Reports are currently being investigated for the murder of tribesmen in the Amazon. Gold miners were overheard in a bar bragging about having killed 8-10 tribesmen and carried a hand-carved wooden paddle and a small food bag which they alleged they had stolen. They reportedly boasted that they disposed of the bodies by cutting them up and throwing them in the river.
The region of the attack hosts an estimated fifth of the country’s tribes and is known as the ‘Uncontacted Frontier.’ Despite the paucity of information about the tribes, experts at NGO Survival International have warned that this massacre could be genocidal given the small populations of many of the tribes in the rainforest.
The Funai – the Brazilian government department responsible for the indigenous population – are currently investigating these reports but emphasize that they remain unproven. Evidence will be particularly difficult to amass given the miners’ supposed actions and the remoteness of the area of the attack. Investigators will have to travel for 12 days by boat to reach the Javari Valley, the region in which the miners were working, and may struggle to gather enough evidence for a conviction. Prosecutor Pablo Luz de Bertrand has warned of the difficulties of the work entailed and called on all government departments to help.
Funai is also suffering from chronic underfunding, and as a result, understaffing. The Brazilian government cut their budget from 7.5 million reais in 2014 to just 2 million this year and the department have been forced to close 5 out of 19 of their bases. These bases are essential for both protecting the areas from intruders and making and managing contact with the Amazonian tribes. Many people have directly linked these recent fatalities with Funai’s curbed power and funds but public outcry is unlikely to have an impact on the seemingly determined President Michel Temer.
On the 24th of August, it emerged that Temer had tried to dissolve the Renca reserve, a vast swathe of the Amazon forest covering 4.5 million hectares, and when attacked on twitter by a Brazilian supermodel he simply reissued the decree with token and ineffectual provisions to protect the tribespeople in the region. Randolfe Rodrigues, an opposition senator in the Sustainability National Party, has called Temer’s actions ‘the biggest attack on the Amazon of the last fifty years’ and the decree has been halted by activists in court. The judgement is, however, a temporary solution and the interest from over 20 companies, domestic and international, in the mineral resources of the region will presumably prevail over the environmental concerns soon.
President Temer’s popularity is at an all-time low as his name appears repeatedly in testimonies given in Operation Car Wash, the investigation into the corruption scandal ripping through Brazil’s richest businessmen and most powerful politicians. The country’s democratic structure returns coalitions and Temer is currently governing with the support of the powerful ‘ruralistas,’ the party representing businessmen opposed to protection of the Amazon, including mining and farming CEOs. Reductions to Funai’s budget may well have been executed to appease the ‘ruralistas’ and, given their power, Temer chooses to defy the courts and push through the dissolution of the Renca reserve.
The consequences of this would be ‘irreversible,’ according to Mauricio Voivolic, the executive director of WWF Brazil. In addition to dispossession of lands, deforestation and environmental damage are among the inevitable results of allowing companies to operate in the region. Alan Tormaid Campbell, an expert on the Wayapi tribe who live in the reserve, has also warned that the dispossession of lands is frequently carried out by ‘violence and murder.’ Funai are needed now more than ever, even if their capacity has been reduced by the government to the point of ineffectiveness.
As Operation Car Wash continues, Temer’s impeachment becomes more likely. Whoever is in charge, though, is likely to be in thrall to the ‘ruralistas.’ The only real chance for safeguarding the Amazon and those who live in it lies in possible pressure from abroad, as the EU negotiates a new trade deal with Latin America. If Brazil’s trade partners choose not to pressure the government, the position of the Wayapi tribe, and a huge area of the Amazon will be in grave danger.
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