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Corporate Developers Seize Indigenous Lands in Brazil and Hire Hit Men to Murder Residents

In an effort to make way for new investment projects, the Brazilian government and transnational corporations have been taking over ancestral indigenous lands, triggering a rise in murders of indigenous people in Brazil.

According to the report, "Violence Against Indigenous People in Brazil," recently published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI by its Portuguese initials), the number of indigenous people killed in the country grew 42 percent from 2013 to 2014; 138 cases were officially registered. The majority of the murders were carried out by hit men hired by those with economic interests in the territories.

The states of Mato Grosso del Sur, Amazonas and Bahía figure heavily in the statistics. An emblematic case was the brutal killing of the indigenous woman Marinalva Kaiowá, in November of 2014. She lived in recovered territories, land that for over 40 years has been claimed by the Guaraní people as the land of their ancestors. Marinalva was assassinated - stabbed 35 times - two weeks after attending a protest with other indigenous leaders at the Federal Supreme Court in the Federal District of Brasilia. The group was protesting a court ruling that annulled the demarcation process in the indigenous territory of the Guyraroká.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In addition to this, there has been a steady flow of people forced to move to small territories after being displaced by economic development projects, as in the case of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the majority of the population - over 40,000 people - live concentrated on small reservations. These are communities that are exposed to assassinations by hired hit men, lack education and basic necessities, and endure deplorable health conditions. Infant mortality rates in the community are high and rising: According to official statistics, last year 785 children between the ages of 0 and 5 died.

"We, the Guaraní, principally from Mato Grosso do Sul, have been the greatest victims of massacres and violence," the Guaraní Kaiowá indigenous leader Araqueraju told Truthout. "They have killed many of our leaders, they have spilled much blood because we are fighting for the respect for and demarcation of what is left of our territories that the government does not want to recognize."

Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The rise in the rate of violence is related in large part to the development policies of the Brazilian government - policies that have been denounced by the Indigenous Missionary Council. Another report, titled "Projects that impact indigenous lands," released by CIMI in 2014, revealed that at least 519 projects have impacted 437 ancestral territories, directly affecting 204 indigenous groups.

The energy sector has most deeply affected indigenous people; of the 519 documented projects, 267 are energy-related. In second place is infrastructure, with 196 projects. Mining is third, with 21 projects, and in fourth place, with 19 expansive projects, is agribusiness. Ecotourism comes next with 9 projects.

"In the Amazon region, the region of the Tapajos River, we are being fenced in," João Tapajó - a member of the Arimun indigenous group - told Truthout. "The Teles waterway is being constructed and the BR163 highway widened. This is being done to transport the transnational corporations' grain and minerals," added Tapajó, who is part of one of the groups that make up the Indigenous Movement of the region Bajo Tapajós, in the state of Pará. "We live under constant threat from agribusinesses and lumber companies. There is a construction project to build five hydroelectric dams on the same river. To top it off, our region is suffering from a process of prospecting for the exploitation of minerals, by the companies Alcoa y Vale do Rio Doce."

The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil’s three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil's three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Similarly, a report produced by the Federal Public Ministry, based on its own evaluations and carried out by anthropologists María Fernanda Paranhos and Deborah Stucchi, shows that the processes of social change generated by these projects principally affect those who live in rural contexts. This includes many groups living collectively who are relatively invisible in the sociopolitical context of Brazil.

"The evaluations provide evidence that the intense social changes, the possibility of the breaking up of productive circuits, the disappearance of small-scale agriculture, fishing, and forested areas, a reduction in jobs, and the impoverishment and degradation of material and immaterial conditions of life ... have led to strong reactions and an avalanche of social conflict," according to the ministry's report.

Hydroelectric Dams in the Brazilian Amazon

The government's Ten-Year Plan for energy expansion - 2023, which projects for the period of 2014 to 2023 an expansion of over 28,000 megawatts of energy generation by way of hydroelectric dams, claims that none of the 30 hydroelectric dams projected for construction in this country during this period will have any direct effect on indigenous lands.

Data from the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies, through an initiative called Investments and Rights in the Amazon, tells a different story. According to research carried out by Ricardo Verdum, a PhD in social anthropology and member of the Center for the Study of Indigenous Populations at the Federal University in the state of Santa Catarina, of the 23 hydroelectric dams that will be built in the Amazon, at least 16 will have negative social and environmental effects on indigenous territories. They will destroy the environmental conditions that these indigenous groups depend on to live and maintain their way of life.

"The difference in results is due to the way the idea of 'impact' or 'interference' is defined conceptually and materially," Verdum told Truthout. "According to current legislation, interference in indigenous lands occurs when a parcel of land is directly affected by the dam itself or the reservoir. The territorial and environmental criteria do not consider the human and social aspects of the interference, or influence of the project on the population."

A Militaristic Approach to the Economy

Brazil's development model - a model adopted by most countries in Latin America within the old international division of labor - leads the country to specialize in the export of raw materials or basic products at a low cost in relation to the import of final products that return to Brazil at elevated prices. This is a logic that is based on the colonial model, according to Clovis Brighenti, a professor of history at the Federal University of Latin American Integration. "It is an entry into the globalized world by way of intense exploitation of the environment with few results," Brighenti told Truthout. "What's more, these results are in exchange for high investment costs, made with public resources and subsidized interest rates, concentrated in a tiny group of beneficiaries. It is a dried-up model but in its death throes, it causes irreversible damage to the environment and for the people that depend on these ecosystems."

The design of this development model, according to Brighenti, is connected to the modern myth that an economy needs to grow rapidly and continuously to satisfy the material necessities of society. "However, behind this myth, is hidden the essence of the capitalist system: the need to guarantee a logic that is based on consumerism, and in this way, guarantee the accumulation and the benefit of the elites and the privileged sectors of society."

In Brazil, the belief is that material happiness is connected to the search for new spaces for development expansion. "In other words, it is searching for constant advancement into 'new' territories, where there is still a natural environment to be explored and appropriated," Brighenti said. "Thus, capital's interests revolve around indigenous and traditional territories, as ideal spaces for the execution of these projects."

He added that in Brazil there is a continuity of a militaristic mentality, due to the fact that the country was shaped by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. During that time, the United States was involved through a program called Operation Brother Sam.

The objective was to remove peasants and indigenous people from their lands to concentrate territories in the hands of businesses that currently produce soy, sugar cane and eucalyptus. These companies include Monsanto, ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Commodities, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Ford. In this sense, current governments did not inherit just the military structure but also a business platform that dominates production and the raw materials market. "The principal similarity between the military government and what we are currently living is the development perspective, which means thinking about natural resources as infinite and readily available. In order to make a country grow economically, the amount of territory that is occupied for economic projects must increase," Brighenti said.

Another similarity is the relationship that they establish with communities. "It could be said that there is no dialogue," Brighenti said. "The government makes a decision and all that is left for the communities to do is to hand over their territories in the name of these initiatives. Trying to keep indigenous communities quiet is a recurring action in the sense that these populations are seen as barriers to the establishment of these projects ... thus, the continuance of a militaristic mentality is explicit - proceed with development and stop the protests of those who are affected."

An essential point that sets the period of the dictatorship apart from progressive governments is the source of financing for the projects. "Today the works are financed with public resources, through the National Economic and Social Development Bank, which is the principal funder of these megaprojects, while under the military dictatorship they were financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank," he said.

In 2013, the Brazilian government published an order that allowed the intervention of the Armed Forces in protests against development projects. That same year, the military police in southern Brazil killed an indigenous Terena man and wounded others in the fulfillment of an order to re-take the land that the Terena had reclaimed as part of their ancestral territories. This was disputed by Ricardo Bacha, a former congressman from the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who said that the lands had belonged to his family since 1927.

