Brazilian Farmers Attack Indigenous Community Amid Land Claims Conflict

On Monday, thirteen members of an indigenous tribe in Brazil were hospitalized following a brutal attack at the hands of regional farmers.

The group of farmers and landowners surrounded the Gamela tribe’s camp with guns, knives and clubs. Several members of the tribe were shot or stabbed. At least two had their hands cut off with machetes, one of whom also had his legs severed at the knees. No deaths have been reported, but three people are in serious condition in hospital. Those who could still run after the attack fled into the forest. It is feared that some may be too afraid to seek medical attention for their injuries.

Last Friday, the group occupied a piece of traditional territory, aiming to resettle it. The land was among that which was stolen during Brazil’s military dictatorship, which lasted between 1964 and 1985. The Gamela have been actively campaigning since 2014 for their land to be returned to them. This has led to escalating conflict between the Gamela, who are the indigenous group of the region, and the landowning farmers. Landowners claim they are entitled to the stolen land by virtue of property rights.

Similar instances of violence against indigenous communities have been escalating across the Brazilian Amazon, but perpetrators are rarely caught or prosecuted. The Gamela community is located in the north-eastern state of Maranhāo. It is a particularly poor state and experiences a great deal of violence. It is at the frontlines of deforestation, leading to many deadly conflicts as indigenous communities seek to protect their forests from loggers, ranchers, and farmers.

In Maranhão, rich landowners dominate local politics. This makes it difficult for the indigenous group, who must fight back against powerful politicians in order to claim their traditional land or even seek recourse for the violence they face. According to the Gamela, police officers stood by as the bloodshed occurred. Local indigenous rights campaigners have also released audio recordings of local military police promising not to intervene in the conflict.

Human rights groups and activists worry newly proposed government budget cuts on environment enforcement agencies will escalate the existing conflict. They fear that Monday’s attack will not be the last.

Rudi Barwin