Foreign Policy Blogs

Violence in the hinterlands

As I highlighted in my last post, violent crime is peaking in Brazil’s interior. A disturbing corollary to this trend is the high rate of targeted violence against indigenous communities.

New data compiled by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) for a report on attacks on indigenous peoples underscores the severity of the problem. As well as documenting instances of abuse in tribal areas – including one case of torture in Serra do Padeiro– the report uncovers the extent to which human rights violations against Brazil’s Indians are the product of deep-seated institutional racism.

One clear link between state policy and rights violations can be found in government’s failure to enforce tribal land rights. This inaction has worked to the advantage of rapacious developers – loggers, ranchers and energy firms – and allowed for the forced removal of families and the violent crackdown of dissent. As the 2008 CIMI report, which has been translated into English, notes, “there is a direct relationship between the lack of demarcation of lands and the violence faced by indigenous peoples.”

With Lula and most major candidates vying to succeed him firmly behind the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam – a project opposed by indigenous rights groups and cited by CIMI as a major threat to indigenous communities – future surveys of violence in tribal territories may paint an even bleaker picture.