Discovering (and exploring) picturesque unheard-of lands has ever been a magnet for adventurers. Since a group of Portuguese sailors led by Pedro Álvares Cabral washed up on Brazil’s shore in 1500, an intense and silent combat for land spread out. Against whom?
Well, the sworn devilish enemies were the very first inhabitants of this environmental paradise on Earth: Indians.
In the Brazilian territory alone there were 5 million Indians at that time. Nowadays, there is just a handful of natives, nearly 400 thousand (8 PERCENT OF THE ORIGINAL POPULATION!).
Brazil is almost a continent for itself. It is the fifth largest country in the world, so that land can be found aplenty. More, land is so fertile that in some places farms manage over two harvests a year.
And for this valuable source, recurrent conflicts come about in Raposa Serra do Sol (Land of the Fox and Mountain of the Sun). This is Brazils’s northernmost frontier that extends to the borders of Venezuela and Guiana. That is the place where Indian children swim in remote rivers and play with wild animals. There, 19 thousand indigenous people from four different tribes dwell.
But this is also home to rice farmers (non-Indians), who refuse to leave, as Raposa Serra do Sol was designated indigenous territory in 2005.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled – by 10x1 – that the Indian reservation should not be broken up.
The President of the Supreme Court said that, “The basis we established in this case, the conditions and procedures, will serve as a guide for other disputes. We are putting an end to the issues surrounding similar cases”.
Really?! Are you?
Powerful farmers and ranchers do not want to leave, as they have been living there for at least three full decades.
Several farmers in the interior of Brazil are illegally occupying some officially recognised reserves. Thus, a group of rice farmers waged a war on the Indians, using increasingly violent tactics, burning bridges to prevent Indians entering or leaving their land, and throwing bombs into communities.
A video from the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR) shows the moment hired gunmen attack a Makuxi Indian village in 2008.
Ten Makuxi were wounded in the attack, six of them children.
Conundrum of agrarian conflicts down here in Brazil
Such conflicts continue to be a huge political and social vexing problem in the countryside of my country. It challenges even the brightest minds of the Brazilian government.
And it is not only restricted to clashes between Indian tribes and rice farmers. Most farmers in the interior of Brazil abuse of their power in order to take poor farmers’ land by force, as these humbled peasants do not have documents averring ownership of the land.
According to the Commission of Land of Brazil, the number of families expelled by rice farmers increased 140% (from 1,309 to 4,340 families) in 2007.
At the same period, death threats to community leaders and human rights defenders soared. In the South region of Brazil – the region with the best HDI of my country –, where I actually live, the number of families topped from 30 to incredible 720.
The gravest fact is that the crushing majority of crimes remains unpunished. For instance, in Pará state (North region of Brazil), one of the main conflict areas for many years, between 1971 and 2007, out of 819 murders, only 22 were ruled in court.
In 2005, an episode captured the world’s attention. It was the assassination of the 73-year-old North-American missionary Dorothy Mae Stang in a land where the last thing that matters is law. She was a fierce upholder of these peasants and fear was not part of her day-to-day agenda.
This quite complex situation really daunts me, since I do not see any concrete action being taken in all Brazilian governmental spheres to transform this distressing situation.
It is deeply related to Brazil’s own history of political corruption and negligence of the impoverished. Much is flown around on the fact that such aggressive postures of farmers are inherited from the dictatorship, which instigated farmers to do so. During these iron times (1964-1985), dictators incited farmers and latex workers to kill Indians, all that in a very veiled way in the heart of the forest.
Sometimes I do not recognise my own country. Sometimes I think god has forsaken these lands.
(Featured image by Renata Carvalho)