Indigenous leaders in Brazil fear retaliation from miners

They ask for protection from threats as a follow-up to the crackdown

Published on 26/02/2023 - 08:13 By Letycia Bond - São Paulo

Located in the upper reaches of the Tapajós river, in the northern state of Pará, the Munduruku territory covers 2,382 thousand hectares and is one of the three indigenous areas with 95 percent of all illegal mining in Brazil, alongside the Yanomami and Kayapó regions. The activities have intensified in the region since 2016.

As it stands today, a total of 18 Munduruku leaders are under threat of death, a survey by the indigenous people themselves indicate. Among the leaders forced to leave their homes due to pressure from criminals is Maria Leusa Munduruku, coordinator of the Munduruku Women’s Association Wakoborũn. She says she made the decision to go into hiding for the first time during former President Bolsonaro’s administration.

She has faced threats since 2018. On two occasions, she had to leave everything behind. On the first, she fled with her husband and children. The last time, she was joined by 35 family members.

In May 2021, Maria Leusa, who became a leader when she was still a high school student, had her house burned down by invaders.

The recent dismantling of mining schemes on Yanomami lands in Roraima heightens fears among the Munduruku that the problem might become even worse. Indigenous leaders have noted that retaliation is usually common after the withdrawal of miners.

Last week, Yanomami leaders in the Amazon denounced the entry of miners in the region of Pico da Neblina, coming from Roraima.

Earlier on

Environmental nonprofit Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) says that, in May 2021, Munduruku leaders called on partner organizations to denounce the burning of the small village of Fazenda Tapajós. The perpetrators were miners who were quick to respond to the crackdown mounted by the Federal Police, the National Force, national environmental authority Ibama, and indigenous agency Funai.

“They ransacked the associations’ headquarters in Jacareacanga in March 2021, and they burned and attacked Maria Leusa’s village of in May 2021. Efforts must be better coordinated, so our leaders and their territory may be safeguarded. Self-demarcation and inspection stand atop the movement’s agenda this year,” says anthropologist Rosamaria Loures, who also works as an adviser to the Munduruku people.

Regarding illegal mining, at the end of November 2022, federal prosecutors requested information from the Federal Police and Ibama about measures to combat the activity in the Munduruku territory in southwest Pará. In reference to the damage, the prosecution used the phrase “a Dantesque scenario.” A month earlier, it had reiterated its request for federal courts, the federal government, Ibama, and Funai to take emergency action.

According to a MapBiomas survey, 21 airstrips can be found in the Munduruku territory alone, which raises the alarm about the presence of miners in the area—most of them (80%) five kilometers or less away from the nearest mine.

The actions of security forces should be continuous, and not only in isolated operations, Loures argued.


Agência Brasil has attempted to reach the Ministry of Justice and Public Security regarding the security operations on indigenous lands and is still waiting for a reply.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Graça Adjuto / Nira Foster

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