Brazil: crime wars rock Sao Paulo

Brazilian police this month launched "Operation Saturation" to crush the Sao Paolo criminal network known as the First Capital Command (PCC), in response to the mafia's campaign of assassinations of police officers and employees. So far this year, 95 officers have been murdered in and around the sprawling city, according to official figures—up from 47 in 2011. Most were ambushed off duty by presumed gang members. Operation Saturation was launched after Marta Umbelina, an office worker at Sao Paolo's military police, was shot dead in front of her house and in sight of her 11-year-old daughter Nov. 3. In one of the operation's raids, military police found what they say is a hit list with the names and addresses of 40 officers.

Brazil: Amazon native killed by federal police

A Munduruku indigenous man was killed in a gunfight with Brazilian federal police at the remote Amazonian settlement of Teles Pires, straddling the border of Mato Grosso and Pará states, authorities said Nov. 9. Six other Mundurukus and three officers were wounded, the federal police said. The police were part of a multi-state operation targeting illegal gold mining. Police said a group of Munduruku men armed with shotguns and bows and arrows attacked the officers as they were destroying mining equipment. Authorities charge Munduruku leaders were receiving monthly payoffs from illegal miners. (Otramérica, Nov. 25; Agência Estado, Nov. 21; EFE, Nov. 9)

Brazil: violence halts work at Belo Monte dam

Work on Brazil's controversial $13 billion Belo Monte hydro-dam has been at a halt since Nov. 11, when workers torched buildings at three work sites of the Monte Belo Construction Consortium (CCBM), hired by parastatal Norte Energia to build the massive complex. The violence broke out after CCBM proposed a seven percent wage hike to the workers in an area where the inflation rate is at 30%. In addition to labor undest, CCBM has also faced physical obstruction by local indigenous peoples. On Oct. 9 a group of protesters—150 natives and local fishermen—interrupted construction, accusing Norte Energia of backtracking on accords signed in June when indigenous people occupied the dam site for three weeks. (AFP, Nov. 13; Xingo Vivo, Nov. 11) A local court halted construction of the project Aug. 14, finding that indigenous inhabitants had not been consulted, but Brazil's Supreme Federal Tribunal ordered construction to resume two weeks later, citing the project's criticality to "the administrative order, the economic order and the Brazilian energy policy." Brazil's Prosecutor General is to meanwhile investigate the question of whether indigenous peoples had been properly consulted. (The Rio Times, Aug. 30)

Brazil: Guarani threaten mass suicide?

The UK's Daily Mail this week, citing a letter from indigenous leaders obtained via Brazil's Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), reported that en entire tribe of the Guarani people—consisting of 50 men, 50 women and 70 children—have threatened to commit collective suicide if they are evicted from their traditional lands. The Guarani-Kaiowa tribe are currently camped on lands claimed by a rancher in Brazil's southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul, and local Judge Henrique Bonachela upheld a petition by the rancher to have the Guarani evicted—dimsissing their claim that they have lived on the land for centuries and it includes ancient burial grounds. Bonachela reportedly imposed a fine equivalent to $240 for every day that the tribe remains on the land, on the banks of the Rio Joguico. The Spanish news agency EFE later cited both CIMI and the Brazilian indigenous affairs agency FUNAI as denying that the Guarani-Kaiowa had threatened mass suicide. A statement on the CIMI website says there are "different interpretations" of the letter issued by the Guarani-Kaiowa community, called  Kue Pyelito, in which they denounced the eviction as tantamount to their "collective death." (EFE, CIMI, Oct. 25; Daily Mail, Oct. 24; Combate ao Racismo Ambiental, Oct. 10)

OAS rights body presses for truth in Yanomami massacre claims

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), a body of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued a statement Sept. 5 urging Venezuelan authorities "to conduct a thorough investigation" into assertions made by representatives of the Horonami Yanomami organization that an isolated Yanomami  community in southern Amazonas state was massacred by outlaw gold-miners who came across the Brazilian border. The statement came days after Venezuela's Minister for Indigenous People Nicia Maldonado and Justice Minister Tareck el Aissami both said that teams sent to the region had found no evidence of a massacre. The IACHR called on both Venezuela and Brazil to pursue a deeper investigation, and report back their findings to the international body.

Venezuelan authorities deny Yanomami massacre

Venezuelan officials investigating a reported mass killing of Yanomami indigenous people say the have found no evidence of the attack. Minister of Indigenous Peoples Nicia Maldonado said a team travelled to the area by helicopter and failed to locate the bodies witnesses had described finding. "No evidence of any death was found," Maldonado said on state TV. "There is no evidence of murder or fire in either houses or shabonos [communal dwellings] in the communities where the alleged crime took place." Gen. José Eliecer Pinto of the National Guard told Ultimas Noticias newspaper that he had visited four indigenous communities along with other officials and that "everything is fine there." Officials expressed skepticism at claims that outlaw gold miners came across the border from Brazil to attack the settlemet from the air by helicopter.  "It would be extremely hard to do," said Gen. Rafael Zambrano, commander of the Venezuelan army unit responsible for the region.

Brazil: judge agrees to first war crimes trial for members of dictatorship

A Brazilian federal judge in Pará on Aug. 31 agreed to conduct the first trial against members of the former dictatorship for alleged crimes during the military's rule from 1964-1985. The defendants are two retired army reserve members, Col. Sebastiao de Moura and Maj. Licio Maciel, accused of kidnappings during suppression of the guerilla movement in the Araguaia region between 1972 and 1975. The judge agreed with prosecutors that Brazil's 1979 amnesty law, which provides amnesty for members of the government and military alleged to have committed political crimes between 1961 and 1975, does not apply because bodies of the alleged kidnapping victims were never found, and the cases are therefore still technically open.

Brazil: quilombo threatened by rancher gunmen

Amnesty International reports that 45 families from the Quilombo Pontes community in Pirapemas municipality, in Brazil's northeastern Maranhão state, are being systematically threatened and intimidated by gunmen who are patrolling the area. The gunmen are employed by local ranchers who are trying to push the community off the land. Crops and property belonging to the community have been destroyed, and its members are now struggling to provide food for their families. The Pontes community was officially recognised as a quilombo territory—communities of descendants of escaped slaves—in December 2011, but the authorities have not intervened to guarantee the integrity of their land.

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