Similarly, at the request of the ex-governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, who is the current defense minister of Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff signed in 2014 an authorization by the federal government to dispatch close to 500 military personnel to the Tupinambá territory, alleging that his objective was the "guarantee of law and order" and to "pacify" the region. To this very day, the Tupinambá region continues to be militarized.

Since 2010, indigenous people have intensified the re-taking of their lands in a process of self-demarcation. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Institutional Violence Against Indigenous Communities

The assassinations are just the tip of the iceberg. Among the constitutional amendments that are being debated in Brazil's Congress is PEC-215, which transfers the power to decide the demarcation of indigenous territories to the legislative branch, when it has historically been in the hands of the executive branch. The amendment would leave indigenous people in the hands of Congress and the Senate, which are primarily made up of the family members of large businessmen and the owners of huge extensions of land.

"These proposed constitutional amendments favor a group of 264 parliamentarians of Brazil's Congress, who have received campaign financing from multinational corporations, such as Monsanto, Cargill, Bunge and Syngenta. PEC-215 favors the expansion of big agriculture, using the discourse of food production, but Brazil's food is produced by small-scale producers," Lindomar, of the Terena people, told Truthout.

The principal cause of the conflicts, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, is the negation on the part of the Brazilian government to recognize and demarcate indigenous territories. In 2014, of the almost 600 indigenous territories currently claimed by different groups, only two were recognized (Xeta Herarekã, in the state of Paraná, and Xakriabá, in the state of Minas Gerais) and one was approved (Paquicamba, in the state of Pará). The current government of the Workers Party, led by Dilma Rousseff, is that which has demarcated the fewest indigenous lands since the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil.

In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, the state with the highest rates of violence against indigenous people, communities live on the edges of highways, in precarious living conditions. The recognition of indigenous territories was outlined in an agreement that was signed in 2007 by the National Indigenous Foundation, a government agency, which later broke the agreement. Even if the demarcation had gone into effect, indigenous people would only occupy 2 percent of the state, in one of the regions of Brazil where the largest number of indigenous people reside.

Resisting the Old Development Model

According to Brighenti, since the start of the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) administration, indigenous people have expressed to the government that they wanted to share their knowledge and practices with the new administration. "But the government ignored them, and what's worse, Lula declared that Brazil needed to overcome three great obstacles to development, including indigenous groups, environmental laws and the Federal Public Ministry," he said. "Thus, since the beginning, he made it clear that for the indigenous movement and its allies, the government had chosen a different model and aligned himself with other sectors that are unfortunately at odds with indigenous groups, big agro-industry."

Indigenous people realized that they needed to come together to avoid losing their rights. "Few social and union movements supported them. Each social movement defined its relationship with the government and indigenous people were many times criticized for their radicalness," Brighenti added.

Indigenous lands in Brazil, as recognized by the federal government, are property of the government. Indigenous people can possess and use the land, with the exception of the subsoil and water resources. "It is necessary to advance in the sense of constructing autonomous communities, which does not mean independence, but the freedom to decide their own future," Brighenti said.

Even with the demarcation of indigenous territories, there is no assurance against intervention in indigenous lands, since the law allows for the intervention of the federal government at any time because the lands are considered property of the government.

"All the government projects are threatening to us and the entire Amazon," María Leus, an indigenous Munduruku woman, told Truthout. "We do not accept any negotiation with the government, because we cannot make negotiations regarding our mother and because we do not accept any of these projects that are going to affect us. We have always been here: These are the lands of our ancestors, and today we continuing fighting for the respect for our way of life, because governments have never respected how we live, and today they are devastating what is left of our lands in order to continue with their projects."

Oaxaca, Mexico, Faces Police Militarization as Governor Acts to Preempt Education Protests

Thousands of federal and state police troops were dispatched in mid-July to the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico to guard strategic buildings, patrol the skies and ensure that protesters cannot take over local radio stations.

The aim of this heightened police militarization? To prevent protesting teachers from exerting pressure on the administration of Gabino Cué Monteagudo, the current governor of Oaxaca, in their efforts to resist nationally imposed education reforms.

Protesting teachers have argued that the reforms, which were approved in 2013 by the Federal Congress and are being implemented in every state in Mexico, seek to reframe education as a private service, replacing current teachers with new workers who work on contract and have no labor rights.

"This is not an education reform as much as it is a labor reform."

"This is not an education reform as much as it is a labor reform; what they want is for the state to stop offering free and public education," said Dolores Villalobos, a teacher and member of the Section 22 teacher's union, which is part of the National Organization of Education Workers (CNTE).

"Before, the state had an obligation to provide public education," Villalobos told Truthout. "As part of the reform that is changing. The concept is now just a 'guarantee' of education, and this means that there won't be requirements, and it will be privatized. At the root of it, they want to reduce the number of education workers. With the reform it will become a system of contracts for one or two years, with no benefits."

Teachers in Oaxaca, Michoacan and Guerrero have resisted the implementation of the reforms, arguing that the principal objective of the changes is the privatization of education.

With the backing of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Oaxaca's governor took a major step to repress this resistance on July 21 by seizing control of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca, which had previously been in control of the teachers of the Section 22 teacher's union, which is part of CNTE (the dissident teachers' union). Subsequently, the government canceled the CNTE's bank accounts, blocked their radio channel and issued 32 arrest warrants for union leaders in the state of Oaxaca.

The intensification of the militarization process, which began after the state elections in June, has now become acute. Thousands of federal and state police troops were sent to guard strategic sites such as the plant belonging to the state-owned petroleum company Mexican Petroleum (Pemex), the state's airports and tourist destinations on the Pacific Coast in Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. In Oaxaca City, nine federal police helicopters patrolled the skies, protecting malls, gas stations and radio stations so that they could not be taken over by the teachers' union as a way to put pressure on the government, like they did during the education protests of 2006.

US Involvement in the Militarization of Oaxaca

Among the close to 10,000 police officers patrolling Oaxaca's capital city are federal police squads, who were trained with funding from the Merida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement between the United States and Mexico. With broad bipartisan support, the US Congress has designated $1.6 billion to Mexico through the Merida Initiative to date. Through this money, police in Mexico have been equipped with helicopters and high technology equipment. Funds from the Merida Initiative have also provided technical training with the goal of "professionalizing" the police force and implementing legal and penal reforms.

The current militarization in Oaxaca is a harsh reminder of 2006, when the government also attempted to repress teacher protests.

"The United States Embassy is honored to be partnering with the Mexican government for the development and training of its security forces," said Anthony Wayne, the US ambassador to Mexico, in August 2014, at the official presentation of the new Mexican National Gendarmerie of the national police force. He added that through the Merida Initiative, "various U.S. agencies offer training and share best practices to improve leadership and professionalism within the Mexican justice system."

Bishop Raúl Vera, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, told Truthout that in reality the Merida Initiative has increased militarized repression of popular protest.

"Since these neoliberal policies began to be implemented and since the Washington Consensus, a process of the elimination of people as a means for social control began," Vera said. "And of course people began to defend themselves and that was when they started to respond with the military and the police. In that sense, the government does not defend the people; it defends itself ... so that transnational investments can continue to advance in education, energy, petroleum resources, mining and other sectors."

The current militarization in Oaxaca is a harsh reminder of 2006, when the government also attempted to repress teacher protests. One million people responded by taking to the streets to demand the removal of the governor at the time - Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) - whom they accused of abuse of power and misuse of public resources. The six months of protests that ensued were met with brutal repression that left 27 people dead, among them a US journalist, Brad Will. Hundreds were detained and tortured.

