The Brazilian Amazon has long been roiled by land conflicts and violence against indigenous groups by those seeking to plunder the region's natural resources and clear the rainforest for the spread of ranching and agribusiness. Even before the election of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s indigenous communities began bracing for an escalation of violence, repression, encroachment, and displacement. There was evidence from across the country that Bolsonaro’s campaign legitimized and inspired assaults on those who oppose a new wave of government-backed mining, ranching, and logging. Beginning in October, attacks on environmental and indigenous activists (as well as indigenous schools and hospitals) began to spike, fueled first by the “hands-off” indigenous policies of President Michel Temer, and then by Bolsonaro’s disquieting campaign promises to crush “smelly, uneducated Indians” that stand in the way of “national progress.” Bolsonaro has announced a program to stigmatize, criminalize, and repress social movements advocating for rainforest protection, indigenous rights, and land reform.
These reports from communities along Brazil's contested rainforest frontiers investigate the state of land conflicts that have resulted in the murder of hundreds of indigenous activists in recent years. The Akroá Gamella people Maranhão were subject to a particularly vicious pogrom last year, with 200 people attacked with machetes and bullets. How has Bolsonaro’s election has emboldened the country’s agrarian elite to unleash new levels of vigilantism? What is the organized response by indigenous communities and their allies? The hard-won and entwined progress of recent years in slowing Brazil's deforestation and protecting the rights of its indigenous peoples is now at risk. The global climate stakes could not be higher.