Death threats against indigenous leader
It is still dangerous to defend Brazil's forests (Press Release)
The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) is deeply concerned about recent death threats against Leila Rocha. The leader of the Guarani Kaiowá has been trying to fend off attacks by agricultural companies in Japorã in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. "There, large agricultural corporations are growing soy, corn, sugar cane, and eucalyptus in monoculture, using massive amounts of pesticides and more and more land," stated Regina Sonk, STP expert on indigenous peoples. "One of the main drivers of the destruction of the environment and the livelihood of the indigenous peoples is extensive cattle farming." As shown by the increasing attacks against indigenous leaders, anyone who dares to oppose this development is in immediate danger.
Leila Rocha has made it her life's work to try and ensure that the traditional settlement area of the Guarani Kaiowá will be officially recognized as an indigenous territory. It was already demarcated during the term of office of President Dilma Rousseff. "However, the Bolsonaro administration managed to inhibit the last step of the process, the so-called homologação, in 2019," Sonk added. "Since then, the Guarani Kaiowá have been trying to avoid being displaced by the soy barons and the police forces. With their territory, they are defending the last intact forests and rivers in the region."
Brazil's indigenous communities are being harassed by a government that is openly discriminating against indigenous communities, thus encouraging large agricultural companies to take their land and common properties. At the same time, we see an increase in violence and impunity. "The international public can help protect people such as Leila Rocha. Local leaders like her are crucially important for Brazil's indigenous movement. They put themselves in danger by calling out the aggressors," Sonk emphasized. "The indigenous communities have a right to fight for their territories. There are several international treaties and national laws in this regard. Still, they live in constant fear for their lives."
This is part of a strategy that the Bolsonaro administration has been following since the beginning of his term of office: "Authorities that were supposed to protect the environment and the indigenous peoples are disempowered, land rights are denied, environmental crimes and crimes against indigenous peoples are not prosecuted," Sonk added. "This encourages the perpetrators, leading to an increase in attacks and harassment." All available data show this trend. According to a report by the church organization CIMI, 40 indigenous people were murdered in Mato Grosso do Sul in 2019 alone, and there were many acts of violence, also against children. Most of the attacks in the region can be traced back to the agricultural industry. In another part of the country, armed miners recently attacked the Munduruku community, destroying the office of the indigenous women's organization Munduruku Wakoborun – and a group of armed gold miners, who were also said to be involved in drug trafficking, attacked the Yanomami community in May.