RIO DE JANEIRO, – Brazil’s top court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into how tracts of stolen land in the Amazon rainforest inhabited by indigenous tribes came to be put up for sale on Facebook.
Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso was responding to a lawsuit filed by charities and opposition parties that accused the Brazilian government of failing to protect indigenous peoples from the coronavirus.
In his ruling, he said some of the areas advertised for sale on Marketplace, Facebook’s classified ad space, belonged to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people, who had been exposed to the disease by illegal land-grabbers and left in a “critical situation”.
An undercover investigation by the BBC last month found dozens of plots of land in the Amazon occupied by indigenous groups advertised on the site. Many had been deforested.
Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Last week the tech firm told the BBC it was “ready to work with local authorities” on the issue.
“The decision is based on a documentary broadcast by BBC News last week, which denounced the use of Facebook for advertising and marketing land in the Amazon,” said the Supreme Court in a statement.
Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon surged to a 12-year high in 2020, according to government data published in November.
Environmentalists say Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened conservation efforts and raised hopes that new laws would legalise the claims of land-grabbers.
“Invasions and land-grabbing only happen because of impunity,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, from the Association of Ethno-Environmental Protection Kaninde, a non-profit organisation that assists the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau.
“So this decision from Barroso gives us hope that something will change, that the law will work.”
Barroso said the investigation should not be restricted to the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, but should also cover “all other indigenous lands”.
SAO PAULO, – An Amazon indigenous group that earlier turned away a planned hydroelectric dam is now battling a surge of illegal gold mining in its territory during the COVID-19 pandemic, a tribal activist said.
The Sawré Muybu territory of the Munduruku indigenous people, in Brazil’s Pará state, has not been fully recognized as an indigenous reserve by Brazil’s government – one reason it is particularly vulnerable, she said.
But indigenous leaders say they have organized to try to expel those mining and logging the land, even as government officials have said they believe there is indigenous interest in mining going ahead.
Alessandra Munduruku, a law student at the Federal University of Western Pará, in the Amazon city of Santarém, and a leader of the Munduruku people, said a group of indigenous women managed to expel loggers from one village along the Jamanxim River last year.
But in late August fire destroyed part of Karo Ebak, a rural cultivation area along the river, she said, ruining houses and sheds that served as meeting points for the Munduruku community.
“We have been denouncing (the invasions) for a long time, and nobody has done anything,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The office of Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service said it had received the complaint and had launched an investigation at the Itaituba Attorney’s Office but noted “we cannot give more details because the investigation has just started”.
The latest damage comes a few weeks after Ricardo Salles, Brazil’s environment minister, visited the municipality of Jacareacanga, one of the cities – along with Santarém, Itaituba, and Trairão – that edge the area where the Munduruku people live.
On August 5, Salles accompanied an operation by environmental protection agencies against illegal mining on Munduruku indigenous land, and met with a small group of indigenous residents in favor of mining.
In a video published online of Salles talking with indigenous mining supporters, one complains about the destruction of mining equipment.
After the meeting, the Ministry of Defense stopped operations against illegal mining in the area, though the ministry press office said they were resumed a day later.
Brazil’s Federal Prosecution Service, however, last week appealed for the country’s Federal Court to require the government to urgently resume operations against illegal mining in Munduruku land, saying damage was ongoing.
“The situation is so serious that … if the rate of invasion observed since the beginning of 2020 continues without interruption, it is possible that the situation will collapse and become irreversible,” the service said in a press release.
The Ministry of Environment did not respond to repeated requests for its position on mining in indigenous territories and on Munduruku land.
Alessandra Munduruku said those in favor of mining did not represent the majority view of indigenous people in Munduruku territory.
“The minister says that he negotiated with the indigenous people. How can you say that, if we are almost 14,000 and he spoke with only a half dozen?” she asked.
A group of 18 Munduruku indigenous chiefs subsequently sent a letter to the Federal Prosecution Service saying they rejected gold mining in their territory, she said.
