Removal of Invaders from Xavante Indigenous Land of Marãiwatsédé begins
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Removal of Invaders from Xavante Indigenous Land of Marãiwatsédé begins

Sign indicating the Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé (Photo: Rodrigo Baleia / Greenpeace)
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December 29, 2012

After 20 years, the Xavante peoples are finally on their way back to Marãiwatsédé. In recent weeks, the government of Brazil began to remove the remaining invaders who entered the Xavante homeland in a co-ordinated and racially-motivated effort that involved landowners, city council members, mayors and even a judge.

In this special report, Andreia Fanzeres and Daniel Santini take an in-depth look at the disintrusion and the events leading up to it.

Article originally published at:

English Translation by M.A. Kidd

(Links below are in Portuguese unless otherwise indicated)

Removal of invaders from Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé in northeastern Mato Grosso (MT) [began in thesecond week in December]. With the support of the Army, National Force, Federal Police and Federal Highway Police, representatives of the federal government organized an operation to secure the return of lands to the Xavante indians. The removal process was initiated more than a month ago when, on November 7, 2012, Justice officials toured all properties, residences and businesses that were illegally established in the area, notifying occupants to remove themselves from the locales spontaneously within 30 days. Encouraged by farmer owners and local politicians, some groups decided not to comply with the court decision and have sought to destabilize the process forcing conflicts with the troops. In the early days of the disintrusion, the National Force retreated, firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

Protesters appeared at the Fazenda Jordão, where the operation began, when the security forces carried out the first approaches. According to the government property listing, the property where the confusion occurred belongs to Antonio Mamed Jordão, former vice mayor of Alto Boa Vista, holder of one of the largest squatter areas within the Indigenous Land, a large estate farm of more than 6000 hectares. In 2008, Jordão declared assets of R$ 4.5 million. In addition to him, other politicians owning  large portions of the indigenous land are still on the official government lists: Mohmad Khalil Zaher, a city councilman in Rondonópolis (MT) Sebastião Ferreira Prado, Sebastiao Ferreira Mendes, among others.  The landowners, represented by the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil (CNA), complain about the disintrusion and even question whether the lands are indigenous (statement released on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012).

Besides the presence of security forces, other federal agencies were deployed to minimize the impact of the relocation. For the small-scale farmers established illegally in the reserve area, lots were offered in agrarian reform programs. According to the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) 140 persons had applied for the program as of last week. “The process [of disintrusion] is already under way. We expect that to happen in the best possible way for both the indigenous and those who are going to receive another plot of land. We expect this to happen, that they receive other lands,” says Paulo César Moreira, coordinator of the Pastoral Land Commission in Mato Grosso. “The small stake holders should be beneficiaries not only of land, but also with credit and inclusion in social programs. The large scale land owners will not receive land. The problem is that many are not accepting due to existing political manipulation,” he adds.

“What is happening today is confirmation of several decisions since 1995.  It was, therefore, a long process that provided due time for analysis of evidence and rebuttals.”

Marcia Zollinger, a federal prosecutor of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF)

On local TV and radio, the press tries to emphasize the drama of families who have nowhere to go. Politicians of the towns of Sao Felix do Araguaia, Bom Jesus do Araguaia and Alto Boa Vista, municipalities that have encroached on Marãiwatsédé, in joint actions with their counterparts in state government and in Congress are scheduling meetings and emergency sessions with the Casa Civil (office of the President) and ministers of the Supreme Court advising the population that they are seeking the “cancellation” of the decree which confirmed the indigenous land in 1998 – one more desperate measure that generates the expectation of reversal of this process, without any echo in legality.

On Monday, Dec. 10, prosecutor Marcia Zollinger, of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) of Mato Grosso, granted a press conference in Cuiabá explaining that the process of removal of the intruders is being completed in stages and will only be interrupted if there is a court decision to the contrary. “The MPF is acting to ensure the territorial rights of the indigenous Xavante of Marãiwatsédé and is also monitoring actions involving the removal of the occupants, especially those who are in a state of social vulnerability.”

She also noted that the process of disintrusion that occurs today was the result of a Public Civil Action dating from 1995, which pleaded for completion of the work on demarcation and ratification of the Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé, as well as an end to its occupation, with recomposition of the environmental damages. According to her, it was in May of 1995 that the Court first issued an injunction ordering the intruders to leave the indigenous land. “What is happening today is confirmation of various decisions since 1995. It was, therefore, a long process that gave sufficient time for analysis of evidence, rebuttals,” she says. “The MPF invited the agencies involved in the work of disintrusion in order to take all precautions so that the withdrawal of the occupiers is conducted peacefully, privileging dialogue.”

