Increasing loss of Indigenous lives and exponential loss of protection of the Brazilian Amazon

a fire in the province of Porto Velho, Rondonia, Brazil. Most fires are caused by arson, blamed on land-grabbers, farmers and agribusiness companies who turn the forest into soya fields and cattle pastures. [Fabio Bucciarelli/Al Jazeera]

In the last few years great fires have increasingly continued to ravage the Amazon, there are vast areas of the Brazilian Amazon and Peruvian Amazon that have experienced such great fires and it is not clear if they are natural or if they have been started by mining or petroleum or agrobusiness companies. As an increasing number of fires are man-made to illegally penetrate areas for building roads for prospecting  natural resources or in some cases by  people who are looking to mine gold.  In 2019 and 2020,  fires had increased by 84 percent compared to 2018 according to the National Institute of Space Research.  

Intrusions into indigenous territories have also increased, according to members of the Karitiana and the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribes. Juripe, chief of the Jamari village, said, a group of land-grabbers caught setting fires in their forest was identified and arrested. “Although the indigenous tribes are the only ones able to live in the natural reserves, loggers and land grabbers have regularly invaded our lands to make profit with the exploitation of the forest,” said Juripe.

There has been a long history in the fight for the protection of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and hundreds of  indigenous environmental protectors are increasingly losing their lives in this escalating bloody conflict for the protection of their ancestral lands and land rights. Brazil has the highest number of land activists killed in the world, in 2017, 33 indigenous activists were killed,  49 murders declared in  2016, and 32 in 2013, according to Global Witness.

In recent years , a great loss of life  has been suffered in the Guajajara indigenous community of Brazil, Jorginho Guajajara, a leader chief, was found dead near a river in the city of Arame, Maranhão state, in 2018. His death was the result of critical conflict escalated by the invasion of loggers into their land. Over 80 Guajajaras have been killed in their territories since 2000.

Jorginho’s body was found by a stream, a place where many Guajajaras are found after being murdered by loggers or people connected to them. Vice-presidential candidate for the Socialism and Freedom party, Sônia Guajajara, is an indigenous activist from the Araribóia reserve, said:

Our people are dying on their land. This was not an isolated case, but part of an ongoing genocide. Maranhão is a state with a high rate of indigenous conflicts. The loggers enter our territories to exploit our natural resources, and the violence escalates. Many leaders are being threatened by these invaders and we urgently need to end this situation; we do not want to lose any more relatives who fight and protect our Mother Earth.


Since indigenous tribes who are victims of this type of conflict do not receive government protection, Jorginho Guajajara worked with a group called the Guardians of the Amazon, who use direct action to reduce illegal logging in the Araeibóia reserve in Maranhão state: tying up loggers, burning their trucks and tractors, and kicking them off the reserves. These Forest Guardians say they defend the forest for their families and for the uncontacted Awá people who live in the same territory.

The Brazilian government has not yet taken any legal action to protect or investigate these crimes against the persecution of the Guajajara and they need to take action as soon as possible as the situation has become critical and the small community of uncontacted Awá people face imminent danger not only of being attacked by hostile loggers but also of being wiped out as a result if they came into contact with loggers gold miners or oil companies that were interested in exploiting their area, since they have no immunity resistance to viruses like measles or flu and diseases, which is why they are extremely vulnerable and in need of better legal protection. The government of Brazil however continue to ignore constant persecution of 900,000 indigenous forest people and their  ancestral territories in the Amazon.

In 2017 there was a massacre of up to 10 people from an isolated tribe in the Amazon by illegal gold miners. The killings,  took place in the Javari Valley, carried out by men working for gold prospectors who were illegally prospecting for gold in the region’s rivers. The Brazilian indigenous organization called Funai has been campaigning for  the government to increase the protection of 103 tribes of non-contacted indigenous people across the country, as well as recently contacted groups. According to Funai around 20 isolated groups are believed to live in the Javari Valley, where around 80 recently contacted indigenous people also live.


This area is subject to intense deforestation, and according to government data, 70% of the biome in the state has already been cleared. During the past 100 years almost all indigenous territories have been invaded by loggers, oil companies, mining companies and have had their land stolen from them and turned into vast, oil drilling fields or soya fields, sugar cane plantations or deforested areas for cattle ranches. Many communities are crammed into overcrowded reserves, and others live under tarpaulins by the side of highways.

According to Survival International, Brazil is where the most uncontacted people live than anywhere else in the Amazon. It is now thought that approximately 80 such groups live in the Rainforest. Some number several hundred and live in remote border areas in Acre state and in protected territories such as the Vale do Javari, on the border with Peru. Others are scattered fragments, the survivors of tribes virtually wiped out by the impacts of the rubber boom and expanding agriculture in the last century. Many, such as the nomadic Kawahiva, who number a few dozen, are constantly fleeing loggers and ranchers invading their land.

Since 1988, an area larger than Germany has been deforested in Brazil’s Amazon, according to government data. In a study published in the journal Conservation Biology showed that between the years 1981 and 2012 , 93 changes in Protected Areas ( PAs ) in 16 Brazilian states,  resulted in the reduction and  the loss of legal protection of 5.2 million acres. According to a researcher at the Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon ), Elis Araújo , coauthor of the study,  Araújo says that these data reflect a change in the reduction of Protected Areas policy in Brazilian Government  in recent years because of generation capacity or transmission of energy.

After decades of land grabbing mineral and oil drillers, illegal loggers, soy plantations and cattle ranching, the rate of deforestation has reached more than 29 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, according to Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE).

At this rate, environmentalists say the government will not be able to meet its goal of net zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030.

In contrast, Luciano Evaristo, a senior official of environmental enforcement agency (IBAMA) says that  Forests controlled by indigenous people, are among the best protected in Brazil.



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