New Data Points to Staggering Violence in the Amazon

By Robert Muggah and Júlia Franciotti

Published in the Americas Quarterly

They came looking for gold. Earlier this year, several dozen unauthorized prospectors, or garimpeiros as they are known in Portuguese, invaded a 1.4 million acre indigenous reserve in Brazil’s remote northern state of Amapá. Soon after they arrived, the corpse of an indigenous leader, Emyra Waiapi, was found riddled with stab wounds and discarded in a river. Tribe members sent desperate messages to local politicians and police, pleading for help. Many already had dark memories of past invasions that had almost wiped them out with infections and violence.

Brazil’s protected forest reserves and the people who inhabit them are getting little sympathy from the country’s right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro. He has referred to indigenous groups as “prehistoric” peoples in need of the civilizing influence of development. Bolsonaro’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, himself under investigation for violating environmental laws in São Paulo, has dismissed reported violence against indigenous groups as fiction. Since coming into power in 2019, the Bolsonaro administration has systematically deregulated protections of indigenous reserves and reduced spending on public entities like the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the National Indigenous Fund (FUNAI), the primary agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting environmental crimes and protecting indigenous lands.

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