Brazil's most isolated indigenous tribes face 'annihilation': campaigners

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indigenous tribes in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, who have had little or no contact with the outside world, are facing “annihilation” from illegal loggers, ranchers and miners who want their land, a campaign group said on Tuesday.

Brazil is home to more than 100 “uncontacted” tribes, according to government estimates based on satellite imagery and interviews with neighboring indigenous groups, and their constitutionally enshrined land rights are not being protected, Survival International said.

With Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff facing impeachment and the country gripped by recession, campaigners worry powerful business interests will accelerate the displacement of indigenous groups to access resources on the land they have called home for centuries.

“The indigenous peoples want to protect the land, but they don’t have the firepower to take on the illegal loggers or gunmen hired by ranchers,” Survival International campaigner Fiona Watson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“For uncontacted tribes, annihilation means the destruction of their land and livelihoods... the genocide of uncontacted people is an ongoing situation.”

Her organization is pushing for the Brazilian government to enforce constitutionally protected indigenous land rights ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, a government body responsible for ensuring the rights of indigenous people, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Accounting for less than one percent of Brazil’s population of more than 200 million, indigenous people are disproportionately affected by poverty and malnutrition, a U.N. official said last month.

Watson said the situation was especially grim for uncontacted tribes such as the Kawahiva, whose numbers are thought to have halved to less than three dozen people over the past 30 years.

With no natural resistance to diseases like the flu and measles, they are particularly vulnerable to incursions from the outside, Survival International said.

In the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, indigenous Guarani leaders are being targeted by private militias hired by cattle ranchers who want their land, Watson said.

Communities who have been forced off their ancestral territories often live by highways or in overcrowded reservations, she said.

Since 2005, at least 53 Guarani children have died from starvation, Survival International reported, despite the area being home to vast plantations.

Brazil’s constitution recognizes indigenous land rights, but the government is not adequately protecting them due to a lack of political will and resources, Watson said.