Brazil deployed police to a remote Amazon village on Sunday after reports it had been overrun by armed miners following the murder of an indigenous leader, officials and tribal chiefs said.
The violence in an area of the northern Amapa state controlled by the Waiapi tribe comes as Brazil’s indigenous people face growing pressures from miners, ranchers and loggers under pro-business President Jair Bolsonaro, who on Saturday called for the “first world” to help exploit the “absurd quantity of minerals” in the Amazon rainforest.
Last Monday, a Waiapi indigenous leader was killed and his body found the following day in a river, the Amapa attorney general’s office (AGO) said in a statement.
While none of the Waiapi witnessed the “violent” killing, a council of village chiefs said on Facebook a search of the area found “trails and other signs that the death was caused by non-indigenous people.”
On Friday, a group of “armed non-indigenous” overran the nearby village of Yvytoto, prompting residents to flee, the council said. Local media called them “garimpeiros,” a term for armed miners active in the Amazon, and said they numbered 50.
After reports of the attacks emerged Saturday, members of the federal police and a military police special forces unit were dispatched, the AGO said, arriving in the village some 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the state capital Macapa on Sunday.
The indigenous affairs agency FUNAI said its officers were also on the ground monitoring the police investigation.
“Law enforcement officials have reported that no hypothesis for the murder has been ruled out, nor can they can say at this time who carried out the crime,” the AGO said, as it announced the establishment of a crisis management group to oversee the investigation.
“The alleged presence of garimpeiros and other groups in the region is being investigated.”
Rich in gold, manganese, iron and copper, the Waiapi’s territory is deep inside the Amazon, making communication difficult, police said.
The Waiapi council said some of the tribe’s fighters had stationed themselves near the village occupied by the miners.
“The situation is urgent,” said Randolfe Rodrigues, an opposition senator from Amapa, on his official Facebook page.
The Brazilian Bar Association issued a statement calling on the government to protect the Waiapi’s land and ensure perpetrators of criminal offenses were “punished.”
The tribe’s territory is one of hundreds Brazil’s government demarcated in the 1980s for the exclusive use of its 800,000 indigenous inhabitants. Access by outsiders is strictly regulated.
Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has been accused of harming the Amazon and indigenous tribes in order to benefit his supporters in the logging, mining and farming industries.
“We are experiencing a real environmental psychosis,” Bolsonaro said recently.
He’s also pledged to crackdown on what he’s called radical environmental activism, and also questioned the latest official figures showing deforestation increasing by 88 percent in June compared with the same period last year.