Brazil land disputes spread as Indians take on wildcat miners

Mon Feb 17, 2014 5:17am EST
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By Lunae Parracho and Caroline Stauffer

JACAREACANGA, Brazil (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.   Continued...

Munduruku Indian warriors stand guard over an illegal gold miner who was detained by a group of warriors searching out illegal gold mines and miners in their territory near the Caburua river, a tributary of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers in western Para state January 20, 2014. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho