Brazilian federal prosecutors launched an investigation this week into the reported murders of ten Indigenous people by miners in the country’s remote Javari Valley. The violence first came to light in early August when FUNAI, Brazil’s federal department of Indigenous affairs, received reports that a group of gold prospectors had been overheard bragging about killing the indigenous persons.
These murders come on the heels of massive funding cuts to FUNAI, carried out by Brazil’s conservative Temer administration as part of nation-wide austerity measures. The department saw its budget slashed by nearly 50 per cent earlier this year, forcing FUNAI to shut down many of its regional offices. The Javari Valley, where the reported killings took place, is a vast reserve home to roughly 20 uncontacted Indigenous tribes; due to these recent budget cuts it is patrolled by only ten government officials.
Legislative attacks on FUNAI have made it easier for illegal prospectors to gain access to Brazil’s Indigenous reserves. The men whose boasts of violence sparked the current investigation had been dredging local rivers for gold. Since late August, the federal government has reportedly shut down four other illegal mining operations in the Javari Valley alone.
This forms part of a broader trend that has sparked protests both within Brazil and abroad: Michel Temer’s embattled administration, facing corruption charges and a flagging economy, has made a concerted effort to court powerful mining corporations. To this end, Temer attempted to cancel the protected status of a vast area of the Amazon rainforest to the north of the country in late August, only to be temporarily blocked by a federal judge. The region, home to several vulnerable Indigenous communities, is thought to contain valuable deposits of gold, nickel, and iron ore.
International observers have decried the lack of protections for Brazil’s substantial Indigenous population, particularly in the wake of this year’s cuts. Earlier this June, a United Nations press release stated that “the rights of Indigenous peoples and environmental rights are under attack in Brazil,” noting that over the past 15 years, no other country has seen more deadly attacks on land defenders, many of whom are Indigenous.
With material from The Guardian and NBC.