According to data from, The reserve was one of the areas most devastated in the last two decades in the State of Mato Grosso. In red, the area deforested between January and October of 2012. In yellow, the area cut down between 2004 and 2011. Click here to see the devastation in each lot (or navigate on the map on the English page of the site)


Environmental devastation

The reserve is located in an area of transition between the Amazon Forest and Cerrado (tropical savannah). With 165,000 hectares (equivalent to the size of the municipality of Rio de Janeiro), the Indigenous Land located in the Mato Grosso region known as the Valley of the Forgotten. Since it was invaded, Marãiwatsédé is the Indigenous Land that suffered the most overwhelming process of deforestation in Amazônia Legal. In only 20 years, the native forest was replaced by soy plantations and livestock exploitation. “This deforestation directly affected the lives of the indigenous people. In place of the forest came an agricultural activity that involves intense use of agrotoxins and this has affected all water access,” says Márcio Astrini, coordinator of the Greenpeace campaign in the Amazon. Invited by the Xavante, he traveled to the region in 2009 to conduct a survey of the situation. “There was a water tank in the village, even with a flowing river within less than a mile. And, also remarkable, was the arrival of a truck with styrofoam boxes to sell fish to the indians. The Xavante are hunters and ended up living beside a river without fish. To depend on others for food is something very humiliating.”

The impact of the livestock activity within the reserve became a Greenpeace report, which continued to follow the case. Reporter Brazil, in turn, published a study linking soy monoculture within the Indigenous Land with environmental devastation. “Within the reserve itself, the sense of conflict was constant. The indians walked hiding themselves, always subject to attacks, occupying only a diminutive space of their surrounding land [circa 10%]. When we visited the village, we found a young boy who had been shot because he was walking through a farm. It is a life of refugees within their own Indigenous Land,” says Márcio. “We were accompanied by the FUNAI and, even being a demarcated and ratified indigenous land, we had to travel at night because it was too dangerous to arrive during the day. The Brazilian government itself has to enter under cover in a ratified land because there was no security,” he adds.

Understanding the case

“We will kill the indians” and “The only good indian is a dead Indian”, hatred against the Xavante. Photo: Divulgação

The Xavante who live in the area known as Marãiwatsédé (“deep/closed forest” in their language) were removed from their territory in Brazilian Air Force planes by the dictatorship in 1966. With the objective of providing incentive for colonization of northeastern Mato Grosso, between the Xingu and Araguaia river basins, the federal government subsequently forced the indigenous people to the Silesian Mission at São Marcos, about 400 km away, where they faced a measles epidemic that decimated two thirds of the group. Since that time, the people of Marãiwatsédé attempt to return to their area, which, in turn, was sold to Groupo Ometto, becoming known as Fazenda Suiá Missu, the largest estate farm holding in the world. The fazenda was no less than 800,000 hectares.

In the 1980s, the fazenda was sold to the Italian company AGIP Petroli, which by the end of the decade was pressured by Italy’s own environmental groups in the North and South Campaign. The mobilization culminated in the embarrassment of the business group in Eco 92, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, to the point that the president of the corporation, Gabriel Cagliari, promised to return the area to the Xavante. In the week in which this happened at Eco 92, the manager of the farm, Renato Grillo, joined local politicians opposed to the return of the indigenous people. Instead of de-occupation, an invasion was organized of the portion of the area known as Posto da Mata, an episode widely reported in the media.

Also in 1992, identification studies of the Xavante territory having already been initiated by the FUNAI, were confirmed in 1998 by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, despite the process at that time of invasion and the complaints calling for urgency in removal of the intruders. In May of 1995, the first court decision was issued ordering disintrusion. And only in 2004, after remaining camped for 10 months on the edge of federal Highway BR-158, a group of Xavante of Marãiwatsédé managed, smoothed by a decision of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), recovering a small part of their territory, where they remain today. In 2010, the Federal Court of the 1st Region (TRF-1) unanimously ruled that the non-indigenous occupants acted in bad faith and have no right to indemnification/compensation. In 2011, congressional representatives José Geraldo Riva and Adalto de Freitas approved an unconstitutional law passed in the Legislative Assembly of Mato Grosso, rubber-stamped by governor Silval Barbosa, making available to the Brazilian Federal Government the State Park of Araguaia, having created it in a permutation of the Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé.

