Brazil Evicts Non-Indigenous Settlers to Restore Amazon Territories to Original Inhabitants

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In an unprecedented move, Brazil’s government began the process of removing thousands of non-Indigenous people from the Apyterewa and Trincheira Bacaja territories situated in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. This action on Monday, directed by the nation’s intelligence agency ABIN, aims to return these territories in Para state to their original inhabitants. Details of whether the eviction operation has been entirely peaceful have not been clarified.

Surrounding the municipalities of Sao Felix do Xingu, Altamira, Anapu and Senador Jose Porfirio, these territories are currently home to an estimated 10,000 non-Indigenous settlers. Conversely, ABIN reports a meager 2,500 Indigenous people residing in 51 villages within the same territories.

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Underlying the expulsion operation, the ABIN maintains, is the adverse imposition of these foreign settlers on Indigenous lands. “The presence of strangers threatens the integrity of the Indigenous populace and incites other damages, such as forest destruction,” the agency asserted. It also revealed an estimated 1,600 families living illegally in the region, with some engaged in unlawful activities like cattle rearing and gold mining, thus deteriorating native vegetation.

The most deforestation within Indigenous lands in Brazil over the past four years has occurred within the Apyterewa territory. Images from September that surfaced on local and social media platforms spotlighted a newly constructed town, encased deep within Parakana lands, accommodating hundreds of non-Indigenous settlers.

In concerted effort this Monday, Brazil’s Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, environment protection agency IBAMA, the federal police, and armed forces, amongst several others, joined forces for this operation. These orchestrated efforts mark a stark contrast from the previous right-wing administration, led by former President Jair Bolsonaro, which noticeably trivialized Indigenous land rights protection.

Another distinct demonstration of this renewed commitment to Indigenous rights protection is exhibited by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Since the inception of his term, President Silva not only revitalized environmental protection agencies but has also established eight protected areas specifically for the Indigenous populace. His government, notably, also drove away thousands of illegal gold miners from the expansive Yanomami Indigenous territory within the northern state of Roraima.

This year, land encroachers within the Alto Rio Guama territory also faced expulsion by state and federal authorities. With the threat of forcible expulsion and elimination of illegal installations and access roads, most unauthorized settlers departed voluntarily.

This ongoing issue of Indigenous land rights reached a critical juncture earlier this week when Brazil’s top court refused to acknowledge a state-backed suit seeking to prevent Indigenous groups from expanding their territories. The Santa Catarina state’s argument to set the deadline for establishing Indigenous land rights as October 5, 1988 — the date Brazil’s Constitution was promulgated — was shot down. This decision by nine out of eleven of the Supreme Court justices is expected to have far-reaching implications for Indigenous territories across the nation.