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Gunfire ahead of Amazon Summit

Tembé Indigenous people attacked by gunfire just 100km from Amazon Summit
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Gunfire ahead of Amazon Summit

Main image: @joseruigaviao / Ya Gavião

Four members of the Tembé Indigenous community have been wounded by gunfire from security forces working for the Brazilian company Brazil BioFuels (BBF), Latin America’s largest palm oil producer, according to a complaint presented by Tembé leaders to Brazilian federal prosecutors.

On 04 August a Tembé woman named Kauã Tembé was shot in the village of Bananal, in the municipality of Tomé-Açu, Pará state. On 07 August three other Tembé were wounded by gunfire. All are hospitalised in the region, and one victim is in critical condition.

The conflict took place 100 kilometres from Belém, where the Amazon Summit opened on 09 August with presidents from five Amazonian countries – Brazil, Peru, Guyana, Bolivia and Colombia – in attendance.

The summit is regarded by the Lula government as its principal foreign policy event in 2023, meant to signal to the international community that Brazil aims to reassert sovereignty and the presence of the country in the region.

Territories and rights

According to the Tembé Indigenous Association of Acará Valley, the community observed a ‘significant and aggressive deployment of military police’ on 04 August.

The police began to ‘intervene forcefully in the area occupied by the Indigenous community, accompanied by heavily armed security forces from Brazil BioFuels, blocking a bridge that provides access to the occupation area’, the association said in a statement to the Federal Public Ministry.

The disputed area, which has been occupied by BBF for monocropping, is claimed by the Tembé, Afro-descendent, and fishing communities as their traditional territory.

The attacks by BBF’s security force, in coordination with Brazilian military police, coincide with the assembly of thousands of Indigenous peoples from across the Amazon at the Summit in Belém to demand an end to violence against their communities and increased respect for their territories and rights.

Conflict and palm oil

The violence occurred immediately before the arrival of a special mission coordinated by the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), which was traveling to Tomé-Açu to investigate the human rights violations reported by the Tembé Indigenous community.

In a statement, the CNDH reported that ‘the attack was likely motivated by a complaint made by a chief on August 4th. On that occasion, the chief, in tears, reported that his son, Kauã Tembé, ‘was shot during conflicts in the region.’

Violence targeting the Tembé adds to numerous cases of human rights and environmental violations in the area, which is surrounded by thousands of palm oil trees.

Such conflicts have endured since Biopalma, a subsidiary of the BioVale group, controlled vast palm groves and industrial factories that border on the traditional and ancestral territories of local communities.

BioVale sold its assets to Brazil BioFuels in November 2020, and since then, according to communities, conflicts have escalated.

Last September, BBF was accused of ordering the deaths of a group of Turyuara Indigenous people, whose territory is also in Acará Valley.

‘The alarming situation facing the Tembé is a stark and disturbing contradiction to the values and objectives being championed at the Amazon Summit.

‘As leaders gather to discuss sustainability, climate justice, and environmental stewardship, Indigenous people face brutal corporate-driven violence under the guise of a so-called green energy transition. The time for platitudes is over; immediate and decisive action must be taken to respect, protect, and uphold the rights and lives of Indigenous peoples.’

Brazil program director at Amazon Watch

BBF palm oil

In November 2022, a Global Witness report detailed the history of violence that communities suffered and how the company’s private security acts to suppress free movement in surrounding territories.

The organisation also challenged BBF’s international customers, urging them to stop buying from the company, citing grave socio-environmental impacts to the forest and forest peoples, and recommending that the European Union create mechanisms to monitor supply chains providing commodities to companies based in the economic bloc.

Kellogg’s, Hershey’s, Mondeléz, Pepsico and Unilever purchase palm oil from BBF.

Pará’s state governor, Helder Barbalho, has focused significant investments in BBF in his efforts to promote a bioeconomy and energy transition, which are central themes discussed in recent days in Belém, in events of the pre-Amazon Summit.

Climate justice

At an event in London earlier this year, Mr Barbalho spoke about biofuel for airplanes, one of BBF’s products, which symbolises its efforts to lead clean energy generation from palm oil.

Weary of the company’s positive association with solutions for the global climate crisis, the Tembé questioned its true record before federal and state authorities on Sunday, a day before renewed violence in the community occurred.

In a letter signed by the Indigenous associations of Acará Valley and addressed to Governor Barbalho and President Lula, the Tembé reminded that ‘there is no climate justice without the protection of forest peoples.’

‘Unlike what it preaches, BBF does not promote sustainability and is not concerned with reducing its ecological footprint unless it also has to do with the genocide of the people […] there is no energy transition or climate justice without environmental, agrarian, and territorial justice […] Your excellencies do not want to bear the mark of a false energy transition stained with indigenous, quilombola, and riverine blood […] one cannot talk about sustainability and green economy without first taking care of the forest peoples’, warn the Tembé.

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