Forcefully Imposed Education Reform

The current presence of the federal police generates palpable tension; it is a reminder of the possibility of repression similar to 2006.

"The military contingent that is here in Oaxaca is to control insurgents, but what is the insurgency?" Bishop Vera asked. He added that people "are simply asking for justice, asking the Mexican state to stop the education reform that is nothing but the elimination of public education."

Since the beginning, the teachers of Section 22 have rejected the new nationally mandated education model because it is a homogenous model for the entire country, without taking into consideration the states that have indigenous populations or conditions of extreme poverty. This is the case in Oaxaca, where there are places without basic school materials and sometime not even classrooms.

"The government knows that the greatest resistance to the reforms is here in Oaxaca."

The greatest obstacle for the government in implementing the reforms fully has been the CNTE. Although the CNTE has as members only a fraction (200,000) of the total number of teachers in Mexico (900,000), of those 200,000, 60 percent are in the state of Oaxaca.

"The government knows that the greatest resistance to the reforms is here in Oaxaca," said Villalobos, the teacher from Section 22. "If this reform goes into effect here, in this state, there will be no more resistance and it will be implemented in all the rest of the states."

Meanwhile, on July 22, in Toluca, in the state of Mexico, at least 10 governors from different states and the head of government of the Federal District gathered to plan their next meeting, this October, with governors from the United States and Canada. At the October meeting, they will discuss steps they may take in the case of possible mobilizations of the CNTE as a response to the restructuring of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca.

Along with the military strategy, the government has devised a media strategy. Starting July 21, all the commercial media outlets have synchronized their message, from the newspapers to the television channels. They have been incessantly emitting messages in favor of the governor's decision and about the benefits of the educational reform.

There is an entire team behind the government's Twitter account that maintains a constant barrage of messages that drown out the opposing messages with tweets such as, "In #Oaxaca a new period of efficiency, modernity and dignity in the state education system has begun" or "The #EducationReform in #Oaxaca moves ahead and will not stop."

The federal government has also tweeted its messages of support: "The @GobRep [Federal Government] supports the government of #Oaxaca and governor @GabinoCue."

Government allies from across the political spectrum have also applauded the education reforms in Oaxaca via social media.

The Origin of the Current Education Reforms

The education reforms currently in question were approved in 2013, after a wave of protests and a strong police-military presence. In 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had made reform suggestions to President Peña Nieto in the "Agreement for the Cooperation of OECD-Mexico for the Improvement of Education in Mexican Schools." In the document, the OECD positioned itself as the "vanguard of the efforts undertaken to help governments understand and respond to the changes and concerns of the modern world, such as corporate governance, the information economy and the challenges that are generated by an aging population."

One of the OECD's suggestions was to open up spaces for the private sector in the education arena. "The education reform is much too important to the future of Mexico to leave the work to educators alone," the OECD document said. "The Advising Council of the OECD considers it urgently necessary to create an 'orienting coalition,' which would include political and university leaders, leaders of the private sector and from civil society."

"In this country, the presence of police and the military do not represent a greater guarantee of security."

The body made 15 basic recommendations, proposing an "action strategy that seeks to give more support to schools, directors, and teachers to improve outcomes for teachers and for students, in search of 'efficient schools.'" One of the components of this agreement has to do with the development of policies and best practices for evaluating the quality of schools and the teachers, and to connect those results to incentives for improvement. "These solutions came from the OECD's advising council regarding evaluation and incentive policies for teachers in Mexico, made up of international experts," according to the document.

"We are not against evaluations," Villalobos told Truthout. "The problem is how they are done and the consequences that these evaluations bring along with them. On the contrary, we have built an alternative model that we have presented to Congress, and it has not been respected."

An example of an alternative model of education in Latin America is the model used in Brazil, which like Mexico has an educational policy guided by international bodies.

"The systems of evaluation as they are implemented don't serve anyone," Alayde Digiovanni, a researcher from the University of São Paolo, told Truthout. "In some places we already have this model that incentivizes competitiveness, a system of awards for those who provide the best evaluation performances. The result is competition and inequality among schools. The system commonly does not take into account the socioeconomic contexts where schools are located."

According to Digiovanni, the agreements with international bodies are not limited to Brazil and Mexico. They are policies determined by international bodies, like the OECD and the International Monetary Fund, for implementation in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. "Such recommendations follow a model oriented toward neoliberal policies," Digiovanni said.

Civil Organizations Sound the Alarm

A network of over 100 human rights organizations recently published a statement expressing their concern for the use of the federal police and armed forces against Oaxacan teachers and the citizenry in general.

"In this country, the presence of police and the military do not represent a greater guarantee of security," their communiqué states. "On the contrary, it is synonymous with the repression and criminalization of social protest, like the grave violations of human rights that were experienced in 2006. Many of these violations were investigated by the District Attorney's Office for Crimes of Social Significance."

The communiqué demands the immediate removal of the federal police forces and the Gendarmerie of Oaxaca and holds the state and federal government "responsible for any events that ensue as a result of this process of militarization that Oaxaca is in the midst of."

The Oaxacan Truth Commission, which registered and denounced violations of human rights during the 2006 militarization, also made a declaration regarding the issue. According to the commission, "The presence of the Gendarmerie, far from safeguarding human rights, is creating a climate of intimidation across different sectors of the population. For many sectors, the memory of 2006-2007 in Oaxaca is still fresh. The Federal Preventative Police Force committed grave offenses and violations of human rights, facts which this Commission is still currently investigating."

Amid the context of militarization and the federal government's restructuring of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca, Section 22 published the central demand of the members of the CNTE: the repeal of the education reforms, along with the rejection of the evaluation system and the rescinding of the order for the disappearance of the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca. They stated that if no favorable response is received they will continue organizing a national strike. Meanwhile, on July 27, the first large teachers' protest took place in the city of Oaxaca. The rest of the union members of the CNTE in other states have already begun to protest in solidarity with their Oaxaca colleagues and against the education reforms.

By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F

Published in Truthout

In Brazil, Demarcation of Indigenous Lands Stalls and Violence Worsens

Adenilson da Silva Nascimento, a 54-year-old indigenous man better known as Pinduca Tumpinambá, grew up and lived his entire life in his village in the region known as Serra desTempes, Olivença, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. This year, on the first of May, he was returning from a day’s work fishing with his wife and two of his six children – a one-year-old baby and a girl of 15 — when they were ambushed by three armed, hooded men who instantly killed Pinduca. His wife Zenaildes shielded the baby with her body and received serious gunshot wounds to her leg and back. Their daughter fled through the forest, maintaining cell phone contact with members of the village, who called the authorities.

The indigenous leader María Valdelice, better known as Jamapoti Tumpinambá, says that this is not the first time something like this has happened. She says it all has to do with their indigenous lands and the people interested in them. “There have been more than 29 indigenous killed in just three regions of Tumpinambá lands in the state of Bahía, between 2013 and 2015. The government bears responsibility because they have not delineated our lands and there are people claiming these lands for themselves,” Jamapoti told the Americas Program.

Two days later, in another village named Pambú, which belongs to the Tumabalalá people in the municipality of Arabé, a 40-year-old indigenous man named Gilmar Alves da Silva, was hit by a car while he was returning home on his motorcycle. Then, while he was on the ground, he was shot several times. Gilmar was able to tell part of the story himself; he had strength to return to his village by motorcycle, but died soon after.

