A group of people belonging to the indigenous community Gamela in the state of Maranhão, Brazil, were brutally attacked this Sunday while leaving disputed lands in the municipality of Viana. As of this moment there has been no confirmation of fatalities however they suffered injuries, many severe. Five individuals were shot and two had his hands forcibly amputated by the attackers, another severely cut by machetes below the knees. In total 13 individuals were injured.
Members of the Gamela community were leaving lands which they had claimed to be traditional Gamela territory, fearing violent reaction by farmers and henchman. They were too late. Dozens of armed men, waiting for hours to ambush the group, attacked the indigenous with machetes and large sticks.
It is said that this act of violence was incited by Maranhão congressman Aluiso Guimarães Mendes Filho who, in a radio interview, called the indigenous “troublemakers” and supported non-Gamela residents in the region to defend themselves. “The people won’t accept this [indigenous action] anymore” said the congressman.
Tensions are still extremely high as new attacks are feared. Rumors have been spreading that the indigenous will be massacred tonight while still in the hospital and some individuals have left soon after receiving initial treatment.
“We fear new attacks will happen at any moment. The jagunços [enforcers hired by farmers] are being incited and estimulated in Santero, the same place they came from yesterday. The police are saying it wasn’t an attack, it was a confrontation. This isn’t true, we were caught by surprise. We could hardly defend ourselves, just look what happened” said one Gamela tribe member who wished to not be identified.
According to Gamela tribe members, police were at the scene at the time of the attack but chose not to intervene. On a call with representatives of Cimi, the Indigenous Missionary Council, the town’s police chief said he didn’t know how many indigenous were injured because in that region they were “not even considered indigenous”.
Photo: Gamela Community – CIMI
Both military and civil police in the region have previously been denounced as being prejudiced towards the Gamela and partial to farmer interests. There is a public sentiment in Viana that Gamela are not actually indigenous but individuals occupying lands under the guise of ancestral rights.
This is not the first attack on the Gamela people. In 2015, shots were fired against indigenous in disputed lands in the region and in 2016, three armed men wearing bulletproof vests entered another area where Gamela indigenous were residing but were expelled by the community.