Luísa Molina, an anthropologist and researcher in the Sawré Muybu territory, said Salles’ trip to Jacareacanga suggested the government is “trying any way to regularize mining on indigenous land”.
Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has promoted plans to introduce or expand mining and farming in protected and indigenous land in the Amazon region, human rights defenders say.
Maurício Torres a geography professor at the Federal University of Pará, called the weakening of environmental inspections under the Bolsonaro government “a huge incentive for the looting of indigenous lands”.
He said rising gold prices, linked to economic downturns and stock market instability, had helped drive invasions of indigenous land by gold miners.
The Sawré Muybu indigenous land, which covers about 178,000 hectares (440,000 acres) in the Tapajós River basin is recognized as indigenous territory by the government but has not been officially demarcated, which means it does not have legal protection as a reserve exclusively for indigenous people.
In particular “mega projects like the São Luiz do Tapajós plant, which would directly affect the Sawré Muybu indigenous land,” were turned away, Molina said.
The project would have caused “monumental damage” to the Munduruku reserve, including destroying some of its sacred sites, she said.
Efforts to build the plant were suspended after the federal indigenous affairs agency called the project “impractical” due to its large-scale impact on Munduruku territory.
Munduruku people had protested the project for years, traveling to the capital Brasilia for government meetings and drawing national and international attention to the impact the project would have on their land.
But efforts to build hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós river basin continue.
In late May, the Brazilian government extended until the end of 2021 a deadline for studies on building three other hydroelectric dams in the Tapajós basin.
As well as hydroelectric plants, government and private investors are also planning other projects in the region, including a port on the Middle Tapajós River, agribusiness expansion and a railroad line to export soy from Mato Grosso state.
The government “has a series of projects (and) logistical and transport plans which are articulated, and are linked to large miners’ interest,” Molina said.
Alessandra Munduruku said her people should have the right to a say about proposed changes to the land that has been theirs for generations.
“What is a democracy like if you don’t have the right to express your opinion about the territory, the river, the forest?” she asked.
BOGOTA,- Ruben Garcia not long ago had small herds of cattle and fields bursting with crops, and now the indigenous farmer in northern Nicaragua lies awake worrying how long it will be before he and his neighbors run out of food.
The wooden homes and tiny farms of the indigenous Miskito community stood little chance against the sustained winds of 150 mph as Hurricane Eta barreled along the Caribbean coast earlier this month.
The subsistence farmers in one of Nicaragua’s poorest areas will have little to eat in the wake of one of the most powerful storms to hit Central America in years, said Garcia, an indigenous leader.
“My community is totally devastated. We’ve lost everything,” Garcia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone near Nicaragua’s port city of Puerto Cabezas.
“I once had a house. It’s destroyed. We never imagined that we would become homeless overnight. I’ve lost my plantain and rice crops. We’re searching for cattle, the ones we find either dead or injured,” said Ruben, a father of three.
The storm hit just as the rice harvest was underway, leaving fields covered with mud and choked with fallen palm and coconut trees and branches, Garcia said. Crops in other fields were flooded.
Normally self-sufficient, “now we have to rely on food aid,” he said. “We have about 10 days left of food and then what? It’s a critical situation. It will take months for us to recover.”
Government food aid arrived within three days but has already run out in the villages that are home to about 1,000 indigenous people, Garcia said.
The priority of aid groups is getting drinking water and food to communities cut off by blocked roads and landslides, said Cairo Jarquin, an aid worker with charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
“The next phase is ensuring food security. Crops losses are severe. Almost total. Whole farming areas are affected,” said Jarquin, CRS’s emergency response project manager in Nicaragua.
Across Central America, Storm Eta’s winds and flooding have killed at least 150 people, with another 2.5 million people affected in some way, such as losing their homes, businesses and crops, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency (OCHA).
About 70,000 people are living in temporary shelters.
Hardest hit are indigenous and rural communities in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“People’s homes and livelihoods have been left in tatters,” said Moises Gonzalez, Latin America and the Caribbean representative for charity Christian Aid.