This made three murders in a two-week time period from late April to early May, all with the same modus operandi. Eusébio Ka’apor, from the Alto Turiaçu indigenous territory, in the state of Maranhão, was assassinated April 26; he was shot in the back.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The Consejo Indigenista Misionario [Indigenous Missionary Council of the Brazilian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, or CIMI] issued an immediate response, declaring that “Based on our evaluation, the cowardly attacks that led to the deaths of Eusebius Ka’apor on April 26 in the state of Maranhão; Adenilson da Silva Nascimento, on Tupinambá territory on May 1; and Gilmar Alves da Silva, on Tumbalalá lands on May 3, in the state of Bahía, are not isolated incidents. This is a case of selected serial killings of indigenous leaders and the indigenous peoples of Brazil.”

CIMI also maintains that these assassinations are linked to the racist discourse of members of the National Congress, specifically the congressional faction known as “ruralists,” who have paralyzed the process of demarcation of indigenous lands and openly favor transnational corporations.

In Brazil — the largest country in Latin America, Agrarian Reform comes down to one law, No. 4.504, passed during the military dictatorship (1964-1985). Among other provisions, it states: “Agrarian reform is the set of measures designed to promote the best distribution of land, through modifications to the law governing its possession and use, to comply with the principles of social justice and increase productivity.”

According to CIMI’s records, the assassinations of indigenous people in Brazil have occurred over several governments. In the administration of  Fernando Enrique Cardoso (1995 – 1998 and 1999 – 2002) 167 assassinations of indigenous persons were registered. During the administration of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003 – 2006 and 2007 – 2010) the number of assassinations rose to 452. In 2011, President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office, 51 killings were recorded, and in 2012 there were 57 more.

Distribution for whom?

In reality, land distribution in this country seems to be only for the agro-industrial and real-estate sectors. According to the National Institute on Agrarian Reform (INCRA), in 2007 and 2008 the concentration of land owned by foreign capital, most of it from the United States and Europe, increased by 12 kilometers a day. In 2010, this represented an accumulation of more than 4.5 million hectares, concentrated in the states of São Paulo, Bahía, Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso. Added to this are the vast extensions of territory that the federal government grants to mining, petroleum, clean energy, and other interests – all in the name of economic growth.

Indigenous women leaders were also present for the taking of congress to denounce violations of human rights suffered by indigenous people. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

More than 60 percent of the nation’s lands are public, but they not officially delineated and registered as public patrimony. Instead they are often informally occupied by private owners, even as the government says there is no land for Agrarian Reform. But there is land for sugar cane, eucalyptus, soy,” says Nadia Akauã of the indigenous Tucú village. “Agro-toxins are driving out indigenous communities, because they are being poisoned. Not a single government project takes indigenous people into consideration.”

“We no longer believe in the government because it is all set to have Congress approve congressional amendment PEC-215, which denies our right, our ancestry, and our spirituality. The government is already dominated by the multinational soy, eucalyptus, and corn industries. The ruralist caucus in Congress has no interest in meeting the needs of Brazilian society; on the contrary, they want more growth and they either order us to be killed or they send in the police and the military,” Ytajibá Souza, one of the indigenous leaders of Tucum village, told the Americas Program.

In reference to the distribution of lands for agroindustry, the ecological economist Joan Martínez Alier, in his article Sudamérica: el triunfo del post extractivismo en el 2015, refers to neoliberal and progressive countries that persist in promoting primary exports to the point of saying that in order to have less extraction of raw materials, there has to be more. Martínez said that a ton of raw materials that is imported has always been more expensive than a ton that is exported, even at the height of the boom in the price of prime materials “… Peru, Brazil and Colombia export, in tons, much more than they import, and they can’t even pay for their imports,” says Martínez Alier.

A Xucuru dancer in front of the National Congress in April 2015. The indigenous Xucuru people from the state of Pernambuco are from one of the best-organized groups in Brazil. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In 2012 the organization GRAIN reported on an investigation of the intermediaries for multinational corporations in the countries where the most land grabbing is taking place. To cite just one example, in Brazil José Minaya, general manager of the Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) in the United States, has seen to it that the retirement savings and investments of U.S. professors are channeled into the expansion of sugar cane, among other projects in Brazil. Sugar cane, along with other types of plantations, is characterized by the use of slave labor, destruction of ecosystems, and theft of indigenous lands. According to GRAIN’s report, 3 percent of the population of Brazil own nearly two-thirds of arable land.

Thus, the assassination of Adenilson is not an isolated situation, Carlos José F. Santos an indigenous professor at the State University of Santa Cruz (UESC), insists.

“It is important to point out that Pinduca was an indigenous leader respected for his clarity about our rights, about our indigenous way of thinking that is contrary to the interests of the ruralists —owners of vast expanses of land— about capitalists and predatory development. This made many people uncomfortable",


“People from NGOs and the government have come to talk about REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program, the platform for a market for the exchange of carbon credits, or pollution permits, by the world’s corporations that produce carbon dioxide emissions] and protected areas, but we are careful, because there is always something else going on behind the scenes. Without these programs, we are taking care of our Mother Earth. Moreover, we know how to take care of her and do our own monitoring; the government has no reason to get involved,” Ytajibá said.

Another form of concentration of land ownership in Brazil has taken place through ecological colonialism, where land is granted by means of national and transnational agreements to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to be administered by them. These organizations include the Canadian International Development Organization (CIDA); Ford Foundation, Club 1001; Both Ends; Survival International; Conservation International (CI); Inter-American Foundation; MacArthur Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation; W. Alton Jones Foundation; World Wildlife Foundation; Summer Linguistics Institute (SIL); National Wildlife Federation (NWF) ; The Nature Conservancy; European Working Group on Amazonia (EWIC); and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These organizations, among others, have interfered in regional and federal planning for the conservation of areas denominated as Protected Areas, where speculation takes place with so-called carbon credits – designed to allow countries or industries from wealthy countries to continue to pollute while other countries, such as Brazil, conserve their ecosystems – that directly affect indigenous communities.

The Tumpinambá no longer expect anything from the state

The National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), in an anthropological report about the ancestral lands of the Tupinambá, acknowledged the presence of at least 4,700 members of the Tupinambá indigenous group, concentrated in at least 23 communities between the mountains and the coast in the state of Bahia. In the same study, the FUNAI acknowledged that more than 47,000 hectares are Tupinambá lands.

Nevertheless, the Brazilian government has failed to officially recognize these lands as belonging to the Tupinambá. Since 2004 , several Tupinambá villages have reclaimed for themselves at least 80 percent of the territory officially recognized by the FUNAI report. The Tupinambá are one of the few indigenous peoples of Brazil who have dared to demarcate their borders on their own and occupy those lands. They have expelled ranchers, landowners and others who had power over enormous amounts of land, some of which were destined to become tourist complexes with luxury hotels and restaurants.

According to Itajubá, one of the oldest leaders of the indigenous village Tukum and a teacher of the Tupinambá language, “We already waited too long and don’t intend to wait any longer; this is the territory of our ancestors and if the minister does not demarcate our lands, we’ll do it ourselves; we’re not afraid.”


Meanwhile, on May 7 in the village of Patiburi, in Belmonte, when everyone was harvesting their cacao, two houses were set on fire, along with part of their plantings. According to a CIMI report, these actions against the village of Patiburi have intensified since the end of 2013, when the delimitation of territorial borders and the reports of the FUNAI studies were published in the Diario Oficial del Estado [Federal Gazette].

“The government had an opportunity to directly negotiate with us, and I think that opportunity is over. Because we can already see that we don’t have a space for dialogue, and because decisions are made without consulting anyone. And our young people have to prepare for a new moment of struggle. Because we have the time of our rituals, of planting and harvest, but we also have the time of war. If we don’t die, we cannot be born anew, and if they do not want to establish those borders, we will occupy and we will fight to the point of offering our lives to the spirits — our ancestors — if it’s necessary,” insisted Nadia Akauã.

