Land conflicts – Tupinambá de Belmonte Indigenous Land

The Tupinambá de Belmonte live along the banks of the Jequitinhonha River in the far south of Bahia, in the municipality of Belmonte in the Tupinambá de Belmonte Indigenous Land. The Indigenous Land covers 9,521 hectares.  It is in the challenges phase of the demarcation process.

The far south of Bahia is the scene of major land conflicts. Cacao farming predominates on the left bank of the Jequitinhonha River, where the Tupinambá de Belmonte live. It is important to mention that, during the heyday of cacao production, Belmonte was one of the most important cities in the state.  It still retains vestiges of that period, like the “colonels” [as large landowners who held vast power are known].

After being the subject of various injunctions in land repossession cases, the Tupinambá de Belmonte received a favourable decision from the Federal Appeals Court (TRF-1), which suspended a injunction issued by a lower court judge in Eunápolis. However, the farmers filed a new repossession lawsuit in the lower court naming “unspecified people” as defendants. This prevented identification of the previous case with the court decision in favour of the Indigenous people. Thus, the lower court judge issued another injunction against the Tupinambá, authorizing the use of private force by the plaintiff for the removal of the Indigenous people, which the Ceolin family carried out, according to a denouncement made by the community.

In response, the Human Rights Network went to Brasilia.  The TRF-1 issued three more decisions in favour of the Tupinambá de Belmonte and, in one of them, gave the lower court judge in Eunápolis five days to clarify the “apparent disobedience” of the court’s decision.

In another development in this conflict, the farmers cut off the supply of electricity to the Indigenous Land, even though the Electric Company of the State of Bahia (Coelba) had already started an electrification project. Posts were stolen, leaving the Patiburi community (the main village in the Indigenous Land) without electricity. In response, the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) recommended, among other things, that the government of Bahia do whatever was necessary to guarantee electrical supply to the Indigenous Land, which had lost all its harvest because of the lack of electricity.

The region’s conflicts are recurrent; farmers and the  government itself violate Indigenous people’s rights. The Tupinambá de Belmonte have to defend themselves against police accusations of stealing cacao from their own lands, which have already been demarcated by the National Indian Foundation. In 2018, despite successive victories in the federal appeals court (TRF-1), an economic blockade was imposed on the Tupinambá de Belmonte, throwing the previously self-sufficient community into a subsistence crisis. Some families even abandoned the territory and encamped near garbage dumps of Eunápolis.

It is worth noting, that the Federal Public Ministry in Eunápolis issued an opinion supporting the decision against the Indigenous people, and didn’t involve itself in subsequent land possession cases, which were proposed to circumvent the TRF-1 decision.  Only after many complaints, and the efforts of the Human Rights Network, did the situation begin to change.

It is important to highlight that all the Indigenous caciques and leaders in the state of Bahia, from communities that face property conflicts, are the target of criminal investigations and charges.  In addition, there is no state or federal Public Defender’s Office in these locations. To make things worse, the Special Federal Prosecutor’s Office together with the National Indian Foundation allege that these are “individual” issues and, therefore, won’t act in these cases.  As we have seen, the Federal Public Ministry is acting as an accuser.

Rutian do Rosário Santos

Jovem liderança indígena do povo Pataxó (Bahia), graduanda em Direito pela Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA). Possui graduação em Ciências Econômicas pela UFBA (2014) e especialização em Direitos Humanos e Contemporaneidade pela mesma universidade (2020). É pesquisadora colaboradora do Programa de Educação Tutorial (PET) Comunidades Indígenas UFBA. Atua como colaboradora do projeto Cunhataí Ikhã (Meninas em Luta) da Associação Nacional de Ação Indigenista (Anaí). É diretora financeira do Movimento Unido dos Povos e Organizações Indígenas da Bahia (Mupoiba).