Local Head-Officer of Brazilian Indigenous protection agency FUNAI assassinated in remote Amazon town

RIP Maxciel Pereira dos Santos - You paying the ultimate price like Chico Mendes in your fight against the criminals will not be forgotten nor in vein.

By Venatrix Fulmen - 07. September 2019 (with agencies)

BRAZIL - FUNAI senior employee Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was shot dead on Friday evening in Tabatinga, a small town of 60,000 in Amazonia State on the border with Peru and Colombia. He worked at the base of the indigenous organization in the Javari Valley, which has been attacked four times since last year.

The crime occurred yesterday around 6:50 PM, according to the State Police. Santos was riding his motorcycle on Avenida da Amizade, the busiest street in Tabatinga, when he was shot twice in the back of the head. His wife and stepdaughter witnessed the murder.

Indigenist Maxciel Pereira dos Santos was murdered execution-style in front of members of his family in the Amazon town of Tabatinga, INA, a union group representing workers at Brazil’s indigenous protection agency FUNAI, confirmed.

Santos was shot twice in the head as he rode a motorbike down a main street of Tabatinga, located deep in the Amazon rainforest on Brazil’s border with Colombia and Peru, the Folha de S.Paulo and The Rio Times newspapers reported.

Folha de S.Paulo said police were investigating whether Santos’ death was related to his work at FUNAI but did not have enough information to determine the motivation behind the crime.

The employee worked already for 12 years in the Javari Valley for FUNAI, including five as chief of environment services at the Vale do Javari reservation, INA said. He worked mainly at the Ituí-Itacoaí base, which operates on a ferry and is about 40 km from the city of Atalaia do Norte. The aim of the base is to prevent invaders from entering an area identified as having the largest presence of isolated Indigenous people in the world.

In a statement, INA cited evidence that his murder occurred in retaliation for Santos’ role in combating illegal invasions by hunters, loggers and gold miners in the Vale do Javari reservation, home to the world’s highest concentration of so far uncontacted Indigenous peoples.

FUNAI has three bases in the Vale do Javari to protect an area the size of Austria with some 6,000 Indigenous residents from eight First Nations, and some 16 uncontacted Indigenous groups.

INA called on authorities to demonstrate that Brazil “no longer condones violence against those who engage, under the rule of law, in the protection and promotion of indigenous rights.”

The union also urged authorities to protect agents who protect indigenous lands.

The cold-blooded assassination of Maxciel Pereira dos Santos happened on the eve of the very day when in neighbouring Colombia seven regional governments signed a pact to better protect the Amazon basin. The non-binding agreement is seen by Amazon defenders as mere window-dressing and public relations stunt to counter the international outcry over fires, destructions and murders, and it only delivered to the participating regional governments an agreement to respect each others souvereignty.

Already under the former president of Brazil, Michel Temer, funding for indigenous affairs has been slashed. In April 2018, Funai closed five of the 19 bases that it uses to monitor and protect isolated First Nation groups, and reduced staffing at others. Temer, who was deeply unpopular, had sought support from powerful agricultural, ranching and mining lobbies to push economic changes through Congress and shelter him from a corruption investigation. The lower house of the Brazilian Congress then voted to spare him from standing trial for corruption in the Supreme Court, but only after he had doled out jobs and agreed to a series of concessions, many of which rendered longstanding deforestation and land-rights regulations useless.

A decree by Mr. Temer that opened up a large reserve in the Amazon to mining prompted an international outcry. After a judge blocked the decree, the government announced that it would revise its decision, but critics were wary already last year and have seen now that Temer's successor, extreme right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, even wants to abolish the protection agency FUNAI, open the whole of the Amazon to timber companies, miners, cattle ranchers and soy farmers - sacrificing the forests and its Indigenous peoples.

Enough Is Enough

The troubles began in earnest already in 1982 with the inauguration of a European Economic Community (EEC) and World Bank-funded programme to extract massive iron ore deposits found in the Carajás mountains. The EEC gave Brazil $600m to build a railway from the mines to the coast, on condition that Europe received a third of the output, a minimum of 13.6m tons a year for 15 years. The railway cut directly through the land of the Awá First Nation and with the railway came settlers. A road-building programme quickly followed, opening up the Awá's jungle homeland to loggers, who moved in from the east. 

Dozens of similar mega-destructive programmes followed in the decades thereafter leading to a situation today where the total loss of the last remaining still intact parts of the ecosphere is not far. 

It is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as "a real genocide". In addition to the countless murders of Indigenous people, over 100 officials and activists involved in the defence the Amazon have been murdered in the last two years alone.

"Bolsonaro's ecocide and genocide and these senseless murders must be stopped immediately and the culprits must be brought to justice", ECOTERRA spokesperson Hans-Juergen Duwe stated and added, "Bolsonaro and his henchmen should now face a trial at the ICC for aiding and abetting outright genocide and fostering the environmental crimes in the Amazon."