Indigenous People Occupy Brazil’s Legislature, Protesting Bill’s Violation of Land Rights

Indigenous leaders from the five regions of Brazil traveled for days to an encampment convoked by the Coordinating Body of Brazil's indigenous people (APIB), which took place from April 13 to 16 in the federal district in Brasilia. The district is both a geographical center and a center of power in Brazil, as it is where the three branches of government are headquartered.

For four days and three nights, more than 1,500 indigenous individuals filled one of the gardens in front of the National Congress with colors, music and rituals. Their principal objective was to put pressure on the three branches of government so that the proposed constitutional amendment No. 215 - better known as the PEC 215/2000 - is not passed. This amendment, among other things, would transfer the decision-making power of demarcation of indigenous territories to Brazil's legislative branch. Currently, this type of legal-political decision is in the hands of the executive branch.

Within Brazil's Congress, there is a faction known as the "Rural Legislators," a group of legislators who have transferred jurisdiction over private multinational companies to the legislative branch. Of the 50 members of Congress that make up the special commission that will review the proposed constitutional amendment, PEC 215/2000, at least 20 financed their electoral campaigns with support from big farming, mining and energy firms, as well as from the forestry sector and banks. Among the members of the Rural Legislators group is Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu, a business owner and fierce defender of big agriculture businesses. Another is Luis Carlos Heinze, one of the leaders of the group, who is also the president of the Parliamentary Farming Front (FPA). In 2014, a lawsuit was brought against him by indigenous organizations because he encouraged industrial farmers to use armed guards in order to forcibly remove indigenous people from their land.

Those who attended the protest dressed in their traditional attire as leaders and sages of the community and painted their faces with vibrant vegetable-based paints of red, yellow and black. Some smoked tobacco; others prepared their bows and arrows. It was a moment to take to the streets and deliver a letter signed by all of the groups present at the encampment, addressed to President Dilma Rousseff, urging her to approve and sign a bill that is still within her power regarding 20 indigenous territories. They also reminded her of her commitment, expressed to indigenous groups during her presidential campaign in an open letter in 2014, where she pledged not to change the constitution and to move ahead with demarcating indigenous lands.

"During her presidential campaign, she [Dilma Rousseff] committed to demarcating indigenous territory in Brazil. Today, we see that indigenous people are moving toward complete disappearance," said Francisco da Silva, an indigenous Kapinawá leader from the state of Pernambuco. "If she herself does not honor her own words and the constitution, the only thing left for us to do is for us to demarcate our own territories and to defend our ancestral lands ourselves, because if we do nothing, this law will leave us in the hands of the multinational corporations."

While the encampment was underway in Brasilia, Rousseff was asked by various media outlets in an April 15 press conference about those who were protesting. Her response attempted to discredit the presence of the indigenous groups. She affirmed that the discussion regarding indigenous rights in her administration is "systematic," and stated that "there is no unified indigenous movement; the question regarding indigenous movements is not singular; it is diverse."

"Having declared that, [Rousseff] committed a grave error in her discourse, because we are here with representatives of the five regions of the country, with more than 200 different indigenous groups represented," said Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous woman from the state of Maranhao in northeast Brazil.

The military police were constantly present, protecting the headquarters of Brazil's three branches of government from the indigenous protesters. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Dried Up Dialogue

The indigenous leader Babau Tupinamba, leader of one of the best-organized groups in Brazil, who live with a high degree of self-sufficiency, readily affirmed that indigenous people need to prepare themselves for a more radical, even violent struggle. "I said in the Congress that we have returned to colonial times. And we, as the Tupinamba, the first people to confront the colonizers in the year 1500, today we call on all indigenous people to prepare themselves for a confrontation. And if it is necessary, we will even form a guerrilla force if this law is not rejected," he told Truthout.

Babau knows that his words carry a heavy weight and extreme responsibility, but argues that what is at risk are the lives of the indigenous people who are being assassinated by the owners of industrial farms. "We as indigenous people are pacifists; we have no desire to have a confrontation; we just want our lands. But with these types of decisions, they are pushing us to a point of rebellion. If we don't have another option and they continue like this - there are 102 proposals in Congress against indigenous people - we will have to form a guerrilla, because we are not going to let them force us off our ancestral lands; we refuse to leave. Because an indigenous person without land is no longer indigenous."

The PEC 215 bill is just one of the many violations of the human rights of indigenous people in Brazil. "There is no community right now that is not suffering the impacts of a capitalist project. Behind the impetus for this law are the interests of Monsanto, Nestlé, Syngenta, Cargill and other corporations that want to take our lands. They are the same ones that promote the killing of indigenous people," Rootsi Tsitna, an indigenous person from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, told Truthout.

All indigenous groups have suffered violations of their human rights. "There are hundreds of projects in indigenous communities and none of them consulted the people. They are violating the 1988 constitution, which came at the cost of a lot of blood, and the United Nation's International Labor Convention 169, which establishes the requirement of previous consultation of indigenous people. We should not have to negotiate anything, because they are our lands and it is our right [to be here]," said da Silva, the indigenous man from Pernambuco.


Not only indigenous groups worry about the PEC 215 bill. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have also expressed concern, since the amendment would also affect protected natural areas in the country. However, theirs contrasts with the position of several indigenous groups that have been affected by their politics. As an example, in 2011, the Maggi Group sold for the first time 85,000 tons of its "responsible soy," with the "green label" given by the WWF, through a program of "environmental certification" in collaboration with Bunge, Cargill, Monsanto, Nestlé, Syngenta, Unilever and other corporations that have been connected to the forcible removal of indigenous people from their lands in Brazil and various countries around the world.

Some political figures came to visit the indigenous encampment as supposed allies, such as ex-presidential candidate Marina Silva. She is an honorary member of the International Union for Nature Conservation (UICN) and a defender of the conservation policies promoted by the WWF and other nongovernmental organizations that promote national parks, natural protected areas, peace parks, cross-border parks, sanctuaries and green market policies such as carbon credits.

"There are many politicians who have come to talk with us, above all during election season, but all that we want is the demarcation of our territories," an indigenous Cayapo individual from the town of Xingu in Mato Grosso do Sul told Truthout. He argues that carbon credits are another way to remove them from their land. "We have seen the experiences of the Suruí people, who accepted the REDD and its carbon credits and conservation projects. They can no longer hunt, grow crops or use materials they need for celebrations and rituals," he said. "We know how to take care of nature because she is our mother and we don't want another carbon credit agreement, because it is just another way of removing us from our sacred lands."

At the encampment, indigenous Mundurukus denounce plans to build the biggest hydroelectric dam in Brazil on the Tapajós River, which would lead to the disappearance of the Munduruku people. The presence of armed forces has been the only signal of dialogue thus far. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Indian Day?

During the encampment, the indigenous leaders appeared in the House of Representatives and the Senate several times, not just to deliver their signed letter, but to express their discontent and their rage. The response was that PEC 215 will not be voted on, but neither will it be archived, which left the indigenous representatives unconvinced.

On the encampment's last day, April 16, Congress' doors were opened in a tribute to the indigenous representatives in honor of "Indian Day." Due to security issues, only 500 out of 700 in attendance were allowed entrance. The mayor did not attend the event.

Indigenous leader Marcos Xucuru expressed his anger and said that little should be expected of the government and political parties; what remains is the necessity of taking their land and assuming the consequences. "Our fight will continue and we are going to demarcate our lands ourselves. And if necessary, we will fight like the Tupinamba, who have confronted the federal police and the military and we will force them to leave our territory. As indigenous leaders, we are willing to give our lives for our Enchanted Ones - our ancestors - and for nature," Xucuru told Truthout.