“Long-term, the impact on incomes will be significant, as many have lost the bulk of their crops and especially as the coffee harvest is due to start this month,” said Gonzalez, based in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.
From rural communities to the urban poor, Central America already is suffering from the economic fallout of COVID-19, making recovery from the hurricane even harder.
“People have lost jobs, businesses are struggling,” said Felipe del Cid, Americas manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “As a result, families are experiencing a drastic reduction in their income and savings.
“The damage caused by Eta threatens to tip them further over the edge.”
In recent years, food shortages caused by extreme weather like hurricanes and prolonged droughts, exacerbated by climate change, have forced people from their homes and fueled migration in and outside of Central America, including to the United States.
“We also cannot ignore the impact this storm will have on displacement and migration in the region,” del Cid said.
“History shows us that disasters are likely to exacerbate displacement, caused by the loss of housing and the impact on unemployment,” he said.
Across Latin America and the Caribbean, 3.4 million people last year faced severe food insecurity, meaning they were unable to meet their daily basic food needs, according to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).
That number could quadruple to nearly 14 million people this year due in large part to COVID-19, the WFP has said.
As I look across the horizon, I can see the hills run for miles and miles. Focusing on the sky and becoming entranced in the different colors of the sunset, along with the stars beginning to shine as the day comes to an end, I sit here and listen to the different sounds, taking in the beauty that surrounds me.
It is at this moment when I find myself at peace, when I acknowledge the energies around me and try to center myself between spirituality and reality. This balance is how I grew my passion for environmental justice.
I grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation and my indigeneity is what helped me to identify the connection between me and Uŋčí Makȟa (Mother Earth). I never fully recognized how different Indigenous beliefs toward the environment are compared to how non-natives view the environment.
Indigenous cultures revolve around this idea of equality with the Earth and can notice the different energies within every living thing on a spiritual level. We have lived off the land for generations and come to see it as equal to us. This connection is something that I believe to be unique to Indigenous peoples.
On the other hand, non-native peoples seem to have a physical sense of the Earth being important for every life form and understand the need to take care of it but lack the emotional and spiritual sense of importance that the Earth holds.
Now with environmental justice comes the understanding of the land, specifically the unpleasant history of it. In the United States, this history is particularly important because of how the government took the land from the people who were occupying it in the first place.
Historically, those who are not people of color have treated the environment as an object to gain profit from and have forced Indigenous peoples off their land in order to gain a sense of power and control. Ironically, in modern times, those who are not people of color have been seeking guidance from Indigenous peoples, whom their ancestors ridiculed for their culture, to understand the land that their ancestors stole.
This history is what has created my distrust of some of the people in power who claim to support environmentalism, but who will also support the oil industry and other large corporations. These people will put money over the environment if given the opportunity to do so. The land is seen as expendable, but in reality the land has lived and will continue to live without us. It is we who are expendable to the land, not the other way around.
I believe that gaining that spiritual sense of the environment is what would put others into that mindset of how to take care of yourself and take care of the world around you. This mindset is one that is difficult to fully understand, because people tend to put the environment over their own well-being or vice versa.
In reality, you need to be able to find that balance between your passion for environmental justice and your own mental health, because they both work within each other. Scientifically, the Earth is very similar to how the body works, meaning that your physical, mental and emotional well-being is like a smaller version of our environment. If you aren’t able to take care of your own mental, emotional and physical self, then how do you expect to successfully take care of the planet?
When I realized how my personal well-being and my passion for the environment connected to one another, I learned to find that balance between them. On the days my mental health is at a low, I tend to do anything that involves going outside and being alone because at these moments I can think clearly.
Most times I pray; other times I just rant to the world around me, because I know that Uŋčí Makȟa is listening to me. I look out to the world and I feel a sense of protection from her. As she listens to me, I listen to her. The heartbeat of the Earth goes unnoticed, but once your body, mind and spirit intertwine with hers, it’s a beautiful sound that you’ll never forget.
