Under a leafy mango tree in the same yard where the horror occurred a year earlier, Eliane de Oliveira Conceição, known as Kãdara Pataxó, reconstructs the murder of her 14-year-old son Gustavo. “The day hadn’t even dawned, it was around 5am, almost everyone was still asleep. We heard noise and thought it was drunk people coming back from a party. One Uno passed by with the door open and it was a riot, they shot and threw a bomb.”
Gustavo woke up scared and, like everyone else there, ran into the woods behind the house, on an occupied farm in the rural area of the municipality of Prado (BA). A rifle shot hit the teenager in the head, who arrived dead at the hospital on September 4 last year. Another boy was shot in the arm.
“It’s not easy to live with this. He was a very sweet boy, he was by my side all the time, he helped me with everything. Then they took his life”, says Kãdara, in tears, before showing the reporter the bullet holes in his walls and the cross stuck in the place where the son fell.
Expertise and testimonies proved that the killers fired more than a hundred shots, with weapons restricted to security forces, and threw three smoke grenades, “indicating that the criminal activity used armed force capable of exterminating the entire indigenous community in the area, in approximate numbers of fifteen indigenous people of the Pataxó ethnic group”, according to the complaint from the Federal Public Ministry, accepted by the Court.
Three military police officers – Renato Martins do Carmo, Willer Diorgenes Santos Melo and Sivaldo Almeida de Oliveira – who were off duty were preventively arrested and charged with qualified homicide and attempted genocide. Shortly after the attack, one of them was admitted to a hospital close to the farm with an injury, having been helped by the other two – supporting the evidence of the investigation and the complaint.
The three defendants deny being responsible for the crime and managed to get their prison sentences released from court – they await their trial in freedom. The investigation did not identify those who ordered the crime.
Gustavo added to the list of indigenous victims of violence in the south of Bahia, a region where the escalation of land conflicts is mixed with drug trafficking, factional warfare and police lethality common to the outskirts of the region’s largest cities, such as Porto Seguro, Eunápolis and Santa Cruz Cabrália. According to the latest Brazilian Public Security Yearbook, Bahia is the Brazilian state with the highest number of violent deaths and also the one in which the police kill the most.
Close to indigenous villages neighboring or overlapping the National Discovery Park, the property where the crime occurred is registered in the name of farmer Airson Celino Gomes, known as Nem Gomes. It is located on the Comexatibá indigenous land, identified and delimited by Funai since 2015, but which depends on the final approval procedures – declaratory ordinance from the Ministry of Justice and signature by President Lula.
It was occupied by the Pataxó three days before the attack, as part of a wave of actions – called “resumptions” and “self-demarcations” by the indigenous people, and “invasions” by the farmers – that began in June last year and totaled around 40 territories. The owners reject the Funai reports that support the initiatives. In the case of Comexatibá, there are 150 challenges.
Contacted by the report through his lawyer, Nem Gomes declined to comment. Days after the crime, the farmer filed a lawsuit to repossess the farm. The Federal Court granted the request, but the injunction was subsequently revoked by Minister Luiz Fux, of the Federal Supreme Court and the progress of the process was suspended within the scope of the time frame action.
In the decision in which he accepted the reinstatement injunction, federal judge Raimundo Bezerra Mariano Neto listed the case as “another development of the state’s omission in defining indigenous territorial spaces, contributing to the outbreak of conflictual situations involving indigenous and non-indigenous people”. He further wrote that “state inertia in acting (…) ‘stimulates’ agrarian conflict.”
It has been the bullet, and not Justice, that has been used in the south of Bahia to try to expel the indigenous people who occupy the lands inhabited by their ancestors. Less than five months after Gustavo’s death, two more young Pataxós were murdered in the region, in January of this year.
Since then, the Government of Bahia has created a task force with the Military, Civil and Federal Highway police to face the situation. The Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Sônia Guajajara, set up a crisis office and visited the region.