Babau says that it is the government that will be held responsible if the genocide continues in his country. "We call upon all indigenous people all over the world, who are the only ones who understand us, to pay attention to what will happen. Because the government had the opportunity to negotiate with us, but the dialogue is drying up," he said. "We will offer our lives if necessary, but we will not let them take away our lands."

A Xucuru dancer in front of the National Congress in April 2015. The indigenous Xucuru people from the state of Pernambuco are from one of the best-organized groups in Brazil. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Published in ⇒ Truthout

Prison Privatization in Brazil Follows US Model

Between 1992 and 2013, the prison population in Brazil increased by more than 400 percent, compared with a 36 percent population growth over the same period, according to the country's Ministry of Justice There are currently 711,463 prisoners incarcerated in the so-called penitentiary industry that prison rights groups argue is a commodification of human bodies.

"I was visiting a privatized female unit in the state of Espírito Santo, and entered the prison's pharmacy, and the director proudly told me that all the inmates were 100 percent medicated with psychotropic drugs for three months," said Jesus Filho, former member of the National Prison Clergy of Brazil. "That is population control. This was one of the most extreme cases of objectification of prisoners that I have thus far witnessed there."

A majority of the convictions are related to economic and drug trafficking crimes. "The [prison] population is mostly black, poor people who had no chance in life; or education, health, and decent housing - people who end up in criminal activity as a last resort," Fernanda Vieira, a lawyer from the Margarida Alves Collective, which offers accessible legal aid in the state of Minas Gerais, told Truthout.

According to the 8th Annual Brazilian Public Security Report, of the 574,207 prisoners, 307,715 are black. "At least 40 percent of prisoners still do not have a conviction and are waiting for someone to tell them whether they are guilty or not. Most are young," says Vieira. Likewise, data from the Brazil's National Penitentiary Department (Depen) has documented that the number of female prisoners increased from 10,112 in the year 2000 to 35,039 in 2012. This represents an increase of 246 percent over the period. Most of the women are serving sentences for prostitution and drug trafficking.

Rights groups affirm that this trend in increasing arrests shows little sign of slowing down, pointing to growing social inequalities. In 2012, the UN warned that the gap between rich and poor was growing in many countries in Latin America. The region is considered to be one of most unequal and urbanized of the world, where 80 percent of the population lives in cities, and more than a quarter of the population lives in conditions of poverty. Twenty percent of the richest population has an average per capita income nearly 20 times the income of the poorest 20 percent. The most unequal countries based on income distribution are, in this order, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, Dominican Republic and Bolivia.

Justified Privatization

The conditions of Brazil's prisons system are often compared with the popularly conceived image of "Hell." In 2012, in response to questions on his position on the adoption of the death penalty, former president of Brazil, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, said, "If I had to serve many years in one of our prisons, I'd rather die."

Brazil currently ranks as the fourth-largest prison population in the world, coming after the United States (2.2 million), China (1.6 million) and Russia (740,000). Brazil has space for little more than half its prisoners. The National Penitentiary Information System (InfoPen) notes that there is a deficit in the prison system of 358,000 adequate spaces for prisoners, implying that each cell has more than double the occupation of its intended capacity. This is data that has been used as the main argument for the privatization of prisons. "The discourse of privatization in Brazil has gained credibility because state prisons are appalling, and health and education are catastrophic," said professor Marta Machado of the São Paulo Law School and Getulio Vargas Foundation.

From Prisons to Profitable Companies

Photo: Archive Pastoral carcerária Brasil

Masses of prisoners are an incentive that has aroused the interest of investors from the private security market. In 2009, the corporation Gestores Presiónales Asociados (GPA) won a concession through the public-private modality (PPP) to administer the first of these public-private penitentiary complexes, composed of five prison units, in Ribeirão das Neves, in the state of Minas Gerais. The company signed a 27-year contract, which may be renewed for another five years. GPA is a consortium made up of five companies, the majority being construction firms: CCI Construções S.A, Construtora Augusto Velloso S.A., Empresa Tejofran de Saneamento y Serviços, N.F. Motta Construções e Comércio y el Instituto Nacional de Administração Prisional - INAP.

In accordance with Article 1.134 of the Brazilian Civil Code, a foreign company needs authorization from the federal government to operate in Brazil through a branch. Therefore, it is difficult to identify transnational capital. "We are still not sure whether there is foreign capital in these complexes. But we can see that the individuals who formed the company in Minas Gerais are the same who were previously directors of public prisons; the corruption is very clear," said Fernanda Vieira, who also provides legal support to several prisoners in the Ribeirão das Neves complex.

In 2013, the first prison complex was opened in Ribeirão das Neves, as well as the Integrated Resocialization Center of Itaquitinga, in the state of Pernambuco. According to a 2014 research report called "The First Public-Private Partnership Prison Complex in Brazil," the PPP model represents an innovative form of cooperation between government and the private sector through concession contracts based on a determined period where construction, management and risk are shared. Therefore, the state pays the private consortium for the penitentiary service, while the operator has the opportunity to use the infrastructure and/or services in the pursuit of profitability.

US Influence

According to Professor Laurindo Dias Minhoto, of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in the University of São Paulo, the privatization of prisons is a Brazilian model that shares certain elements of US private prisons, as well as the British model, which allows for private capital to finance public infrastructure. "The neoliberal project, especially the American style, seeks to turn all spheres of social life into a company, including the state itself, punctuated by an enterprising economic rationality," affirmed Dias Minhoto in a March 2015 debate called "Public-Private Partnership in Brazil's Prisons: Legal, Political and Ethical Implications."

Luís Fernando Massonetto,professor of economic law at São Paulo University, shares with Truthout that the PPP model follows the logic of neoliberal policies in the sense of furthering the accumulation and expansion of the reproduction of capital. "The neoliberal logic in the world has been the multiplying of opportunities of capital accumulation alongside the increased repressive rationality of the state and social control. Financial deregulation on the one side, and 'law and order' on the other."

In the document titled "Lessons Learned and Opportunities," the Executive Manager of the PPP Central Unit in Minas Gerais, Marcos Siqueira Morães, alleges, among other things, that the complex aims to increase the efficiency of operations in infrastructure. This includes long-term contracts, risk sharing, managerial and financial, as well as ensuring profitability.

At the IV Congress of public management (CONSAD), held in 2011, with the participation of Siqueira Moraes, another document called "Sharing Profits of PPPs" was presented. It states that, for the private sector to participate in the construction of these projects, financial engineering is required that allows investors to raise funds more cheaply. Market risks and demands are totally or partially mediated by the state. This process resulted in what is now called "New Public Management," which represents a scenario in which the state transfers the carrying out of certain policies to private capital, leaving in their hands the associated infrastructure.

Prisons in Company Mode

Jesus Filho does not doubt that the spaces in private prisons are cleaner and the food is much better than public units, but he expresses surprise with the flows of capital that this implies. "Privatization costs a lot. It costs 3,000 reales (US $940) per prisoner per month, and that is multiplied by 600,000 prisoners. How many millions is Brazil spending per month? It costs a lot," said Filho in the March PPP debate.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), in a 2011 report called "Financing Infrastructure in Brazil: Prospects and Challenges," frames PPPs as part of its long-term financing. "There is no loss because the PPP complex is being covered by BNDES and there has been no problem in meeting the demand of having more prisoners: in a weekend alone in Minas Gerais, hundreds were detained in a festival," said Fernanda Vieira.

The main source of income for these prison complexes is from the state, with a higher cost than public prisons. However, the consortium GPA claims to have produced concrete results in the rehabilitation of the prisoners, with quality indicators that will be verified by the multinational firm Accenture. The firm has a presence in more than 56 countries, providing management consulting, technology services and outsourcing. According to "The First Public-Private Partnership Prison Complex in Brazil" research paper, the company's commitment is to evaluate performance indicators, payments made by the state to the consortium and to assist in resolving potential conflicts.

