Recent forest fires in the Amazon region (2019) alerted the world to the destruction led by new frontiers of agribusiness and cattle farming. The ‘Fire Day’ (Dia do Fogo), as the coordinated forest fires came to be known, might become a key moment in the Amazon’s recent history. Previous to that, Norway’s and Germany’s withdrawal from the Amazon Fund was an indication of President Bolsonaro’s disdain for the maintenance of biodiversity and the lives of indigenous people. The President’s explicit disdain for nature and minorities is clear, so is his cooperation with agribusiness and cattle farming elites: he got elected by this long-standing bourgeoisie. This article is about how state and capital collide to lead to ethnocide within this context.
Historically in Brazil, deforestation, decreased biodiversities and ethnocide are long-term processes linked to land grabbing through the privatization of the commons: i.e. the act of creating private property areas that are supposed to be of common use. More importantly, these processes are combined with the advancement of economic power in collusion with the state. This article focuses specifically on a massacre of indigenous people by agents of private companies and the continuation of this massacre by state entities through institutions such as the prison system.
‘forced dislocation and confinement of entire indigenous communities through the creation of reserves’
Privatization of the commons, deforestation, reduced biodiversities and ethnocide would be impossible without the support of the state, eg. the March to the West (Marcha para o Oeste). This can be seen as a process of colonization of the Brazilian west and its integration into world production. Moreover, the Service of Protection to Indigenous People (Serviço de Proteção ao Índio) promoted forced dislocation and confinement of entire indigenous communities through the creation of reserves. Both the March to the West and the Service of Protection to Indigenous People created a new type of cheap labour force for the then (1910-1960) agribusiness frontier. As an exporter of commodities to the centres of capitalism, such as Europe and the US, this thus made Latin America dependent on production chains intensive in labour, land and, progressively, pesticides.
To maintain this status, the centres of capitalism are often hypocritical and contradictory. For instance, the Netherlands is a promoter of green and sustainable capitalism (Vergragt 2009). However, as the main importer of soy in Europe, it funds ports and other logistical facilities in Brazil. These processes are facilitated by other transnational corporations (e.g. Bunge and Cargill) that (in)directly provoke land grabbing, deforestation, pesticide use, reduced biodiversity and ethnocide.
‘grassroots struggles on the ground fighting the power of private capital’
Of course, indigenous people, who are strongly affected by these developments, are not simply passive agents of structural oppression. A brief history of the soya global value chains in Mato Grosso do Sul (MS), a Brazilian state impacted by agribusiness production, exemplifies grassroots struggles on the ground fighting the power of private capital and their links to global logistical processes.
Soy production was introduced across Brazil at the end of the 1950s by producers from Southern regions of Brazil after an earlier privatization of lands in Matte Laranjeiras in the late 19th century. Heavy investments enabled the building of logistical support such as highways 163 and 364 to the ports of Santos and Paranaguá (Bonato and Bonato, 1987). By 2010, 80 per cent of Brazilian soy production was directed to these ports via these highways (Correa and Ramos 2010).
In terms of resistance, retomadas (indigenous people taking back their original lands) in Mato Grosso do Sul have shown the power of people’s self-determination. Retomadas often emerge due to people’s frustration over unfulfilled promises of demarcation and the right to access lands. These retomadas are often attacked by private security companies and by the soy companies themselves, frequently with the support of the police apparatus which criminalizes these indigenous struggles, as the example below illustrates.
The Kunumi Poty Verá retomada by the Guarani and Kaiowá people took place on 13 June 2016. Before the retomada, the area used to be called Toro Paso, referring to a fighting bull used to attack people. Such names are not unusual, as the oral history of indigenous people is often permeated with references to cattle and soy production. What is quite worrying in this (and other) cases is that an anthropological report from 2014, Dourados Amambaipeguá I, evaluated this area and deemed it original land of the Guarani and Kaiowá people. An area of 55,600 hectares involving parts of three cities (Caarapó, Amambai and Laguna Caarapã) was legally supposed to be Guarani and Kaiowá land.
The retomada led to an immediate attack on the Guarani and Kaiowá community by local landowners. The attack was organized via WhatsApp messages (Carvalho 2019) amongst landowners the following day (14 June) and encouraged the use of weapons. As the indigenous community had no weapons, the impact of this asymmetric display of power by landowners was catastrophic. Real ammunition, rubber bullets, cars, motorcycles and a skid steer loader were used in the attack. Twelve indigenous people ended up in hospital, two of them with bullet wounds which still remain in their bodies. More dramatically, the Guarani and Kaiowá health worker, Clodiode de Souza, was killed and attackers tried to move his body in a skid steer loader - an explicit demonstration of the dehumanization of indigenous people.
More recently, Clodiode’s father, Leonardo, was put in jail (December, 2018), unfairly indicted as the main perpetrator of the massacre of his own community. He is now literally dying in the jail, arguably due to the negligence of the penal institution/state: he is denied essential medicines for various conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatism and a hernia. He is also worried about the lack of security for his family when visiting him in prison and about his own security. In contrast, none of the landowners were imprisoned as a result of the massacre.
