Indigenous protest over COVID-19 continues on Brazilian grain highway

NOVO PROGRESSO, Brazil (Reuters) - Indigenous protesters blocked a key Brazilian grain highway again on Tuesday evening after a six-hour pause to allow a long line of trucks carrying corn to pass, and plan to stay there for another 24 hours before obeying a court order to leave.

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The Kayapo tribe said in a statement that the federal government had failed to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed four of their elders, and has not consulted them on a plan to build a railway next to their land.

“We are tired of unkept promises,” the tribe said.

Kayapo men carrying wooden weapons and wearing warrior body paint and headdresses of bird feathers on Monday blocked the BR-163 highway in center-west Brazil with tires and wooden planks, jamming up loaded trucks for 3 kilometers (2 miles).

The BR-163 links towns in the nation’s biggest farm state Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba, an important export river gateway in Pará state. With the soy season almost over, the main grain transported on the road at present is corn.

A judge issued a ruling on Monday ordering the demonstrators to unblock the road in the region of Novo Progresso, southern Pará state. Tribal leaders at the roadblock said they would continue blocking the highway for another 24 hours until the court order for their eviction comes into force on Wednesday.

The tribe’s grievances include the building of the so-called Ferrogrão railway, set to cross part of the Amazon to connect the grain-producing Mato Grosso state to river ports for soy and corn.

The railway will run parallel to the BR-163 highway, which has become an important route for exporting grains to the river ports for transshipment on to larger ships on the Amazon river.

The Kayapo, who live on the adjacent Menkragnoti e Baú indigenous reservations, claim the road has brought illness to their people and are seeking owed reparation money.

The tribe said the government’s indigenous affairs agency Funai had not helped them deal with the pandemic or expel illegal loggers and gold miners from their land, 6.5 million hectares (25,100 square miles) that include the last extensive rainforest still standing in the eastern Amazon.

Funai did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Reporting by Lucas Landau; writing by Anthony Boadle; editing by Richard Pullin