Brazil land disputes spread as Indians take on wildcat miners – by Lunae Parracho and Caroline Stauffer (Reuters India – February 14, 2014)

JACAREACANGA, Brazil – Feb 17 (Reuters) – 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 Amazon.

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. [ ]

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 Firth.

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 development.

“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 Brazilian anthropologist.

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.”


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.

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