Violence continues, with recurring cases of gunshots directed towards occupations. The Pataxó report a routine of fear and tension, which includes frequent drone flights over occupied territories. Indigenous people and farmers blame each other for fires, the infiltration of drug traffickers into farms and the destruction of eucalyptus plantations – one of the region’s crops, along with coffee, cocoa and black pepper, as well as cattle.
The latest report on Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil, from the Indigenous Missionary Council (Cimi), for 2022, points out that the murder of indigenous people in Bahia has increased since 2019, according to official data from state governments – the majority of which are Pataxó.
Last year there were nine deaths, with information collected only until June. Based on data collected by Cimi’s own teams, the situation is more serious: nine deaths in 2022, and 14 in 2021.
Bahia has the second largest indigenous population in Brazil, with 229 thousand people, behind only Amazonas. In the extreme south region (from Santa Cruz Cabrália to Prado), there are five indigenous lands already approved –Barra Velha, Coroa Vermelha, Águas Belas, Imbiriba and Mata Medonha– which total just over 12 thousand hectares (almost 76 parks in the Ibirapuera, or 7.8% of the municipality of São Paulo).
If the federal government approves the other areas already identified and delimited by Funai, this territory would increase almost four times.
In the last large wave of occupations carried out by indigenous people in the region, in 2014, the Court accepted all requests for repossession made by farmers.
The current wave, initiated under the Jair Bolsonaro (PL) government and expanded under the Lula (PT) administration, was motivated by confronting the former’s anti-indigenist policy and then pressuring the PT member to fulfill his promise to resume the demarcations of indigenous lands.
“We saw the Bolsonaro government advance against us, we were losing more rights and territories. It was ‘if the animal runs, it catches it; if it stays, the animal eats it’. So we went after the animal”, declares chief Mãdy Pataxó, who leads one of the occupations.
The farmers claim that they lost trust in the police and the justice system and that is why they decided to take up arms. “The producers are without any support. There is no legality, there is no justice, they call the police, the police don’t take it away, they keep watching. A conflict will break out in the region, a serious conflict, a blood conflict. Because the producers are losing their patience,” said the president of the Porto Seguro Rural Producers Union, Celso Cipitelli.
He defines the members of the actions as “pseudo indigenous”. “They are invading properties, sending people out into the street, setting fires… The producers took up arms, started to confront each other, they are taking action that the police and the courts do not take. Business here is ugly, it is worse than a Western .”
Commander of the 8th Battalion of the Military Police of Porto Seguro, Lieutenant Colonel Alexandre Costa de Souza says that the corporation “complies with the law, the court order” and does not assess the merits of the issue. “They [os indígenas] They are hoping to have an increase in demarcated land. But what they are doing is invading that area defined in the Funai study as indigenous land before approval by the federal government. This cannot be done.”
Souza says he has a good relationship with indigenous leaders in the region and highlights his Pataxó ancestry (“and my wife is a Tubinambá”). Regarding the arrest of military police officers accused of crimes, the lieutenant colonel says that he participated in the procedures that led to their arrest. “We cut into our own flesh. Does it hurt? It hurts. It hurts? It hurts. But it has to be done.”
Coordinator of the Southern Bahia Regional of Funai (National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples) since April, former chief Aruã Pataxó, former councilor in Cabrália for the PC do B and one of the main indigenous leaders in the state, has been visiting the occupations to affirm the commitment of the federal government to contain the killing of indigenous people and promote new demarcations.
At the end of September, Minister Guajajara sent her colleague Flávio Dino (Justice) a request to speed up the demarcation of ten indigenous lands ready for this, including Barra Velha (expansion) — but not Comexatibá.
Aruã reveals apprehension about the lack of definition regarding the issue of the time frame. The thesis, which would limit demarcations, was overturned by the STF, but the Senate then approved a bill to the contrary. Lula vetoed the main section, which maintains the impasse.
“For us there is no landmark, because before Brazil existed we were already here. This legal uncertainty further clutters our demarcation”, says the Funai coordinator.
When contacted, the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Police did not respond.