Representatives of the Xavante protest during Rio +20, in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Daniel Santini

Three days later, the appeals court judge of the same TRF-1, Fagundes de Deus, held that there was possibility for an accord and suspended by injunction the decision authorizing the disintrusion. This injunction was overturned in May of 2012 by Appeals Court Judge Souza Prudente. Pressed by the Xavante in the 2012 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio +20,  the FUNAI in August presented the plan to remove invaders, but in September, the vice president of TRF-1, Daniel Dias, decided to suspend the proceedings pursuant to actions brought by the fazenda owners, represented by attorney Luiz Alfredo Feresin de Abreu, brother of Senator Katia Abreu, president of the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil (CNA). The case reached the Supreme Court, when its then chief justice, Carlos Ayres Britto, overturned the injunction, authorizing continuation of the process of disintrusion. On November 7 the notifications began to be issued for removal of the invaders.

The indigenous people living in Marãiwatsédé list various episodes of attacks that they have suffered since their return to the region after nearly 40 years of exile. Since 2004, they have been victims of arson in the areas surrounding the village. A school bus used by the Xavante children was also destroyed in Posto da Mata. There have been thefts of indigenous cattle, death threats, point-blank shootings and in one of the

“We are confident in this year of 2012 we have hope, the great day will come

Elder Francisco Tsipé, of the Xavante community of Marãiwatsédé

most recent cases, the persecution of the son of Cacique Damião Paridzané on November 3 of 2012. Driver hired by SESAI, he capsized the car, which was later criminally incinerated, leaving the nearly 800 indigenous people without transportation for hospital care outside the village.

The indians released a “Letter from the Xavante community to Brazilian society” (photocopies of the handwritten letter – Part 1, 2 and 3), signed by the Cacique Damião Paridzané on December 8 of 2012, commemorating the removal of the invaders. “Now the disintrusion has begun. The ancients waited a very long time for the leave-taking of non-indians from the land. They suffered greatly. A life time of suffering, awaiting removal of the great fazenda owners. The federal law, the Constitution, the authorities are on our side. (…) Those who occupied the land were our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents who were born here, grew up here, made the celebrations for the adolescents. They fought hard, held ritual within the territory of Marãiwatsédé neither farmer nor squatter lived here before 1960. It was only the Indian the ancients recall, there being only two houses in Sao Felix do Araguaia. (…) The mysterious forest that only the Xavante of Marãiwatsédé know its secrets. For this reason the ancestors always preserved the forest, because it is our culture. This land is our origin.  When the land is returned to our people, the forest is going to live again. The animals and plants are going to return. Our mother will be very strong and very beautiful, as she always was. This is how it has to be.”

In the text, the Xavante still remember the violence suffered. “Before the removal from our land they killed many Xavantes. The fazenda owners of that time being very villainous. They killed with gun fire. Tsereteme died, Tserenhitomo, Tsitomowe,  Pa’rada,  Tseredzaró, all killed with gun fire. We will not betray their spirit.”

Fire in an area within the Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé. Photo: Verena Glass

Data on the disintrusion

The Association of Rural Producers of Suiá-Missu (Aprosum) announced that seven thousand settlers were evicted by the federal government, information widely reported by the  media in Mato Grosso,  which provoked generalized commotion. According to official data of the IBGE (Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics), however, there had been 2,427 persons in Marãiwatsédé. And, of these, only 482 had not declared themselves indigenous in the 2010 Census.

According to the report on Operation Tsa’amri, from the Federal Police, from November 7 to 17 of 2012, only 455 persons were found in the area and notified to leave the indigenous land, and 242 enterprises (such as houses, businesses and fazendas). Forty-three of these sites had been abandoned. Of the 140 who applied to INCRA as candidates for land reform [compensatory land grants], many reported being under threat from fazenda owners, according to the Federal Police. “Many families have reported to INCRA staff that the fazenda owners have used pressure and threats with those who express interest in being resettled,” the report points out.

The estimate is that the proprietors of 80% of the locations mapped within the Indigenous Land were notified. Due to lack of security, the court officials interrupted the notifications on November 17, and the operation was ended. In those 10 days, however, it was possible to substantiate other irregularities, such as the elevated number of workers without signed working records, on the fazendas within the Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé. According to notification certificates, there were also numerous cases in which those residents declared that the owners lived out of state, in various cities of Goiás and São Paulo, for example.

Also according to reports by Court officials, the notifications occurred smoothly, with the exception of the overturning of a National Security Force; an agent of the Federal Highway Police being assaulted by a crowd; and Philemon Limoeiro, current mayor São Félix do Araguaia, accompanied by other fazenda owners, appeared in Posto da Mata and interfered in the diligence process, interrupting the coordinators of the operation and causing confusion.

