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Brazilian indigenous tribesmen shot in hit-and-run attack

December 8, 2019

The killings took place on an indigenous reserve where locals are often exposed to violent clashes with illegal loggers and miners. Authorities are investigating the identities of the attackers and their motives.

Maranhao state
Image: DW/N. Pontes

Two Brazilian indigenous men belonging to the Guajajara tribe were shot dead Saturday in the northeastern state of Maranhao, while two others were left injured.

Magno Guajajara, a spokesman for the Guajajara tribe, identified the two men as Firmino Guajajara and Raimundo Guajajara.

"They were shooting at everyone," he said, adding that he did not know why the two men had been shot but that they were on a highway coming back from a meeting when the shooting took place.

Brazilian federal police and local authorities are investigating the latest attack in the region but did not say if anyone had been detained.

Read more: Action, not outcry will save the Amazon

Motives behind attack

Brazilian news outlet Globo released a video of the tribesmen lying on a roadside in the municipality of Jenipapo dos Vieiras. In the video, one injured Guajajara man said that a white vehicle began shooting at him while he was on his motorbike and at several other members of the tribe who were also on the highway.

The video circulated on social networks. In protest against the attack, Guajajara tribespeople blocked the highway.

"The Indians were hit by gunfire from a vehicle" along a highway that crosses the Cana Brava Indigenous Land, of the Guajajara ethnic group, said Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) in a statement. "As a form of protest, indigenous people blocked highway BR-226 in both directions."

According to passengers on a bus traveling in the area at the time, the indigenous tribespeople threw stones at the windows of the bus.

Investigations are still underway to identify the attackers and examine the motives behind the shootings.

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Clash with illegal loggers and miners

The shooting took place in the Cana Brava indigenous reservation, which spans 137,000 hectares (338,530 acres) and has 4,500 inhabitants, according to government records.

In the same region just a few weeks earlier, another indigenous leader was assassinated about 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of the city of Sao Luis. 

Paulino Guajajara was killed on indigenous territory after being ambushed by illegal loggers. He had been a member of Guardians of the Forest, a group of more than 100 Guajajara Indians who protect their territories from invasions in Maranhao, where land clashes with illegal loggers and miners are frequent.

Indigenous peoples across Brazil are experiencing a spike in violence under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to limit tribal rights and maximize commercial exploitation of their lands

In response to the shootings, indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara took to social media and called for action in the case.

"How long will this happen? Who will be next? The authorities need to have a specific look at the indigenous peoples, life is being taken in the name of hatred and prejudice! No more drop of indigenous blood!" she said.

mvb/dr (AFP, EFE, Reuters)

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