In November 2019, the Tupinambá learned that the Brazilian Tourism Institute (Embratur) was lobbying on behalf of a Portuguese hotel company, asking the Ministry of Justice to cancel the demarcation process of the Tupinambá de Olivença Indigenous Land. Embratur sought to facilitate construction of a resort by the Vila Galé group in the municipality of Una. Conflicts over the demarcation of the Indigenous Land have been continuing for nearly two decades. The National Indian Foundation (Funai) began the process in 2004 and, in 2009, published the Circumstantiated Identification and Delimitation Report (RCID). Since 2012, the Tupinambá have been waiting for the declaratory order for the area to be signed. As soon as the demarcation began, local ranchers and other individuals and groups opposing the Tupinambá, hired gunmen and financed smear campaigns.
Since the Tupinambá began to retake the lands in 2004, the police and paramilitary groups committed a series of violent acts, including the torture and arrest of Tupinambá leaders. In October 2008, a Federal Police operation left 14 indigenous people dead, and destroyed school vehicles, houses, furniture, documents, school files and crops. In June 2009, 5 Indigenous people were tortured by members of the Federal Police. Examinations by the Instituto Médico Legal [Legal Medical Institute] identified marks from electric shocks, which suggested the use of “cruel methods”. According to reports by Glicéria Tupinambá, Indigenous people also had their clothes burned and they were tied up and thrown on ant hills.
In 2010, Glicéria Tupinambá (Glicéria Jesus da Silva), Chief Babau (Rosivaldo Ferreira da Silva) and Gil Tupinambá (Givaldo Ferreira da Silva) were arrested. The arrest of Glicéria, Babau’s sister, was particularly serious, because she was incarcerated with her two-month-old son, and got sick in jail. A similar thing happened to cacique [chief] Maria Valdelice Amaral de Jesus, who was arrested in 2011 and accused of forming a criminal organization. Relatives of the chief complained at the time that her health was threatened, since she was prevented from taking her medicine with her, even though she had hypertension.
In 2013, there were a series of attacks against the Tupinambá in in the rural and urban portions of Buerarema. Houses and personal belongings of Indigenous people in the urban portion of the municipality were burned. In the village of Serra do Padeiro, a school vehicle was ambushed with gunshots. Another school vehicle was burned at night. According to reports by Indigenous people, the owner of a transportation company was constantly being threatened, including on the local radio news of the Rádio Jornal de Itabuna. He was threatened with further vehicle burnings if he didn’t stop working for the Indigenous people.
According to Glicéria, in March 2014 the Tupinambá were surrounded by the Federal Police and other security forces, and were even buzzed by helicopters. When this happened, participants in social movements and traditional community representatives who were gathered for the Cabruca and Mata Atlântica Peoples’ March, went to the village to support the struggle. This strategy is seen in the region in cases of large-scale attacks, which demonstrates the creation of mutual bonds and strategies for the struggle.
Since 2012, the demarcation process has shown no sign of progress, while, the threats, attacks and defamations have intensified.
Another violent tactic employed against demarcation is the use of the media to defame and invalidate the identity of the Tupinambá. The idea that they are “fake Indians” has been promoted by local newspapers, such as A Região and Agora, by blogs, by the Rádio Jornal de Itabuna radio station, and even by national television stations such as Bandeirantes. These sources have even been the platforms for threats against Indigenous people. They constantly call the Tupinambá “supposed Indians” or “fake Indians”. When they refer to them as Indigenous people, they almost always use quotation marks, to reinforce language that invalidates them as a people. This linguistic tool directly serves the interests of local political and judicial representatives, such as Judge Antonio Hygino, of the Buerarema district, who was responsible for the 2010 arrest order for Glicéria. In interviews, the judge has referred to the Tupinambá as “people who call themselves Indians.”
Cacique Babau is one of the main targets of this racist discourse, which denies his Indigenous identity. One of the newspaper articles analyzed, accused him of being, “a caboclo [person of mixed-race] without any Indigenous descent who simply declared himself to be an Indian.” In addition, as we have seen, he is also constantly persecuted and criminalized. In his case, the aggressive defamation is not limited to local newspapers, but also appears in larger publications, such as Época magazine. In 2009 it called him “Tupinanmbá Lampião [after a famous Brazilian outlaw], and wrote an article with violent and racist discourse that defamed the cacique. In 2019, Cacique Babau was once again the victim of persecution, and a plan to murder some of his relatives was uncovered.
This history reveals the combined efforts of individuals, the media, government agents, security forces and paramilitary groups to violate the Tupinambá people’s rights. The media delegitimizes their identity and promotes a discourse that criminalizes Indigenous people, creating a bad image of them and fomenting conflict. These arguments to invalidate the demarcation of the Tupinambá de Olivença Indigenous Land serve private interests, including those of companies like Vila Galé. The hotel chain, in an official statement, said that the Indigenous people had only “turned up” in the area after the project became known. The document also said, “Despite this, (Vida Galé) has been the target of those who embrace media causes, which only appear to be just, and use falsehoods, without making even a minimal effort to obtain the real facts.”
In response to the mobilization by Indigenous peoples to denounce the criminal actions of the Vila Galé group (for example writing a denunciation letter) the resort project was cancelled. However, the company said it was moving ahead with other projects in the region. The demarcation process also remains paralyzed.
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