondônia, Roraima, and Mato Grosso do Sul, the last with three cases that involved Indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá.  Once again, Mato Grosso do Sul stands out in terms of frequency in this type of violence.

Among these cases, the fact that only one perpetrator has been identified— a driver responsible for an accident that resulted in the death of an Indigenous person—  also called our attention.  In all others cases, the drivers did not stop to offer aid, and were not identified. In addition, no judicial process was started to search for those people responsible for the deaths.

In almost all of these cases, the victims were riding bicycles or walking on the shoulder of the road, which demonstrates how these communities living next to highways are vulnerable.

Sexual violence

Six cases of sexual violence were registered, all of them in Mato Grosso do Sul, almost all of them in the municipality of Dourados.  Five cases involved victims who were Indigenous Guarani-Kaiowá. Again, Mato Grosso do Sul is the state where these events occurred; this time, the state accounted not merely for the majority of cases, but for all of the crimes.  And once again, the Guarani-Kaiowá people were the most frequently violated.

            Another aspect of this type of violence is the age of the victims: one was four years old; one was eight; two were 13. Yet another thing to highlight: in the great majority of these cases, the assailants were Indigenous, many of them young, who attacked the victims. The victims were almost always a relative: stepdaughter, sister, cousin.

            One more time, the context of social disintegration is revealed in the Guarani-Kaiowá communities in Mato Grosso do Sul, owing to the extreme stress existing in the reduced areas in which these Indigenous people live.

Other offenses against Indigenous rights

            We will comment on three other offenses of extreme gravity against the rights of Indigenous people that occurred in the course of 2006:

1. Aracruz Cellulose Corporation:

      The traditional territory of the Tupinikim and Guarani people, on the coast of Espírito Santo, has been invaded by Aracruz Cellulose corporation, since the 1960s.  This territory, originally identified as 18,000 hectares, was officially demarcated with only 7.061 hectares.  In 1998, the Indigenous communities carried out a self-demarcation, but FUNAI, with the support of the Federal Police, kidnapped the group’s leadership and took them to Brasília, isolating them from any sort of legal assistance. The Indigenous leaders were forced, under threat, to sign an unconstitutional “accord” with the company, ceding part of their territory in exchange for payment. In May 2005, the Indigenous communities returned to occupy part of their traditional territory, demanding the land from Aracruz.  This effort initiated a series of legal disputes until, in December of 2005, judge Rogério Moreira Alves, of the Federal Magistrate of the municipality of Linhares, ordered a land reintegration that was favorable to the company, which forced the Indigenous people to withdraw from their land.

            On January 20, 2006, a joint action of the Federal Police forces of Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia, including 120 officers, used explosives, rubber bullets, truncheons, and machine guns against more than 200 indigenous people that defended their lands. More than 10 Indians were gravely injured; many were beaten, shackled, and arrested. The military offensive had logistical support from Aracruz, with personnel, security, and places to house and feed the police officers. All of the houses built by the Indigenous communities on their recovered land were destroyed.

2. Indigenous Health:

            Indigenous health services suffer from a lack of resources, the dismantling of FUNASA (the National Indigenous Health Department), a shortage of qualified personnel and medication. These shortages make it difficult to provide essential health care for epidemiological control (completing the schedule of vaccinations, for example), for the monitoring of indigenous health, and for the provision of medical services to the community.  For these reasons, we registered a great number of complaints about the conditions of community health.

            According to these complaints, there has been a serious increase in epidemics and consequent mortality, from sicknesses like malaria and hepatitis in Amazonas, in the region of the Valley of Javari. There are signs of an increase in infant mortality in Mato Grosso do Sul, which has indices of indigenous infant mortality that reach as high as 103.45 for every one thousand births (data from the newspaper, Dourados Agora, January 30, 2006). Studies reveal high infant mortality in these communities, with deaths of Indigenous children less than a year old in the Northern region, three times higher than the average of children in this region, higher even than the rate of mortality of Indigenous people over the age of seventy.

In other regions of the country, we find the collapse of the DSEIs (Special Indigenous Sanitary Districts), with broken equipment and without the ability to operate; in Rio Negro in the state of Amazonas, in the Maku-Hupta villages, where the environment was already altered by activities surrounding the communities, the rate of malnutrition has reached 70% and the risk of death from diarrhea, pneumonia, and tuberculosis has increased.  Diarrhea, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, malaria, leishmaniosis, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, parasitic infections, malnutrition, dermatitis, and, more recently, even arterial hypertension and cancer are the principle sicknesses suffered by Indigenous people in Rondônia; in this state, from January through April of 2006, 595 cases of malaria were recorded. The Indigenous people are going hungry because they are losing the habits of planting and hunting due to lack of land; their lands are encircled by large farms, and fish have grown scarce because of pollution in the rivers, especially by the use of pesticides in large farms. Indigenous access to basic provisions is disrupted because the communities have stopped planting.  Also, drinking water sources have been contaminated, which has caused skin problems and a high level of infection by water-borne parasites.

