News-Letter Nr. 493

2002 begins tragically for the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people

Milton Matos Silva, a 46-year old Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe, was shot twice and murdered, on January 2nd 2002, in the Ourinho region in Pau Brasil, Bahia. Milton Saúba, as he was also known, was living on a ranch taken back from the squatter, Joel Brito, who, together with 21 other ranchers from the region, refused to accept the negotiations proposed by Funai and sought and was granted an injunction in the civil Court to regain title to the land in December 2001. The farmer became furious when the Court in Salvador suspended said injunction.

The ranch in Joel Brito´s name is part of 66 land holdings that penetrate into indigenous lands and that were retaken by the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe in October 2001, as a means to expedite the land tenure regularization process of the Caramuru-Catarina-Paraguassu area. Milton Matos lived on the ranch where he was murdered, along with his wife Iraci Trajano and son, known as Beu. According to family members, around eight in the morning, Milton went to the corral when shots rang out, fired by gunmen who were hiding and ambushed him. His wife and son managed to escape the attack. The gunmen then fled.

Milton´s corpse lay at the scene of the crime until late afternoon without being removed. Despite the requests by the community and the Justice Department's Office, agents from the Military, Federal and Civil Police refused to remove the body. The Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe and the head of the local Funai office were obliged to proceed with the removal of the body to the nearest town, Pau Brasil, after eight in the evening, from whence it was taken to the Forensic Police Department in Itabuna for necropsy.

By the morning of January 3rd, neither the Federal Police nor the State Troopers had arrived at the scene of the murder, despite the large number of military personnel in Pau Brasil. A group of Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe community remained at the site, guarding the property. Death threats against tribal leadership have increased ever since the retaking of ranches in the regions of Ourinho and Água Vermelha. Often, shots are fired and explosives set off in the middle of the night, principally in the region where the ambush occurred that killed Milton Matos. In light of these facts, the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people have requested the presence of federal policemen.

Cimi has no doubt as to the fact that the murder of Milton Matos is related to the struggle of the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people to recover 54 thousand hectares of their land. This struggle intensified in 1982 when some 100 families retook the São Lucas ranch and found the property squatter by over 300 cacao planters and cattle in the municipalities of Camacã and Itajú do Colônia. Since then, for over 20 years now, there has been constant strife and many Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe have been killed.

The Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe have never had left in their pressing the Federal Courts for their rights. In November 2001, they were in Brasília demanding punishment for the murderers of Galdino Jesus dos Santos (burned alive in Brasília in April 1997) and have always connected the crime to the delay by the Courts in providing a solution to the land ownership conflicts. An action filed by Funai has been before the Federal Supreme Court (STF) since 1982, proposing that the land titles that were illegally issued by the Government of Bahia be cancelled. Interference on the part of the government of Bahia on behalf of the farmers is one of the major factors in these conflicts.

This latest attack has left the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe community in distress, fearing further attacks by gunmen. Indigenous leaders and Cimi call for the immediate presence of the Federal Police and Regional Administration of Funai in Eunápolis, to investigate yet another assassination and to prevent further acts of violence against indigenous peoples. The indigenous community once again calls upon the STF, to speedily judge the action to cancel the land titles, as a means of ending the violence in the region.

Brasília, January 3rd, 2001
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi

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