Isolated indigenous peoples are being massacred in Brazil. Here's why
Seven of the twenty-six bases for the protection of isolated indigenous peoples have been closed in recent years, among them the one in the region of the probable massacre reported this week, while others operate under precarious conditions
A suspected massacre of isolated indigenous peoples committed by illegal prospectors inside the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land (AM), in August, captured headlines in Brazil (Carta Capital, G1, Folha de S. Paulo) and around the world (New York Times, The Guardian), and was met with reactions of horror from organizations that work with native Brazilians (Coiab and Apib and Foirn), indigenists (Cimi, CTI) and Funai employees. They demand that the federal government order investigations and reverse policies that violate the rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil.
The massacre, which probably victimized indigenous known as “flecheiros” or “archers,” is believed to have occurred in the Jandiatuba River region in Alto Solimões (AM), where prospectors have expanded illegal activities in recent years, despite numerous complaints made by native Brazilians. Prospecting was confirmed in 2009 by an expedition by Funai in partnership with CTI, accompanied by the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo.
The crime occurred inside a zone covered by an Ethnoenvironmental Protection Front (FPE) base, under the direction of Funai in Jandiatuba, which was shut down in recent months for lack of funding (see map). The Federal Prosecutor’s Office is keeping the investigation under wraps, but the genocide is a foregone conclusion according to Paulo Marubo, coordinator of the General Union of the Indigenous Peoples of the Vale do Javari (Univaja), who denounced the act at the end of August and reported it to the prosecutor’s office.
This is not the first suspected massacre of isolated indigenous peoples on the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land this year. In June, the Kanamari reported the alleged genocide of members of the group they call Warikama Djapar, in a region at the headwaters of the Jutaí and Jutaizinho Rivers, south of the indigenous land. They accuse a farmer, who has been leading invasions on indigenous land, of ordering the crime.
Even without confirmation of the massacres, the presence of prospectors and other intruders is proof enough of crimes that threaten the well-being and existence of entire peoples, isolated or recently contacted, on territory that should be protected by the federal government.
Bases abandoned, territory invaded, indigenous peoples threatened
The General Office of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (CGIIRC) currently has 103 records of isolated native Brazilians throughout the Brazilian Amazon. Of these, 26 have been confirmed and 77 are under study.
Activities for the protection and promotion of the rights of these peoples are conducted by 11 Ethnoenvrionmental Protection Fronts (FPEs), whose headquarters are located in different cities in the Amazon. Inside the Indigenous Lands (TIs), Funai activities are conducted by the Etnoenvironmental Protection Bases (BPEs).
Currently, there are 26 bases distributed over 17 TIs, 15 of which cover areas containing isolated peoples and two by recently contacted native Brazilians. The area covers 60.7 million hectares, an area almost the size of France, or roughly half the indigenous lands in Brazil. In recent months, seven of the bases were shut down and the others are operating under precarious conditions.
The escalation in invasions and attacks against isolated indigenous peoples in the Vale do Javari occurs precisely at a time when Funai is experiencing a permanent state of indebtedness, as a result of the freezing of its budget at the lowest point in recent history, a situation worsened by successive subsequent cuts.
Budgetary strangulation of Funai
Funai has never had sufficient resources to fully carry out its functions and its budget has been shrinking since 2013 (see figure below). But over the last two years the situation has worsened. In 2016, the already small budget projected for the agency was R$ 542 million, or 0.018% of the federal government’s total budget. Using the justification of contributing to the so-called fiscal adjustment, this amount was reduced by R$ 137 million.
Of the R$ 180 million required for investments and funding of activities at the headquarters and the 260 units spread around Brazil, only R$ 101 million or 56% of this amount was released by Congress.
The situation, which was already desperate, worsened this year. In January, the federal government released only R$ 107.9 million or 44% of the R$ 180 million for activities and investment. In March, the president also revised priorities and cut the budget of the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety and associated agencies by 44%.
After receiving protests, the administration released a further R$ 20 million, for a total of R$ 80 million (or 44% of that requested, and not of that released). Extremely indebted, Funai started having trouble paying water and light bills, ultimately forcing — through budgetary strangulation — the shutdown of offices, cancellation of operations and delay in hiring personnel already selected.
Stacking and weakening
In addition to the budgetary route, the federal government has been promoting a veritable administrative attack on the agency by firing qualified civil servants, who are experienced and committed to indigenous peoples, and stacking the agency with political appointees.
The most recent in this series of attacks appeared this week in an open letter to civil servants of the FPEs and CGIIRC, which accuses the administration of coordinating the unjustified firing of the General Coordinator of Isolated and Recently Contacted Indians, Leila Sotto-Maior, and the Coordinator of Planning and Support of the Ethnoenvironmental Protection Fronts, Paula Pires.
The weakening of protection policies for isolated and recently contacted peoples, established in 1987, has resulted in desperate situations for isolated peoples, with the invasions of their lands that have not been curbed by the government.
“It is very likely that, if the policy of budgetary strangulation against Funai is not reversed in the short term, a serious increase in pressure, crime and massacres against isolated, recently contacted and integrated native Brazilians will occur, on territories that should be protected by the federal government” said Fany Ricardo, coordinator of the Monitoring Program at ISA.
In addition to the Vale do Javari, different and distant peoples are under threat: the Moxi hatëtëma thëpë (TI Yanomami) — under pressure from prospectors; the Awá (TIs Awá, Araribóia, Alto Turiaçu) in Maranhão — from loggers and farmers; the Piripkura and Kawahiva of the Pardo River (TIs of the same name), in Mato Grosso — by loggers and farmers; or the isolated peoples of the TI Alto Tarauacá, along the state line between Acre and Peru — by loggers, farmers and drug traffickers.
It is still possible to prevent the impending tragedy of these people being exterminated, or the same tragic fate of the peoples who live in the state of Rondônia, like the Akuntsu (TI Omerê) and Juma (TI Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau) — reduced to one family; or even the “índio do buraco” or “man of the hole” (TI Tanaru) — reduced involuntarily to the sad fate of being the only one left.
If respect for human life and national and international law is not reason enough for the occupants of the federal government to act in the defense of indigenous peoples, it is important to remember that humanitarian crises of this seriousness compromise Brazil’s image abroad and make it more difficult for the country to attract new investment.