São Paulo, Brazil – At least six people have been killed in a series of terrible conflicts in the Amazon in Brazil, fueling fears of a surge in violence in the region under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
In two weeks, between late March and early April, three separate attacks were recorded. two at Para and one in the states of Amazonas. Two police investigations are in progress and the death toll may be higher.
Bolsonaro was elected last year with the overwhelming support of Brazil's powerful agricultural lobby. Since taking office, the president has reduced the protections afforded to indigenous forests and lands and sought to remove power from agencies for the environment.
Observers fear that these measures, coupled with the President's pro-armed and anti-indigenous rhetoric, will encourage unscrupulous farmers, loggers and land grabbers in an area of impunity and conflict.
"We expect an intense wave of violence in the beginning [of his term] and I think it will be a growing model, "said Jean Bellini, national coordinator of the Brazilian Pastoral Lands Commission (CPT), a monitoring body for rural violence.
During the latest attack, according to police reports seen by Al Jazeera, six armed hooded men stormed a squatted rural property in Senador Jose Porfirio, Para, firing on a house with a family at the time. ; inside.
An occupant fought back, killing one of the gunmen and injuring another, whose corpse was found decaying a few days later. A teenager and a couple who were inside the house were injured and taken to the hospital.
One of the dead was 54-year-old military police sergeant Valdenilson Rodrigues. Police investigations suggest that the group intended to carry out a violent deportation and that Rodrigues was acting like an armed man.
For the rural areas of Para and other remote areas of Brazil, police working as armed mercenaries on behalf of landowners or land grabbers is a decades-old problem.
In 2017, two Amazon massacres – the two most significant in recent years – involved former or active police officers clearing land and property.
Recently, police militias have also ensured the security of private construction and mining projects. In 2016, a group of military police provided unlawful private security to an Australian mining company in Para.
"These groups are using state equipment and knowledge for private security at the expense of the people," said Armando Brasil, a military prosecutor charged with investigating the police's actions.
Targeted environmental activists
Terrestrial violence has been rife for a long time in the resource-rich Amazon region, home to the world's last great rainforest. Deforestation has also reached its highest level in 10 years in 2018.
It's one of the deadliest places in the world for environmental activists. The last decades have been marked by high-profile assassinations, Chico Mendes, Sister Dorothy Stang and Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva.
The number of murders resulting from land disputes in Brazil has increased and then steadily increased compared to 2015, when Brazil fell into a political and economic crisis.
According to the CPT, 70 land and resource murders were committed in 2017 in Brazil, the majority in the Amazon states and the highest since 2003.
According to the CPT's annual report on violence in rural areas published today, this number has decreased considerably in 2018, reaching 25 murders, including 15 in Para.
However, Bellini, the CPT's national coordinator, noted a slight increase in the number of murdered leaders, as well as court-ordered evictions of land.
Up to now, in 2019, according to the CPT's methodology, there have been at least 10 killings, not counting the two armed men killed in Para.
At the end of March, hooded gunmen arrived at a rural camp in Sao Domingos, on the border of the Amazonian states of Acre, Rondania and Amazonas.
According to a police report, the gunmen killed Nemes Machado de Oliveira, 53 years old. Residents told the police that they had been deported by people suspected of being in the war and that houses had been burned.
The Amazonia Real website reported that four people had been killed, their bodies still missing. The site also indicated that residents did not have a land title and that they had purchased it after receiving false documents.
Vulnerable small farmers
In the Brazilian Amazon as a whole, many small farmers do not have title deeds, which is largely due to a chaotic mass colonization process that began in the 1970s and subsequent occupations of the land. Earth.
According to Brenda Brito, researcher at the NGO Imazon and expert on land seizures in the Amazon, this makes them vulnerable to land grabbers.
"In the landless areas, powerful groups feel that they can come in and take ownership of the land," she said.
Alan Rick, member of the Congress of Right-wing Democrats, Member of Parliament, and ally with President Bolsonaro, denounced violence in the lower house and met with Brazilian Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, a controversial .
Brazil's land reform was suspended indefinitely in March, marking the end of the creation of new rural settlements for landless farmers.
The Bolsonaro land secretary, Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, is the former president of the Union of Democratic Farmers (UDR), who had previously been accused of having organized rural militias to clear land. land.
In late March, in Tucurui, Para, police arrested a farmer in connection with the murder of 53-year-old social movement leader Dilma Silva, who had already fought the construction of a nearby hydroelectric dam.
Two of her colleagues were also killed at the same time in the rural settlement where she lived.
A police report said Fernando Rosa Filho had ordered the murder because he wanted the ground to build a clandestine airstrip in which to use drug trafficking.
The G1 website said that it had also ordered the killing of three rural workers who had the intention of bringing him to justice for an unpaid labor debt. His lawyer denies all charges.
During the same period, alleged land grabbers reportedly returned to Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau indigenous territory in the state of Rondonia after being expelled by tribal members in January.
The invaders told the natives that they would come back and in the same month, the Brazilian prosecutor's office urged that measures be taken to protect the territory and three other indigenous lands.
Ivaneide Bandeira, coordinator of Kaninde, an NGO working closely with Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, told Al Jazeera that a large number of land grabbers had returned.