In recent years there has been a steep increase in the number and frequency of invasions of indigenous lands in the areas surrounding the municipality of Boca do Acre, in the state of Amazonas. The Valparaíso Indigenous Land, of the Apurinã people, is located on the right bank of the Purus River, about 3 1/2 hours by boat from the city. The territory is home to two lakes – Bom Lugar and Conceição do Desterro – and six streams – Retiro, Preto, Cajarí, Caruaru, Apragata, and Escondido – which are the major sources of food of the Apurinã people.
Since 1991, a group within the Apurinã indigenous people has demanded demarcation of the territory. Only in 2002 did the Public Prosecutor’s Office become aware of the claim. In 2003, the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) set up a work group to begin the process of land identification, which was later abandoned. To this day, the demarcation process for the territory has yet to start, leaving the people vulnerable to the actions of land grabbers.
In this region lived the ancestors of the Apurinã people, a fact that can be corroborated by the existence of a traditional cemetery there. The group’s elders, unaware of the reach of the white man’s greed, did not concern themselves with claims aimed at the demarcation of the territory, something that the current generation is striving to achieve. Few elderly people live in the area, but their descendants observe traditions by respecting and caring for the cemetery and the group’s internal organizational norms for housing and culture.
Initially, the demarcation claims encompassed an area of 56,000 hectares. However, due to constant invasions at the time by small, medium, and large producers, and in order to prevent conflicts from arising – the acquiescence to which served as basis, in 2003, for the promise that the demarcation would be carried out – the Apurinã people gave up its claim to part of its traditional territory. Through an agreement signed with federal agencies (Funai and the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária [National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform], Incra), the Apurinã people reduced its claim to 27 thousand hectares.
Currently, the people are organized within the territory in three villages. As the demarcation process is currently stalled, the territory has been ravaged by land grabbers year after year. The invasions follow a set pattern, as reported by cacique Antônio José Apurinã, general leader of the indigenous land:
At the time, a settlement authorized by Incra was established in the lands that today harbor cattle farm enterprises. Small farmers were forced to sell their plots to large farmers.
Climate of intimidation and resistance
Boca do Acre is a municipality located in the south of Amazonas state, approximately one thousand kilometers from its capital, Manaus. It is a region heavily encroached on by livestock enterprises and victimized by invasions and land grabbing, which are carried out in great part by people originating from other states, such as Mato Grosso, Santa Catarina, Rondônia, among others. With support from the current government, land grabbing actions in the Valparaíso indigenous land have escalated. Prior to the Bolsonaro administration, the processes happened on a small scale, whereas today the invasions take place in much larger proportions.
In August 2019, on the so-called “day of fire”, a group of six farmers started a great fire that extended over an area of 600 hectares on the banks of the Retiro stream, thus causing the destruction of several centuries-old Brazil nut trees. In the absence of the trees many families lost their livelihood, as the Apurinã people collect Brazil nuts to support themselves.
As a result of the conflicts arising from the land invasions and the destruction of the territory, the indigenous people are under a constant state of threat. In May 2020, the people’s general leader received both a death threat and a court summons with an eviction order. The judicial decision was based on a complaint filed by a city councilman, Francisco Gonçalves de Sales (PP party), known as Mapará, who operates a farm within the indigenous territory and accuses the indigenous people of trespassing on their own land.
This councilman goes into the indigenous land accompanied by members of his family and bearing firearms. He also leaves intimidating messages with neighboring residents. Despite having filed police reports for each of these incidents, the Apurinã leader did not hear back from local authorities. As a result, the complaints have been escalated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the state of Amazonas, as well as to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, 6th Chamber, where they await action.
In 2020, the Apurinã people discovered a 400-hectare land clearing on the banks of the Apragata stream, near Bom Lugar lake. The indigenous people continue to be subject to various threats: firearms, illegal logging, clearing of large land areas, predatory hunting and fishing, spraying of pesticides that permeate the lakes and streams leading to the poisoning of fish, one of their main food staples.
The people resist by remaining on the land, by monitoring its borders with the support and assistance of allies to the indigenous cause, by constructing lodging throughout the territory, denouncing illegal activities and acts of persecution to competent bodies, and by exercising their trust in the TXURA God and in Mother Nature.
Ivanilda Torres dos Santos is a member of Indigenist Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário, Cimi), Western Amazon Section. She is currently a regional coordinator working at the regional headquarters in Rio Branco (Acre state).
Antonia Silva is a member of CIMI, Western Amazon section, and currently works with the Boca do Acre/AM team.