Murders of Indigenous People in Brazil Increased Tremendously in 2020

It’s a well known but rarely reported fact that the Indigenous community, particularly women, are killed at high rates

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Photo: Unsplash/ Raphael Nogueira

It’s a well known but rarely reported fact that the Indigenous community, particularly women, are killed at high rates. Now a new report is highlighting the dramatic increase in murders of the Indigenous community in Brazil. The Catholic Church’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) has revealed that violence and murders against indigenous people in Brazil increased dramatically in 2020.  The organization’s report, released last month, on crimes against indigenous Brazilians states that 182 indigenous people were murdered in Brazil in 2020, compared to 113 in 2019, which indicates a 61percent increase. Some believe that Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro is to blame for enabling these killings through state policies that Indigenous chiefs and human rights organization say encourage the destruction of the Amazon for profit and failing to protect Indigenous people’s rights.

The organization’s report  also states that there were 263 land invasions on indigenous territory in Brazil, which is a massive 137 percent increase over 2019. Those numbers only indicate invasions that were reported, leaving the possibility for many unaccounted for incidents.

CIMI asserts that the Brazilian government’s part plays a huge factor. They assert that the government’s infringement on Indigenous land to expand commercial mining, oil and gas exploration and build hydroelectric dams, and their lack of initiative to protect indigenous people are to blame. The report describes the issue as “the deepening of an extremely worrying scenario in terms of Indigenous rights, territories and lives.”

CIMI and other critics of the Brazilian government believe that illegal miners, squatters, and loggers have started to encroach on Indigenous lands because they are emboldened by the government’s lack of support of Indigenous people, which has also led to the continued spread of COVID-19.

President Bolsonaro has long criticized his country’s Indigenous communities for taking up land he deems as “valuable,” and has said that he will not grant any more land to Indigenous communities. Reuters reports that of the 1,289 reservations in Brazil, 832 are still waiting to be officially recognized by the government.

“The Brazilian Cavalry was very incompetent. Competent, yes, was the American cavalry that decimated its Indians in the past and nowadays does not have this problem in their country,” President Bolsonaro expressed during a Congress session in 1998, despite the fact that Indigenous lands are protected by the Brazilian constitution.

During his election campaign, President Bolsonaro promised to cut government funding for Indigenous services and freeze the expansion of federally protected reserves. Not long after he was elected in 2019, the rate of crimes against Indigenous people in Brazil began to increase. “With Bolsonaro, the invaders are feeling more at ease,” Bitete Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau told The Intercept back in 2019.

Now, some are saying the president is starting to pander to potential voters who may disagree with his stance on Indigenous people—particularly after he visited two Indigenous reservations on the Amazon River in May 2021. Some regional Indigenous leaders said that they were not invited to meet with President Bolsonaro at that time, and that he only met with “unrepresentative chiefs.”

“Our institution is three decades old but we were not included in the president’s agenda or any dialogue on public polices for the region,” the Federation of Rio Negro Indigenous Organizations said in a statement. “He met with self-proclaimed leaders to produce fake news.”

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