"The big market of today is the creation of security technologies, logistics and infrastructure, the crime control industry," says Dias Minhoto.

Sub-Minimum Wages

In the war of production costs, the main problem that rich countries and companies face are wages that cannot be reduced further, in contrast to labor struggles that seek to increase wages and better work conditions. One problem that is blurred with the privatization of prisons is that it may seem that the greater number of prisoners there are, the greater amount of cheap labor that is available. "It's a process of commodification because prisoners do not have the ability to defend their labor rights," said Fernanda Vieira.

Although this model of private prisons, called by US researcher and 1960s black liberation activist Angela Davis, the "Prison Industrial Complex," has as one of its main objectives cheaper production costs of goods. In Brazil, it is a process that is under construction. "At the moment, the only cash flow is through the state and outsourced technology and service companies. We cannot help but notice that the business lobby is not limited with the expansion of prison policies. There is growing pressure from the business lobby for the use of new technologies of social control and surveillance," says Fernando Massonetto.

Human Rights Violations

The new private prison complexes do not provide rehabilitation because they function under a logic of dehumanizing prisoners. "It's all very cold and isolated. Visitations are just as degrading as in public prisons. From the time a person goes to a private prison, where your life is worth $940 per month, you cease being a human and you become a commodity. That is a violation of human rights. As of now, there is no access to education, health or work and the state supposedly covers this," Fernanda Vieira told Truthout.

It is clear that this is "prison capital," says professor Massonetto, quantified in managerial spreadsheets and guaranteed by the state to reduce business risks. "Control of the body was present in the production of social surplus during the old forms of slavery to the commercial exploitation of the workforce. Violence on the body was gradually modified, ranging from the decision of life or death of the slave to the most modern techniques of labor subordination to capital. What contemporary capitalism cynically exposes is the control of bodies is an essential input for the reproduction of prison capital," said professor Massonetto.

Published in ⇒ Truthout

Fighting a Low-Intensity War, Indigenous Tupinamba Recover Their Land in Brazil

The extreme south of the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil is a region of intense conflict over indigenous lands. A judge asked Rosivaldo Ferreira da Silva, a leader from the indigenous Babau tribe, about the actions the Tupinamba are taking in order to recover their ancestral lands from the hands of rich landowners.

The extreme south of the state of Bahia in northeastern Brazil is a region of intense conflict over indigenous lands. A judge asked Rosivaldo Ferreira da Silva, a leader from the indigenous Babau tribe, about the actions the Tupinamba are taking in order to recover their ancestral lands from the hands of rich landowners.

“You said that your Enchanted One – the spirit of the ancestors of the Tupinamba – ordered you to take back your lands and that you will not return them, even if that means you have to die in a confrontation with the police,” the judge said. Da Silva responded: “Exactly.”

The judge, trying to change the idea that he had proposed, said, “But we can propose something that can mediate this situation. We can offer a basket of basic goods to families, something that they can live off of.”

Da Silva, indignant, responded, “We the Tupinamba, this is how we are, judge. If food is lacking in our homes, we will eat wild plants; we will eat what the land gives us; we are not going to ask for anything from anyone. Because then we would be allowing others to govern our lives.”

The Tupinamba were the first indigenous people to form a front against the Portuguese invasion in 1500 in Brazil. They are a great warrior people whose organizational structure uses tactics and strategies of war based on their worldview. In 2004, they started a process to recover their lands.

“Our goal was to stop deforestation. All the rivers would return to their natural pathways; nature would be laughing with happiness.”

The government body, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), recognized in its studies that the Tupinamba possess over 47,000 hectares of land, but the government still hasn’t authorized the demarcation of this territory. This is in violation of Article 169 of the International Labor Organization, which establishes their right to “the consultation and participation of indigenous peoples and tribes to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control over their economic, social and cultural development, including the right to land and the use of natural resources found in their traditional lands.”

Even after having received only silence as a response from the government, the indigenous Tupinamba have recovered a good part of their land. They are one of the few indigenous groups in Brazil that has dared to self-demarcate their borders and occupy them at the same time. They reclaimed huge properties that were in the hands of landowners; they took over fresh water springs; they took over abandoned houses. In the community of Serra do Padeiro alone, close to 70 properties were taken over.

“We drove out the landowners who were deforesting and who did not need the land to live on because they have houses elsewhere. And the people that need a place to live, the small producers, will stay with us,” da Silva told Truthout. “Our goal was to stop deforestation; our motto is zero deforestation. All the rivers would return to their natural pathways; nature would be laughing with happiness; the animals would come back,” he added.

The reaction to all of this quickly became systematic and relentless. In 2008, police made their first large-scale attack in Serra do Padeiro. They invaded the Tupinamba territory with two helicopters, 130 agents and heavy vehicles. They said that they wanted to stop da Silva, but they didn’t have an arrest warrant. “It was a day of war. For an entire day, they had fun with us and we with them,” joked da Silva. “The fight for the Tupinamba is not an affront; we are children of war. The thing is that they want a war, but with a group that doesn’t know how to fight; they want us to sit back and cross our arms.”

Brazil’s Defense Ministry published a manual that encourages the use of military force to guarantee “public security.”

“They believed that we were going to flee, but this didn’t happen. When they came in and began to attack, our answer was to use slingshots and stones and we used the strategy of isolating them. The Enchanted Ones prohibited us from using bows and arrows; they said that these people aren’t ready for war with the Tupinamba, and in addition it isn’t in our best interest to cause a single casualty. They came onto our land without asking permission and afterward they couldn’t leave. And when the final day came, they were desperate and called for reinforcements, and only then were they able to remove the barricades that we put up in the roads.”

There’s interest in Tupinamba land from large-scale landowners and producers, such as the owners of the luxury tourist complexes that have been built in this territory, like the Hotel Fazenda da Lagao, with investors such as Arthur Bahia and Arminio Fraga. Fraga is a naturalized US citizen and former president of the Brazilian Central Bank. He is also an ex-member of the World Bank, and affirms that there are no indigenous people in the region, and that there are only opportunists who want to steal the land from the rightful owners.

Meanwhile, in President Dilma Rousseff’s new term, she has chosen to fill top positions with figures like businesswoman, rancher and senator, Katia Abreu, who is currently the head of the Ministry of Agriculture. Abreu is one of the main defenders of the coalition in Brazil’s Congress that is defending national and multinational agribusinesses in Brazil, which maintain a strong offensive against indigenous towns.

The FUNAI recognized the presence of no less than 4,700 Tupinamba people, concentrated in at least 23 communities, between the mountains and the coast of the state of Bahia – an area that extends from the Serra do Padeiro to the coast of Olivença and is immersed in the tropical jungle of the Mata Atlântica. The communities are distributed across two regions: the forest Tupinamba and those of the coast, and each town has its own leader.

Militarization of the Tupinamba Territory

In mid-February 2014, at the request of Jaques Wagner, then-governor of the state of Bahia and currently Brazil’s defense minister, the president signed an authorization from the federal government so that the army could enter into the territory of the Tupinamba in southern Bahia. Federal authorities were given permission to finish their incursion in one month, but it still continues today.

A month before, in January 2014, agents from the National Public Security Forces and the Federal Police built a base in the town of Serra do Padeiro. From that moment, the indigenous people have been constantly monitored and some of the land has been violently reintegrated into the territory belonging to big landholders.

“It is a strategy, because the landowners in the region want to kill me, along with the military”

These measures were taken after the Brazilian Ministry of Defense published a manual titled “How to guarantee law and order,” on December 20, 2013. It is a manual that encourages the use of military force in order to guarantee “public security.” It also enumerates the ways in which enemies are categorized, beginning with individuals and groups to organizations and social movements that are considered “oppositional forces,” emphasizing those that act in violation of “public order or security.”