SAO PAULO, Brazil — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, Catholic organizations have warned that protective measures should be taken to keep the virus away from the country’s Indigenous population — or the consequences would be disastrous.
The surge in the number of cases among Indigenous since the end of May appears to demonstrate that the worst has happened.
With at least 367,180 cases of infection and 12,685 deaths, the Amazonian region is one of the epicenters of Brazil’s COVID-19 pandemic. The disease is not only impacting large cities such as Manaus and Belém but has also infiltrated many communities in the countryside, including the villages of traditional peoples that live in the rainforest.
The coronavirus has infected at least 6,626 members of Indigenous groups in the region and killed 157 of them. In the whole country, there are at least 9,500 cases involving Indigenous persons, with about 380 deaths, according to the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.
The spread of COVID-19 among Indigenous groups reflects a general lack of governmental protection of their rights, said Antônio Cerqueira de Oliveira, executive secretary of the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council (known by its Portuguese acronym CIMI).
“In previous administrations, Indigenous rights were not fully secure … but at least there was some kind of dialogue with those peoples,” Oliveira told NCR. “President Jair Bolsonaro has closed all doors and established an anti-Indigenous policy.”
Since his 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the policy of establishing land reservations for Indigenous groups that are able to prove their historic ties with the territory they are claiming. Although it’s mandated by the constitution, Bolsonaro has claimed that Indigenous peoples already have too much land in Brazil, and promised that he wouldn’t grant any new territory to them.
At the same time, Bolsonaro has declared on various occasions that he would loosen the environmental and legal restrictions for economic activities in the country — especially in the Amazon.
Since he took office in January 2019, there has been an intensification of land invasions and destruction of the rainforest, perpetrated by illegal loggers and miners and by ranchers who want to expand their farming areas. The process often involves violence against Amazonian laborers and Indigenous.
Bolsonaro has also downplayed the severity of COVID-19, even as Brazil has the second-highest number of cases, nearly 1.7 million as of July 8, after the U.S. He tested positive for the disease July 6.
“With the pandemic, the already insufficient number of monitoring agents in the Amazon almost disappeared and invasions quickly increased,” said Oliveira. “The intruders are not only destroying the forest and threatening the Indigenous peoples, but they’re also taking the virus with them.”
Porto Velho Archbishop Roque Paloschi, CIMI’s president, said that wildfires set by invaders also have the potential to increase the dissemination of respiratory diseases. “The removal of such intruders from the Indigenous lands is urgent,” he told NCR.
But the governmental agency for Indigenous affairs, the National Indian Foundation, seems to be going in the wrong direction. According to Oliveira, the foundation has removed its agents from Indigenous lands that are awaiting official recognition from the government, leaving many peoples unassisted.
The protection for isolated Indigenous groups — which live in the rainforest and avoid any contact with non-Indigenous people — has also been severely weakened, said Oliveira. “The doors are wide open for invaders,” he said.
Catholic missionaries — at least the ones connected to CIMI — stopped visiting the rural villages at the beginning of the outbreak. They advised Indigenous groups to avoid contact with people from the outside and to remain in their reservations as much as possible.
But eventually, some of the members of the communities go into the city in order to receive their salaries or governmental assistance and to buy groceries. That’s when spread of the virus might occur.
“People have not been properly oriented to use hand sanitizers after leaving a store, for instance, or to always wear face masks, at least when they leave their villages,” said Fr. Aquilino Tsiruia, a member of the Xavante people in Mato Grosso State.
“The healthcare authorities should have told the Indigenous peoples about it, but they failed to do it,” said Tsiruia.
At least 32 Xavante people died from COVID-19, most of them in June. “The local healthcare system is very precarious, with only a handful of ICU beds available,” said Tsiruia. “Our people has a considerable population of elders, many of whom with diabetes. Everybody is very frightened.”
