| JACAREACANGA, Brazil
JACAREACANGA, Brazil Feb 17 As Brazil struggles
to solve land disputes between Indians and farmers on the
expanding frontier of its agricultural heartland, more tensions
over forest and mineral resources are brewing in the remote
The government of President Dilma Rousseff gave eviction
notices to hundreds of non-Indian families in the Awá-Guajá
reserve in Maranhão state in January and plans to relocate them
by April, with the help of the army if necessary, Indian affairs
agency Funai says.
The court order to clear the Awá territory follows the
forced removal of some 7,000 soy farmers and cattle ranchers
from the Marãiwatsédé Xavante reservation last year, a process
profiled by Reuters that resulted in violent clashes. [link.reuters.com/dew27t
Anthropologists say evictions from Awá territory could be
even more complicated. It is thought to be a base for criminal
logging operations and is also home to some indigenous families
who have never had contact with outsiders, a combination that
worries human rights groups lobbying for the evictions.
The government missed a federal judge's deadline to start
carrying out the evictions last year but began ordering them
after a high-profile campaign backed by the likes of actor Colin
Now, other tribes from the Amazon as well as the
long-settled soy belt are lobbying to have non-Indians removed
from their lands or have new reservations created at the same
time Rousseff's leftist government, faced with a sputtering
economy in an election year, is trying to build dams, expand
farmland and otherwise spur growth.
South America's largest country is still grappling with
unresolved indigenous land issues more than a century after the
United States finished carving out Indian reservations and has
become one of the world's clearest examples of the conflict
between preserving indigenous culture and promoting economic
"The Indians are showing ever increasing persistence in
asserting their rights, which will likely increase conflicts
with outsiders interested in their lands," said Rubem Almeida, a
The federal government says it is strictly following the law
and is taking pains to relocate non-Indian settlers when it
removes them from indigenous territories. Each conflict is
unique and requires a different approach, said Paulo Maldos, a
senior presidential aide who works on social policy.
"The only thing they have in common is the constitution,
which says we must demarcate Indian territory and that land
titles inside indigenous land are null," he said.
"The Indians know where their lands are and are never going
to stop trying to return to them; they have a very special
relationship with the land."
TRIBE TAKES ON WILDCAT MINERS
Take the Munduruku tribe in western Pará, a vast Amazon
state that stretches to Brazil's coast and is more than twice
the size of France.
Their more than 2 million-hectare (4.9 million-acre) slice
of protected rain forest is being encroached on by efforts to
dam the Tapajós river, build new roads for exporting soy and
corn crops, and especially by wildcat miners in search of gold.
The tribe's leaders, who refer to themselves as warriors,
traveled to the capital Brasilia last year to demand that the
federal government remove non-indigenous miners from their
Rather than wait for a court decision to start the process,
which took years for the Xavante and Awá, the Munduruku decided
to take matters into their own hands and expel the wildcat
miners in January.
Miners operating without government licenses independent of
large companies are common in both the Brazilian and Peruvian
Amazon. They are known for using high levels of mercury that
pollute local water sources.
A group of 70 Munduruku were about to dismantle a fifth
wildcat mine by sneaking up on the outposts on boats they said
were supplied by Funai when Reuters visited them in mid-January.
Armed with bows and arrows, they outnumbered the miners and were
able to take over without anyone being hurt - this time.
The Munduruku have not yet decided what to do with the
mining equipment they confiscated.
"The machinery will be idle for a month," Chief Paigomuyatpu
Manhuary said. "After that, the people will decide whether we
close the mine or work the ones in places where the jungle has
already been cleared, for the benefit of the community."
Tribal leaders also plan to resist the construction of the
Teles Pires and Tapajós hydroelectric dams in Mato Grosso and
Pará states. They have previously joined other tribes in
protesting Belo Monte, which will be the world's third-largest
dam and flood large swaths of the Amazon once complete.
The government says indigenous groups are consulted before
energy projects that affect them are built, in accordance with
HIRED HIT MEN
The Munduruku are sometimes called upon to do heavy labor
for the miners, known as garimpeiros, in exchange for food, a
small amount of gold or small sums of money, tribe members told
Reuters. They also fear they may already be the targets of hired
Indians across Brazil say non-indigenous presence in their
territories threatens their safety and unique culture, both of
which are supposedly protected in the constitution. The farm
lobby in Congress wants to amend the constitution to limit the
amount of land that can be reserved for indigenous people.
The constitution, written in 1988 shortly after Brazil
emerged from a military dictatorship, enshrined the Indians'
right to "the lands they traditionally occupy," and said the
state is responsible for "demarcating them, protecting and
ensuring respect of their property."
The Munduruku's fears echo those of the Guarani-Kaiowá
Indians 2,000 km (1,240 miles) away in Mato Grosso do Sul state.
They say they often receive death threats from ranchers and that
they have been denied access to their ancestral territory, which
is also occupied by sugar cane plantations.
The cattle ranchers have argued that they must protect
private property from invading Indians who claim the land as
ancestral. In Mato Grosso do Sul, many ranchers have legitimate
titles on lands that overlap with Indian territory. The
government has said it is trying to buy some of the properties
at the center of the conflict.
Last month, a local court ordered private security firm
Gaspem to be shut done on the grounds it was really a front for
hit men hired by ranchers to kill Indians. Public prosecutors
called Gaspem a "heavily armed group of brutal vigilantes." But
many are skeptical that shutting it down will end the violence.
"The conflict will not end until the government finds a
solution to the Guarani land problem," said Almeida, the
(Writing and additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer in Sao
Paulo; Editing by Todd Benson, Kieran Murray and Jonathan Oatis)