Cacique Damião with Paulo Maldos, of the General Secretariat of the Presidency Photo: Victor Massao

“The population, nearly in its entirety, is resigned to the situation. Many admit that they already knew of the irregularities of the situation when they arrived in the area, but believed in another solution”, says the Operation Tsa’amri report, of the Federal Police, who furthermore considered the population “orderly and educated” during their interventions. “In the work carried out in the total area, we did not hear what was propagated in the media about bloodshed or the need to use violence. This discourse is propagated by the leadership and not corroborated by the population in general,” notes an excerpt from the report. “The press functioned as a catalyst for the violence propagated by isolated elements that attempted to agitate the rest of the population”.

Much land for few fazenda owners

Since the FUNAI work on identification of the Xavante territory in the 1990s and during the judicial proceedings of the INCRA for the disintrusion, the difficulty in obtaining and disclosing reliable data was a constant. For this reason, those in command of the disintrusion operation work with no fewer than three validated official lists, which attempt to be complementary: those of the FUNAI, INCRA and IBAMA.

Ranch hands herd cattle on the road that cuts through the indigenous reserve. Photo: Rodrigo Baleia / Greenpeace

According to these data, nearly one third of the Indigenous Land Marãiwatsédé is in the hands of 22 large-scale landowners. Many of them are precisely those who, in 1992, encouraged the population to invade the Xavante territory, in a meeting at Posto da Mata broadcast live by Radio Mundial FM, on June 20 of that year.  Click here to download the [Portuguese] audio file. Some of these same persons still incite the population to resist the disintrusion. Such is the case of the current mayor of Sao Felix do Araguaia, Filemon Gomes Costa Limoeiro.

“Let these people who are here wanting to work, live on this land, because if the indian comes here, he will produce nothing. If the indians work, produce, fine, we would also respect their right, they will only hinder our region …”

Filemon Limoeiro on June 20, 1992

“We will not allow that, today it is we who are here, that the indian comes to invade where we are,” said Filemon Limoeiro on June 20, 1992, during the meeting that organized the invasion of Marãiwatsédé in the same week that the company AGIP Petroli declared at Eco 92 that it would return the fazenda area to the Xavante. “There’s a lot of country that has no indian, let them take half, they can take (clapping). In Italy are there indians? No, there aren’t. Take them, take them there, ship them there; no, do not now toss them at us, no; to disrupt a region, end a newly created municipality,” he added.

Another name on the federal government list is that of Manoel Ornellas de Almeida, [appeals court] Judge of the Tribunal of Justice of the State of Mato Grosso, who is also included on the IBAMA list for environmental infractions. The former mayor of Alto Boa Vista, Aldecides Milhomem de Cirqueira and his brother Antonio Milhomem de Cirqueira are, together, owners of six properties.

Gilberto Luiz de Resende, known locally as Gilbertão, owns almost 2,700 hectares (approx. 4.942 acres) in Marãiwatsédé. He and his brother Admilson Resende are indicated as being responsible for entry of homesteaders on indigenous land after delivering documents that were to have given them some right over the land. This was dubbed “private land reform” by the fazenda owners, according to video posted on the Internet by the owners themselves. Click here to download the video.

Posto da Mata, 20 years ago, when fazenda owners organized the invasion. Photo: Divulgção

“… If they try to return (sic) there is going to be a serious conflict, coexistence will be very difficult for our population, so there is not the slightest possibility of the return of these Xavante …”

José Antonio de Almeida “Baú”, former mayor of Alto Boa Vista and elected mayor of São Félix do Araguaia, on June 20, 1992

The video says that “the  Araguaia Basin is one of the most promising agricultural regions of Mato Grosso, here a group of more than seven hundred settlers live a new experience. Without any conflict, two hundred eighty already received the deeds of the property they invaded eleven years ago, and of those, two hundred and fifty families have already negotiated, and only await the confirmation of the agreement. This experience is being recognized as private land reform, a peaceful negotiation that benefits everyone is changing the history of the region”.

Antonio José de Almeida, known as Baú, who is mayor elect of São Félix do Araguaia, is also a central figure in the history of the occupation of Marãiwatsédé. In 1992, he also spoke to Radio Mundial FM: “we as authorities have to give support to the yearning (sic) of the population (clapping). If the people who saw fit to take account of these lands instead of giving it to the indian we have to give this support to the people, it would be irresponsible if we stood by, our arms crossed, letting things go naturally.”

This articulation being foreign, the Xavante attempt to remain united in the village under the guard of the task-force conducting the operation of disintrusion, such as the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, Army, National Security Force, and FUNAI. Apprehensive about the whole process, they are happy with the realization of a dream of 46 years, as elder Francisco Tsipé predicted exactly a year ago.  “We are confident that in this year of 2012 we have hope, the great day will come”.

Marãiwatsede blog:

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