Indigenous Brazilian Community Burned & Attacked for Retaliation

Rick Kearns
12/31/13

The Brazilian Army and National Police have been called in to quell a series of violent attacks by non-indigenous residents against an indigenous community in the Amazon on Christmas Day and then again on December 27, after 3,000 attackers burned houses, cars and a health clinic looking for three of their neighbors who they say had been kidnapped by indigenous men.

The conflict, according to various sources, began after December 3, when Chief Ivan Tenharim was found dead on the Trans Amazonian Highway. Local police said the chief had been the victim of a car accident but some in the Tenharim community believed he had been murdered. The Chief had been a vocal opponent of local logging operations. Press reports assert that the attackers claim that indigenous Tenharim from those villages had kidnapped the three people on December 16 in retaliation for the Chief's death. The non-indigenous family of the disappeared men requested that a search be conducted in the indigenous territory. Tenharim residents then allegedly stated that a search would require a federal order and that they had not kidnapped anyone.

The federal order to search for missing Aldeney Ribeiro Salvador, Stef Pinheiro and Luciano Ferreira Freire was not issued and by December 25, furious residents began their attack.

From December 25 to 27, non-indigenous residents attacked and burned houses, cars, pickup trucks, a small health clinic and the local office of the National Indian Foundation of Brazil, along with cutting off powerlines into the reserve.

On December 29 Federal Judge Marilia Gurgel of the state of Amazonas ordered that protective measures be enacted for the indigenous Tenharim people of the town of Humaita, who by that date had already fled their villages and sought the protection of the 54th Battalion Infantry. Army sources stated that the indigenous would stay with them until their safety could be assured; some of the attacking residents were still waiting on local roads leading into the reserve.

The night before, Judge Gurgel had begun to develop plans for the return of the indigenous people to their towns and for the army to collaborate in posting guards at the borders of the reserve. The military and police will accompany the indigenous to their homes and remain there for an undetermined period according to the Federal Justice Ministry which also has forwarded a request for an investigation to be conducted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights.

The Army and Federal Police will also be conducting a search for the missing men according to the press reports. The non-profit Indigenous Missionary Council, one of the larger religious based advocacy groups in Brazil, has called on federal authorities to conduct an investigation into the death of Chief Ivan Tehnarim also.

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