Did corporations order the assassination of the ‘uncontacted’ Amazon tribesmen, and why? A month ago, they were members of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon, living quiet lives gathering eggs and scavenging for food. Now they are dead. As far as official media is reporting, they had the bad luck of running into gold miners. CHAOS ON THE GROUND
Federal prosecutors in Brazil have opened an investigation into the massacre, which resulted in the deaths of about ten members of the tribe. They say that it is the latest evidence of threats to endangered indigenous groups that seem to be increasing in recent years. The Brazilian agency specializing in indigenous affairs, Funai, said that it complained about the local prosecutor’s office after a group of gold miners went to a bar in the area and bragged about killing the tribesmen. They apparently even went so far as showing off a hand carved paddle they said they took from the dead tribesmen.
“It was crude bar talk, ” said Leila Silvia Burger Sotto-Maior, Funai’s coordinator for uncontacted and recently contacted tribes. “They even bragged about cutting up the bodies and throwing them into the river.” She said that the miners claimed, “they had to kill them or be killed.” Ms. Sotto-Maior explains that the killings took place about a month ago. The Indigenous Affairs Bureau took the case to the police after a series of interviews with those concerned. “There is a lot of evidence, but it needs to be proven, ” she said. The prosecutor in charge of the case, Pablo Luz de Beltrand, confirmed that an investigation had begun, but said he could not discuss details of the case until more of the facts were known. “We are following up, but the territories are big, and access is limited, ” Mr. Beltrand said. “These tribes are uncontacted — even Funai has only sporadic information about them. So it’s difficult to work that requires all government departments working together.” Mr. Beltrand said it was the second such episode that he was investigating so far just this year. Survival International, a global indigenous rights group, warned that given the small sizes of the uncontacted Amazon tribes, this latest massacre could have wiped out a significant portion of this ethnic group. “If the investigation confirms the reports, it will be yet another genocidal massacre resulting directly from the Brazilian government’s failure to protect isolated tribes — something that is guaranteed in the Constitution, ” said Sarah Shenker, a senior campaigner with the rights group. Under Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, funding for indigenous affairs has been slashed, by the desires of his corporate donors. “We had problems with previous governments, but not like this, ” said Ms. Sotto-Maior, the Funai coordinator. These problems include massive budget cuts that have essentially crippled the agency. The budget this year for the uncontacted tribe’s department is just two million reais, or about $650,000, down from 7.5 million reais in 2014. “What can I do with two million reais?” she asked. President Temer, who is deeply unpopular, has has been accused of essentially being bought by powerful agricultural, ranching and mining lobbies who are trying to push economic changes through Congress and shelter him from an ongoing corruption investigation. The corruption runs so deep that the lower house of Congress voted to spare him from standing trial for corruption in the Supreme Court last month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was only after the president doled out jobs and agreed to a series of concessions, including a large number reducing longstanding deforestation and land-rights regulations. A decree by President Temer opened up a large reserve in the Amazon to mining, which in turn prompted an international outcry from environmentalist and land rights activists. A judge blocked the decree; however, the government recently decided that it would revise its decision in hopes of getting it passed. Land disputes have been on the rise throughout rural areas in Brazil. Indigenous groups, rural workers, and land activists have all been victims of violence during this confrontation, and the Brazilian Land Pastoral Commission has reported 50 people have died in these clashes so far this year.
In some cases, government or police agents have been linked to the violence. A recent police raid left ten natives dead. Although the officers involved have tried to justify the violence as self-defense, none of the officers were injured. Activists note that native groups, especially those who have not yet had significant contact with civilization, are most at risk in land disputes. Of course, this can provide an incentive for some people to want to see these natives wiped out. The land they occupy is sometimes valuable for its resources – including gold and timber. Those who want to strike it rich have an incentive to want to see these native people wiped out. At the very least, the gold miners, in this case, are an example of opportunism. At worst, some corporations have been known to try to push native people off of their land for their profit, and at times they may even hire others to do the dirty work. What the case was this time may never be known, but there is a disturbing pattern emerging in the deaths of many native Amazonians. It is clear that a great number of corporations could become rich off of this land.