Reports of a lack of physicians and equipped hospitals abound among the Amazonian Indigenous peoples. According to Oliveira, the healthcare situation has deteriorated since Bolsonaro canceled an agreement with Cuba that allowed hundreds of Cuban doctors to work in remote areas in Brazil.
The program had been created during the administration of left-wing former President Dilma Rousseff and was ideologically targeted by the far-right Bolsonaro.
“In many Indigenous reservations, the Cuban doctors were the only professionals available. Now, there’s a total absence of healthcare specialists,” said Oliveira.
This is one of the reasons why many Indigenous people report that they have been treating COVID-19 cases with traditional healing herbs and teas.
“If we only count on regular medicines, there won’t be enough for everybody,” said Fr. Justino Rezende, a member of the Tuyuka people who lives in the city of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, in Amazonas state.
Rezende came down with COVID-19 in June. “The number of cases here is going up,” he said. “Many elderly people are dying.”
Given that most villages are near small cities, the most serious cases are often taken to the state capitals, where the hospitals are a little better. Deaths occurring so far away from patients’ families lead to other complications.
“The disease is disrupting millennium-long life systems, given that it impedes the practice of very important rituals — especially the funereal ones,” explained Sr. Laura Vicuña Manso, a CIMI missionary. “The Indigenous groups feel deeply like they are doing something wrong when they can’t perform their traditional rites.”
Manso described the despair of a few leaders of the Karitiana people from Rondonia State when the first COVID-19 victim of their village died.
“The healthcare authorities wanted to bury the body in the city,” she said. “In the end, after much discussion, we were able to take the body to the village, but they couldn’t perform the whole traditional ritual.”
By Miroslav Lajcák (President of the UN General Assembly)
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2018 (IPS) – First, I want to talk about how we got here.
It was nearly 100 years ago, when indigenous peoples first asserted their rights, on the international stage. But, they did not see much progress. At least until 1982 – when the first Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established.
And, in 2007, the rights of indigenous peoples were, finally, set out in an international instrument.
Let us be clear here. Rights are not aspirational. They are not ideals. They are not best-case scenarios. They are minimum standards. They are non-negotiable. And, they must be respected, and promoted.
Yet, here we are. More than a decade after the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. And the fact is, these rights are not being realized.
That is not to say that there has been no progress. In fact, we heard many success stories, during yesterday’s opening of the Permanent Forum.
But, they are not enough.
Which is why, as my second point, I want to say that we need to do much more.
Last September, the General Assembly gave my office a new mandate. It requested that I organise informal interactive hearings – to look at how indigenous peoples can better participate at the United Nations.
So, that is why we are all sitting here. But, before we launch into our discussions, I want to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
I know that many of you were disappointed, with the General Assembly’s decision last year. After two years of talking, many of you wanted more than these interactive hearings.
We cannot gloss over this. And that is why I want to address it – from the outset. But I must also say this: Things may be moving slowly. But they are still moving.
When our predecessors formed the first indigenous working group, in 1982, their chances were slim. Many doubted whether an international instrument could be adopted. And, frankly, it took longer than it should have. But, it still happened.
So, we need to acknowledge the challenges, and frustrations. We cannot sweep them under the rug.
But we also cannot let them take away from the opportunities we have, in front of us.
And that brings me to my third point, on our discussions today.
This is your hearing. So, please be blunt. Please be concrete. Please be innovative.
Like I have said, we should not pretend that everything is perfect. Major problems persist – particularly at the national level. And, we need to draw attention to them. Today, however, we have a very specific mandate. And that is, to explore how we can carve out more space, for indigenous peoples, on the international stage.
That is why I ask you to focus on the future of our work, here, at the United Nations. And to try to come up with as many ideas and proposals as possible.
In particular, we should look at the following questions:
Which venues and forums are most suitable?
What modalities should govern participation?
What kind of participants should be selected?
And how will this selection happen?
We should also try to form a broader vision. This will allow us to better advise the General Assembly’s ongoing process to enhance indigenous peoples’ participation.