Indigenous people gathered where Clodiodi was killed, shortly after the Caarapó massacre. Photo by Ruy Sposati/Cimi
It is worth mentioning that, since colonization, indigenous communities have often faced ethnocide, sometimes via massacres but often by slower, less direct means. For example, many indigenous peoples have been imprisoned, impoverished and submitted to unacceptable labour conditions. Chemical attacks with pesticides and ‘accidents’ involving indigenous people (e.g. hit and run) are not unusual in indigenous areas (Grigori 2019; Santana 2019; Centro de Estudos Indígenas 2016).
Recently, attempts to lease (arrendamentos) indigenous lands have taken place across Brazil. For example, Constitutional Amendment 187 (Projeto de Emenda Constitucional) aims to change the Brazilian Constitution to make legal the exploitation of the commons and the productive-extractive practices in indigenous lands. The state is once again complicit in this process.
‘indigenous people in Brazil are not passive agents ….but can autonomously recover their dignity through retomadas.’
Returning to the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and the Caarapó massacre, an interesting situation emerged. The COAMO corporation was directly involved in the Caarapó massacre, as the company has close and friendly relations with farmers involved in attacks (Castilho and Carvalho 2019). COAMO’s tactics are now becoming more diversified, with the company settling indigenous lands for soy production (op. cit.). In this regard it is worth repeating the fact that such soy production, being land and water intensive, potentially increases the level of pesticides in the soil and water. With a correlation between cancer and soy production (Andrioli 2008; Chaboussou 2006), this further underlines the dangers for indigenous communities of allowing encroachment into their regions.
Ironically, the Caarapó Massacre happened at the time of the Declaration of Rights by the Organization of American States. This sad coincidence shows the limits of official institutions. Still, indigenous people in Brazil are not passive agents of institutions, soy expansion and the colonial state but can autonomously recover their dignity through retomadas. These are acts of clear resistance, of indigenous people recovering their sense of pride and belonging as part of their livelihoods (traditional practices and beliefs). In response to their situation, the Caarapó community is also making efforts to build a place to pray and to decolonize livelihoods.
If you are interested in supporting these indigenous struggles, please get in contact via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family cries for son killed in massacre. Photo by Ana Mendes/CIMI
Andrioli, A. I., & Fuchs, R. (2008) Transgênicos: as sementes do mal: A silenciosacontaminação de solos e alimentos. Expressão Popular.
Bonato, E. R.; Bonato, A. L. A soja no Brasil: história e estatística. Londrina: EMBRAPA-CNPSo, 1987.
Carvalho, I. Ataque a indígenas em Caarapó, há três anos, foi articulado por WhatApp. Available at: https://deolhonosruralistas.com.br/deolhonoms/2019/06/16/ataque-a-indigenas-em-caarapo-ha-tres-anos-foi-articulado-por-whatsapp/. Accessed in September 2019.
Castilho, A.; Carvalho, I. Marco Antônio Delfino, do MPF: “Há uma cadeia produtiva internacional que se alimenta do sangue indígena”. Available at: https://deolhonosruralistas.com.br/deolhonoms/2019/03/18/marco-antonio-delfino-do-mpf-ha-uma-cadeia-produtiva-internacional-que-se-alimenta-do-sangue-indigena/. Accessed in September 2019.
Centro de Estudos Indígenas. Ataque Químico Contra a Retomada Tey'i Jusu. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQn7SpbVsdQ. Accessed in November 2019.
Chaboussou, F. (2006) Plantas doentes pelo uso de agrotóxicos: novas bases de uma prevenção contra doenças e parasitas; a teoria da trofobiose. Expressão Popular.
Correa, V. H. C.; Ramos, P. A precariedade do transporte rodoviário brasileiro para o escoamento da produção de soja do Centro-Oeste: situação e perspectivas. Rev. Econ. Sociol. Rural [online]. 2010, vol.48, n.2 [cited 2019-08-03], pp.447-472.
Grigori, Pedro. Agrotóxico foi usado “como agente laranja” em comunidades indígenas, diz procurador. Available at: https://apublica.org/2019/08/agrotoxico-foi-usado-como-agente-laranja-em-comunidades-indigenas-diz-procurador/. Accessed in November 2019.
Santana, Renato. Comissão Interamericana emite medidas cautelares e Estado brasileiro deve proteger comunidade Guarani Kaiowá. Available at: https://cimi.org.br/2019/10/comissao-interamericana-solicita-medida-cautelar-ao-estado-brasileiro-em-favor-dos-guarani-kaiowa-da-ti-guyraroka/. Accessed in November 2019.
Vergragt, P. J. (2009) CCS in the Netherlands: glass half empty or half full. Caching the carbon: The politics and policy of carbon capture and storage, 186-210.
 This was a campaign promoted by the then President Getúlio Vargas to promote migration of white people to the Centre-West of Brazil (lands of indigenous people).
Katiuscia Moreno Galhera holds a PhD in political science and a post-doctoral certificate in sociology. She works at aFaculty of Education in Brazil