Haroldo Heleno, from the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), in the state of Bahia, tells Truthout that the indigenous Tupinamba, in the process of self-demarcating and taking back their land, have suffered a constant campaign of criminalization. They have been written off as criminals, as invaders and as homeless. CIMI reported that the 2008 attack by the Federal Police in the town of Serra do Padeiro included more than 130 agents, two helicopters and 30 patrol cars. Twenty-two indigenous people were wounded by rubber bullets and gas bombs, and houses, community vehicles, food and school equipment were destroyed.

War Fire

A low fire burns inside a tree trunk until it turns to ash; it’s a fire that should be burning at all times, even on rainy days. It is the light of the Tupinamba ancestors; it is the center of the town; it is there where the ancestors made the most important decisions in the community, like when to go to war. Fernanda Barbosa Silva, who teaches the Tupinamba language to both indigenous and non-indigenous children in the community of Serra do Padeiro, told Truthout, “Here is where we have our planting ceremonies. Here we ask our Enchanted Ones to illuminate our paths. It is the fire of the Tupinamba people, our spiritual sustenance.”

The concept of war in the West is different than that of indigenous people. In Western war, the objective is to repress or destroy the enemy, and, in doing so, stop everything that stands in the way of private property. “Collective land ownership is the womb of crime and of the insurgency and because of that we must destroy it. There is no peace without private property,” says Geoffrey B. Demarest. Demarest is a researcher, former military member and graduate of the School of the Americas, which is administered by the US military, and was founded in 1946 in Panama with the objective of training Latin American soldiers in war and counterinsurgency techniques.

Serra do Padeiro is completely self-sufficient. It produces its own food in a system similar to agroecology.

Currently, Demarest is an ideologue and intellectual who is part of the so-called Bowman Expeditions, which are advancing across Central and South America and other countries where collective property ownership exists. The principal military objectives are to reach indigenous towns, in order to incorporate their territories into the model of private property, either through force or agreements.

For “us,” da Silva told Truthout, “this war is for life, in order to take care of our Enchanted Ones, which is to say, our ancestors that inhabit the forest and the mountains, who also take care of us and protect us. We, the Tupinamba, are not allowed to kill anyone; we are not interested in that.”

Low-intensity warfare, or irregular warfare, according to US military doctrine, says, “instead of formal military conflict, we are witnessing a series of ‘irregular’ wars: terrorism, guerrilla insurgencies, resistance movements, asymmetrical insurgencies and conflicts in general, which must be attacked with all means necessary.”

The indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico calls it a war of “comprehensive fatigue,” a war strategy that uses paramilitary units, paid mercenaries and public political programs in order to contain or reduce the support of the social bases for resistance movements that have been labeled as terrorists or insurgents.


After an arrest warrant was issued by a judge in February 2014 in southern Bahia, the indigenous Babau leader decided to turn himself in. After doing so, da Silva argued that the Tupinamba do not run away. According to the arrest warrant, he was accused of having ordered the murder of a farmer in the region. “It is a strategy, because the landowners in the region want to kill me, along with the military,” he said. Five days after turning himself in, after a preliminary decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court, he was freed.

In 2009, the arrest of one of da Silva’s brothers was registered, along with five other indigenous individuals who were also tortured by the Federal Police. And that was how in the successive years, until 2014, da Silva was arrested for a variety of crimes that his accusers have never been able to prove.

Attacks on Autonomy

“We and nature are one; we are one with our ancestry,” da Silva told Truthout. “Here you will not find a woman abused by her partner, children abused by their parents; you will not find people marrying one another for fun. If we want to have an animal close to us, we put food in the door of the house, and it will come to eat close to us.”

Serra do Padeiro is completely self-sufficient. It produces its own food in a system similar to agroecology, and the excesses are sold.

“The police started to make incursions into our towns in the planting season. The objective was to ruin our harvest.”

“In order to know when to plant, we observe the moon, the time of the rains, if the wind from the east is going to pass through our crops. Do you know how to recognize the wind from the east? Look there, you are looking at that tree, the one with the dry leaf tips. The wind from the east passes there. It is a sorrowful wind that brings sickness to plants and people; it is strong; it is powerful. So you must recognize the paths where this wind blows and stay away from it. You cannot stay in the path of that which does not want to be interrupted, so that is why we pay a lot of attention,” da Silva said.

The Tupinamba have celebrations all year long; their land is very productive. They grow cacao, coffee, bananas, manioc and a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Every time a party is held, there is food in abundance and everyone is invited to participate. It is striking how, despite the constant closeness of danger, they continue to smile.

“We export cacao, but we do not worry about producing in order to sell. First we eat, we are happy, and that is our concern. And what is left over we sell in order to buy the extra things that we need,” Maria da Gloria de Jesus told Truthout. She is 50 years old and planted 40,000 pineapple plants by herself. She also received the impact of a rubber bullet in the chest by the Federal Police in one of their offenses in the territory. “Agroecology is nothing more than indigenous knowledge, a circular understanding, that has a relationship with the animals of the forest, the birds, even the smallest of insects,” de Jesus said.

The food sovereignty of the Tupinamba was put at risk in 2007, after a series of attempts to try and undermine the sustainability the indigenous people had attained. “We perceived that the police started to make incursions into our towns in the planting season, between the months of May and August. We live off of what we plant, so the objective was to ruin our harvest,” da Silva said. “But they were not able to affect us.”

Historical Context of the Tupinamba

According to the document created in 2006 by the Ministry of Education and UNESCO, the ethnologist Curt Nimuendaju demonstrated in his ethnohistorical map the existence of more than 1,400 indigenous groups in “discovered” territories in Brazil since 1500. They were peoples with huge linguistic diversity: Tupi-Guarani, Ge, Carib, Arawak, Xiriana and Tucan, to name a few. They also had a great geographical diversity and diverse forms of social organization. Julian Steward, in the book Handbook of South American Indians, calculated that more than 1.5 million indigenous people lived in Brazil; and William Denevan projected the existence of almost 5 million indigenous people in the Amazon alone.

Following the data gathered by the Education Ministry’s document, the Tupinamba people were present across the state of Bahia, the lower Amazon in the northeast coast, almost to the state of Sao Paulo. The most significant loss of life suffered by indigenous people resulted from the war of suppression and destruction that drove out thousands of indigenous people, according to the document, but above all, was due to the introduction of illnesses such as smallpox, measles and tuberculosis, which quickly decimated entire peoples. This was described in the writings of the Jesuit priest Jose de Anchieta, who was present for part of the historical context during the 1500s.

We Are All Tupinamba

According to the accounts of Maria da Gloria, mother of the chief indigenous Babau Tupinamba, during the Portuguese colonization, the indigenous people welcomed slaves who had fled from plantations or sugar factories. “That explains why some Tupinamba towns are mixed to this day; all of us are Tupinamba. We have our knowledge that is alive, our customs and our traditions. It is a different form of life than that of the white people. But the government uses this to say that the Tupinamba people are in extinction. We say that no! We are alive; these are the lands of our ancestors and they are priceless,” he said.


“Our Enchanted Ones tell us about what is going to happen in the world and what we have to do to protect ourselves. If we have to go to war, it will be to the end. We want to guarantee our lands as quickly as possible because the world is going to enter into a period of total chaos,” da Silva said. “In the future, the indigenous lands will be the only places where one can go to interact with nature. So we are not going to wait for the demarcation of the state: These are our ancestral lands and we are the only ones that know them, because we belong to the Tupinamba land.”