Finally, next steps.
As you know, this is our very first informal, interactive hearing. There will be two further hearings – next year, and the year after.
Then – during what we call the 75th Session of the General Assembly – negotiations between governments will start up again.
Turning back to today, the immediate outcome of our hearing will be a President’s Summary. But, I am confident that the longer-term outcome will be yet another step, in the direction of change.
So, this is where I will conclude. My main job, now, is to listen.
From the time of his arrival in Brazil in 1978, Brother Henri legally defended small farmers expelled from their lands and threatened by the powerful fazendeiros or large landowners in the Amazon region.
His ashes will now be handed over on April 14 to a camp community of 150 families of landless farmers. The community, which is named after him, is located at Curionopolis in Para, one of the largest states of Amazonia, where Brother Henri lived and worked for more than 35 years.
“We are organizing a simple, people-oriented ceremony,” said Dominican Brother Xavier Plassat, who coordinates the Land Pastoral Commission campaign against slave labor, Brother Henri’s other great battle.
Brother Xavier brought the ashes back with him from Paris, where Brother Henri had lived since 2015 and where he died aged 87 on Nov. 26, 2017.
The ecumenical celebration will be followed by a “political event” since conflicts and tensions are continuing to grow in Amazonia, Brother Xavier said.
The work of Brother Henri’s religious community, who like him have committed themselves to the struggles of the poorest people in Amazonia, has become increasingly difficult.
On March 27, the Catholic community in the region was shocked by the arrest of Father José Amaro Lopes de Souza, parish priest at Anapu in the Para and a member of the Land Pastoral Commission, on charges of criminal association, threats, extortion, pillage, money laundering and sexual aggression.
Father Amaro, who has received a succession of death threats since 2005, worked closely for several years with Dorothy Stang, the American missionary assassinated in 2005 by the fazendeiros.
“When Dorothy Stang started to support the farmers’ struggle, the fazendeiros decided to kill her,” the Land Pastoral Commission noted in a statement dismantling the evidence and testimony against the priest.
“All the indications now are that they have decided to change their strategy regarding Father Amaro,” the statement said.
“Instead of assassinating him, they have discovered a new way to demoralize Father Amaro by attacking his image and turning him into a criminal,” the Land Pastoral Commission said in the statement.
“The accusation makes no sense,” added Brother Xavier Plassat.
“A dozen fazendeiros got together and manipulated a couple of former landless farmers, who had to leave their camp for poor conduct and who seem to want to take revenge,” he said. “The whole thing is a farce.”
“Father Amaro has become the victim of defamation to delegitimize his work on behalf of the weakest,” said Bishop João Muniz Alves of Xingu, who heads the diocese where Anapu is located, and Retired Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu in a letter.
The Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, the French Catholic development agency, CCFD Terre Solidaire, several dioceses and pastoral centers in the region as well as many local social movements also condemned the arrest.
“There is a generalized climate of hatred of the people’s movements and those who support them,” said Brother Xavier Plassat.
This climate has worsened since the impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff in 2016, he said.
“There is a spirit of revenge on the side of these powerful groups, a desire to wipe out the victories of the 15 years of popular government,” he said.
“The church is caught up in this acrimony, even though the priests of Amazonia are far from all involved,” he added.
In 2007, three bishops from Amazonia, including Bishop Kräutler, were included in a list of ten religious to be eliminated.
Brother Henri was also on the list after having a price placed on his head during the year 2000.
For the next 15 years, he lived with two bodyguards.
In 2016, sixty-one people were killed in land conflicts in Brazil, according to the Land Pastoral Commission, 79 percent of which occurred in Amazonia.
In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS) – Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.
Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.
“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.
Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.
“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.
“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” –Nasima Aktar
RODELAS, Brazil, Sep 30 2017 (IPS) – The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir.
Dorinha Tuxá, one of the leaders of this native community, which currently has between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, sings on the shore of what they still call “river”, although now it is an 828-sq-km reservoir, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, along the border with the state of Bahia, to the south.