3. Violence by the Military Police

Several cases of violence against Indigenous people by the Military Police were registered:

·        In the city of Boca do Acre, in the state of Amazonas, an Indigenous man called Sebastião da Silva Oliveira, 27 years old, was killed after being taken into custody and abused by the Military Police. Without any reason, police commander Hidelberto de Barros Santos ordered six of his officers to hold a “hunt” through the streets. They executed Sebastião in cold blood by the Purus River.  His body was only found five days later, and the cause of his death, according to the local hospital, could not be legally determined, although it was “possibly suffocation.”  No legal action was taken to assign responsibility for the death of Sebastião da Silva Oliveira.

·        Fifteen Tupinikim and Guarani, from the Indigenous territory Caieiras Velhas in the state of Espírito Santo, testified that the Military Police and the armed security forces of Aracruz Celulose corporation, invaded their lands. The Indigenous people were arrested and humiliated at the police station in the town of Aracruz.

·        In the state of Bahia, fifteen Indigenous Tupinambá people from the Valley of Jequitinhonha, among them two adolescents, were attacked and arrested by the Military Police. They were beaten by 10 police officers who abused and humiliated them with threats and curses.

·        In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, in the city of Dourados, the Indigenous youth Cléber Meireles Quirino, and Francismar Pontes Echeverria, 19 years old, were struck by shots when they crossed a checkpoint that the police had set up in the city.  They were hit by shots in their legs and buttocks.

The persistence of these violent attitudes by the Military Police is a cause of great concern. Another serious problem is the covering up of these acts and the impunity of the police authorities responsible for them.

From all of the facts discussed above, we can perceive the presence of racism against Indigenous people that persists in Brazilian society. This racism is expressed in public departments, including the Military Police, in the legislative branch of the government, in the Judiciary, in private companies.

The federal government, which ought to take the lead in breaking this pattern of racism, ends up reinforcing it when it does not fulfill its responsibilities. The government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been negligent in the following areas:

1.      The government has not carried out the identification, demarcation and regularization of Indigenous territories in neither sufficient nor necessary quantity or with a minimal speed that might repay the historic debt that the Brazilian State owes to Indigenous peoples.

2.      The Lula administration did not budget the resources necessary to implement effective policies on behalf of Indigenous people, whether in respect to the protection of their territory, or in relation to specific areas such as Indigenous health, education, preservation of the environment, etc.

3.      The administration has not sought to restructure the federal bureau responsible for indigenous policy, FUNAI, in order to better fulfill its obligations from the perspective of providing service to indigenous people and communities. It has not designated the governmental agencies that ought to render additional services to Indigenous peoples, as in the case of FUNASA and others.

4.      The government also failed to follow through in establishing the National Commission of Indigenous Policy, an instance of community consultation created by a presidential decree in March of 2006. This initiative was well received by Indigenous people and organizations as a fundamental step toward the integration and implementation of a new Indigenous policy, with democratic participation. After communities throughout the country designated their representatives, the Federal Government simply halted its creation, without any justification.

The Lula government (2003-2006) and its relation to Indigenous people

            The election of president Lula was received with very positive expectations on the part of Indigenous people and organizations. These expectations, however, have gradually dissolved, replaced by great frustration, if not outright indignation and feelings of betrayal and abandonment, over the past four years.

            Owing to its political allegiances, among which are historical enemies of Indigenous people, the Lula government distanced itself systematically from its prior alliance with the struggles of Indigenous peoples. In response to this neglect, in 2004, the “Indigenous April” arose with the Free Land Encampment, with the objective of achieving greater visibility for Indigenous people, for their demands and concrete proposals, as it sought to open a dialogue with the three branches of the government, in search of paths to achieve these demands and proposals.

            The Lula government has responded minimally when pressured by Indigenous people, and by Indigenous rights organizations.  Soon after winning the election, the government has not upheld its agreements with Indigenous representatives, raising frustration and indignation among those who are dedicated to the Indigenous cause in our country.

Paulo Maldos is an advisor for the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI).

[1] This report is based on data by local researchers from CIMI (the Indigenous Missionary Council); from complaints filed by Indigenous communities, and organizations, with the support of Leda Bosi Magalhães, Aida Marise Cruz of SEDOC (the Sector of Documentation), and Eduardo Holanda of the National Secretary of CIMI.