Brazil Holds Hearing On Indigenous Rights

A road cuts through the Waimiri-Atroari Reserve in Roraima, Brazil. (Wikimedia Commons)

A road cuts through the Waimiri-Atroari Reserve in Roraima, Brazil. (Wikimedia Commons)

Brazilian federal prosecutors held a hearing on the Waimiri-Atroari Reserve on March 3 regarding accusations of acts of genocide committed by the Brazilian military against the Waimiri-Atroari tribe, according to MSN. The alleged crimes occurred during the construction of a national highway through protected tribal lands between 1968 and 1977.

A military dictatorship ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, and during that time the government severely repressed indigenous rights as it attempted to expand through indigenous lands. D24am reports that in 1968, the government began work on the highway BR-174, which connected the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Amazonas, and Roraima with Venezuela. This road runs directly through the protected lands of the Waimiri-Atroari tribe.

During the construction of BR-174, indigenous people within the reservation allegedly faced constant attacks by the military, while others died from illnesses caused by the construction. A 2014 commission evidences the murder of over 8,000 indigenous people by the military dictatorship, according to Globo. The Waimiri-Atroari people do not measure time in months and years, so the actual timeline is unknown. However, federal prosecutors believe that the violence described by indigenous witnesses intensified after 1974. They estimate that the military murdered between 600 and 3,000 Waimiri-Atroari.

Military officials attended the hearing, all of whom refused to accept responsibility for the deaths. In contrast, all six of the indigenous individuals present at the hearing stated that the military was responsible for the massacres. The Waimiri-Atroari tribe only allowed the Associated Press and Globo to attend the hearing. It is believed this was the first time a federal judge has been allowed on that tribe’s lands. SFGate states that indigenous people tend to underreport accusations of violence and abuse at the hands of the government due to a distrust in the Brazilian legal system.

Indigenous people in Brazil have long faced attacks on their rights. Reuters reports that President Jair Bolsonaro currently plans to accelerate the construction of an electric power line to Roraima, which is currently disconnected from the rest of Brazil’s power grid. This construction would directly cut through Waimiri-Atroari lands, with little to no input from the indigenous people that live there. Bolsonaro plans to declare the project to be a matter of “national interest,” which will allow him to speed up, or even skip, the required consultation with the indigenous community, says CNBC.

Although Brazil’s indigenous community faces intense fights over their current status within the country,they continue to fight for the memories of those lost during the brutal military dictatorship. The main goals of the Waimiri-Atroari, according to Al Jazeera, are for the military to admit their responsibility in the tragedy of the BR-174 construction, and for the national government to ensure that indigenous history is taught in Brazilian schools.