Indigenous Leader Faces Murder Attempt, Death Threats Amid Intensifying Land Grabbing and Deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado
Agribusiness companies operating in the Brazilian Cerrado continue to drive violence, intimidation, and dispossession against Indigenous leaders, traditional communities and environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs). The Brazilian Cerrado is home to Indigenous, Quilombola (Afro-descendant), and peasant communities that depend on the land for sustenance, culture and livelihood. Known as the “birthplace of waters,” this vast region is the world’s most biodiverse savannah and the frontier of agribusiness expansion in Brazil. Relentless expansion of soy production drives deforestation, ecosystem destruction and increasingly violent land conflicts between companies and communities.
On March 4, Akroá Gamella Adaildo José Alves da Silva, an Indigenous leader from Morro D’Água community, faced a murder attempt and repeated death threats by land grabbers. “Dealing with threats is not easy,” Adaildo said. “I will never sell this area because I was born on this land, and to this land I will return. I don’t want any of this territory to be given to agribusiness because it is destructive: they destroy our trees and our waters, then they leave and we are left here, worse off than before.”
Akroá Gamella is recognized by the Brazilian government as an Indigenous community with special legal protections. The territory where Adaildo lives with his family is in the process of receiving a collective land title. Brazil remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for environmental human rights defenders. Over the past decade agribusiness was the second deadliest sector in the world for defenders.
Last year, Friends of the Earth and the Brazilian Network for Social Justice and Human Rights documented how local land grabbers and gunmen threaten, intimidate and violently dispossess Indigenous and other traditional communities to illegally acquire and deforest land in preparation for industrial soy production. Many of these lands end up in the supply chains of large soy companies, including U.S.-based Cargill and Bunge Limited. Bunge has repeatedly enabled and incentivized land grabbing and deforestation through its control of the soy trade in Piauí state.
In December 2022, the Collective of Traditional Peoples and Communities of Southern Piauí, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT-PI) and the Brazilian Network for Social Justice and Human Rights issued a statement denouncing deforestation by land grabbers in the area. They warned that the state’s slow response could result in greater damage to communities and the environment. In addition to the murder attempt against Adaildo, three people from the Melancias community in the south Piauí were threatened.
Below is a statement issued by the Brazilian Network for Social Justice and Human Rights (translated from Portuguese) regarding the recent violent incidents. Ultimately, the Brazilian government is responsible for ensuring the recognition and protection of the legal land rights of Indigenous, Quilombola and other rural communities, and should therefore halt all soy expansion in the Cerrado.
Companies operating in the Brazilian Cerrado should commit to halting soy expansion in the region. They must immediately condemn violence, intimidation and land grabbing and adopt zero tolerance policies and practices for such actions across their supply chains.
Communities denounce homicide attempts, death threats, and deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado
(Original statement here in Portuguese is here)
Murder attempts, death threats, harassment, deforestation, and land grabbing attempts: that is what the beginning of 2023 was like in the territories of rural communities in the Cerrado of the state of Piauí.
In December 2022, the Coletivo de Povos e Comunidades Tradicionais do Sul do Piauí (Collective of Traditional Peoples and Communities of the South of Piauí), the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT-PI), and the Network for Social Justice and Human Rights (Rede Social) issued a statement denouncing deforestation on the land of eight communities by land grabbers and warning that delays in state intervention could result in even greater harm to the communities and the environment.
Even though the Secretaria do Meio Ambiente e Recursos Hídricos do Piauí (SEMAR, Secretariat of the Environment and Water Sources of Piauí) fined two people R$2 million for deforestation of Indigenous and riverine communities’ land in February 2023, agribusiness continues to threaten the Akroá Gamella and riverine-wetland communities with violence.
Attempted murder and threats
Akroá Gamella Indigenous leader Adaildo da Silva, from the Morro D’Água territory, has suffered attempts on his life and repeated death threats from land grabbers.
“Dealing with threats is not easy”, the leader stated. “I will never sell this area because I was born on this land, and to this land I will return. I don’t want any of this territory to be given to agribusiness because it is destructive: they destroy our trees and our waters, then they leave and we are left here, worse off than before. Adaildo filed police reports at the Gilbués police station for each crime against him, but so far, no effective measures have been taken to protect his life.
Large landowners and land grabbers in the region are believed to be behind the gunmen’s actions. The process of granting a collective land title for the territory where Adaildo and his family live is currently underway, and the Akroá Gamella have been officially recognized as an Indigenous people by the FUNAI.
Three other people from the Melancias Territory also received threats in the first few months of 2023 in southern Piauí. Workers from the Alvorada farm, in the municipality of Gilbués, verbally threatened Nilton and Cézar de Sousa, two brothers living in the Riacho dos Cavalos community, and their friend Jonathan Cunha. Two residents of the Barra da Lagoa territory were also approached by a stranger who claimed to have the title for the land they have lived on for over 30 years. He offered them compensation, which they turned down.
Deforestation in the Kajubar farm
The communities have been denouncing deforestation on the Kajubar farm since February 2023. According to satellite images, which can be seen in the maps prepared by AidEnvironment, 2,590 hectares of land have been deforested. In May 2022, Rede Social had already denounced deforestation on other parts of this farm in the report entitled Desmatamento, Grilagem de Terras e Financeirização (Deforestation, Land Grabbing, and Financialization).
This farm’s area overlaps with the area of rural communities. Deforestation is causing sediment to accumulate in the rivers that originate in the plateaus and flow into the lowlands, which inhibits the collective use of this water by local communities and kills the fish. To make matters worse, aerial spraying of farm chemicals by soy companies pollutes the rivers and contaminates the communities’ crops and food production.
The granting of collective land titles
The Collective of Traditional Peoples and Communities of the South of Piauí demands an end to the violation of their rights and that they be granted the collective titles to their territories as soon as possible in order to guarantee the preservation of the environment and their ways of life.
“The communities can barely breathe. There are a lot of threats, land grabbing, and deforestation. The state, which should guarantee our rights, is the first to forget about us. We continue to fight for our collective land title because we have the right to our territory”, affirms Mara Alves Pessoa, one of the leaders of the Collective of Traditional Peoples and Communities of the South of Piauí.
State officials must guarantee the physical integrity and the collective land titles of traditional peoples and communities. Public offices must act immediately to protect land rights of local communities and to prevent further threats and deforestation in the region.