While singing the song dedicated to their “sacred” river and smoking her “maraku”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, she looks dreamily at the waters where the “Widow’s Island” was submerged, one of several that sprinkled the lower course of the São Francisco River, and on which the members of her community used to live.
“This song is to ask our community for unity, because in this struggle we are asking for the strength of our ancestors to help us recover our territory. A landless indigenous person is a naked indigenous person. We are asking our ancestors to bless us in this battle and protect our warriors,” she told IPS.
The hydroelectric plant, with a capacity of 1,480 megawatts, is one of eight installed by the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF), whose operations are centered on that river which runs across much of the Brazilian Northeast region: 2,914 km from its source in the center of the country to the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast.
After the flood, the Tuxá people were relocated to three municipalities. Some were settled in Nova Rodelas, a hamlet in the rural municipality of Rodelas, in the state of Bahia, where Dorinha Tuxá lives.
After a 19-year legal battle, the 442 relocated Tuxá families finally received compensation from the CHESF. But they are still waiting for the 4,000 hectares that were agreed upon when they were displaced, and which must be handed over to them by state agencies.
“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone,” Tuxá chief Manoel Jurum Afé told IPS.
The new village is very different from the community where they used to live on their island.
“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone.” — Manoel Jurum Afé
Only the soccer field, where children play, retains the shape of traditional indigenous Tuxá constructions.
But the elders strive to transmit their collective memory to the young, such as Luiza de Oliveira, who was baptized with the indigenous name of Aluna Flexia Tuxá.
She is studying law to continue her people’s struggle for land and rights. Her mother, like many other Tuxá women, also played an important role as chief, or community leader.
“It was as if they lived in a paradise. They had no need to beg the government like they have to do now. They used to plant everything, beans, cassava. They lived together in complete harmony. They talk about it with nostalgia. It was a paradise that came to an end when it was flooded,” she said.
(August 8, 2017) AlJazeera Three boats carrying ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar have capsized in Bangladesh, killing at least 26 people, according to officials.
The bodies of 15 women and 11 children were recovered in Cox’s Bazar after the vessels, which carried an unknown number of Rohingya, sank in the Naf River on Wednesday, Bangladesh border guard commander Lieutenant Colonel S.M. Ariful Islam said on Thursday.
Rakhine violence pushes more Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh.
He added that it was unclear whether anyone was still missing, according to The Associated Press news agency.
The top official in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammad Ali Hossain, said the bodies would be buried because no one had claimed them.
Officials in Bangladesh say growing numbers of Rohingya are trying to cross the Naf river that divides the two countries in rickety boats ill-equipped for the rough waters as they become increasingly desperate to escape the worst outbreak of violence in the restive Rakhine state in years.
Residents and activists have accused soldiers of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children and carrying out arson attacks.
However, authorities in Myanmar say close to 100 people have been killed since Friday when armed men, reportedly from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), launched a pre-dawn raid on police outposts in the restive region.
Myanmar authorities say Rohingya “extremist terrorists” have been setting the fires during fighting with government troops, while Rohingya have blamed soldiers who have been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings.
Thousands flee into Bangladesh
Around 27,400 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar since Friday, three UN sources said, according to Reuters news agency.
The violence comes amid reports of Buddhist vigilantes burning Rohingya villages in Myanmar, Reuters said.
Hundreds of people have been stranded in a no man’s land at the countries’ border, the International Organization for Migration said.
Satellite imagery analysed by US-based Human Rights Watch indicated that many homes in northern Rakhine state were set ablaze.
Most of Myanmar’s estimated one million Rohingya Muslims live in northern Rakhine state.
They face severe persecution in the Buddhist-majority country, which refuses to recognise them as a legitimate native ethnic minority, leaving them without citizenship and basic rights.
Longstanding tension between the Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody rioting in 2012. That set off a surge of anti-Muslim feeling throughout the country.