11 people reported killed in gun attack at bar in Brazil

Policemen are seen at a site where, according to local media, an armed group entered and opened fire at a bar, killing and wounding its patrons, in Belem, Para state, Brazil May 19, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 May 2019
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11 people reported killed in gun attack at bar in Brazil

  • Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics

RIO DE JANEIRO: A gang of gunmen roared up to a bar in Belem city in Brazil’s northern Pará state and opened fire, killing six women and five men Sunday afternoon, media reports said. State officials would confirm only that “a massacre” occurred but gave no details.
The G1 news website said police reported that seven gunmen were involved in the attack, which also wounded one person. The news outlet said the attackers arrived at the bar on one motorcycle and in three cars.
A Pará state spokeswoman, Natalia Mello, said only: “A massacre is confirmed.” State communications officials stopped answering phone calls. Military and civil police in Pará state also did not answer phone calls or respond to emails.
In late March, the federal government sent National Guard troops to Belém to reinforce security in the city for 90 days.
Brazil hit a record high of 64,000 homicides in 2017, 70% of which were due to firearms, according to official statistics.
Much of Brazil’s violence is gang related. In January, gangs attacked across Fortaleza, bringing that city to a standstill with as commerce, buses and taxis shut down.
Rio de Janeiro, the country’s second biggest city, experiences daily shootouts between rival gangs and also between police and criminals, battles that often result in the deaths of innocent bystanders. Fogo Cruzado, a group that monitors shootings in the Rio metropolitan area, says there were 2,300 shootings in Rio and its suburbs during the first 100 days of this year.
Killings attributed to police gunfire in Rio de Janeiro state have reached a record high, rising 18% in the first three months, in a spike partly attributed to a campaign of a zero tolerance for criminals being pushed by state leaders.
One of new President Jair Bolsonaro’s main campaign promises was that he would loosen Brazil’s strict gun laws, arguing that because criminals are well-armed with illegally obtained guns, “upstanding citizens” should have the right to defend themselves with legally bought guns. Bolsonaro has made good on that campaign promise with two presidential decrees that make buying guns easier, though federal prosecutors are seeking to get the courts to block that move.


Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

Updated 7 min 53 sec ago

Amazon tribe in Brazil patrols territory, braces for fight

  • Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires
  • Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life

ALTO RIO GUAMA INDIGENOUS RESERVE, Brazil: Deep in the Amazon rainforest, there is talk of a looming conflict over land. The men in the Tembe indigenous group sometimes daub themselves in traditional war paint and patrol the forest. They carry bows and arrows, but feel increasingly vulnerable as they brace for run-ins with illegal loggers.

Tension over territory reached a new height after a surge in annual fires, usually set to clear land, devastated large areas of the Brazil’s Amazon region in past weeks. Some indigenous people who live in the Amazon say deforestation is encroaching on their lands and way of life.

The problem is old — and escalating. On Aug. 27, Tembe people who had repeatedly warned loggers to stay out of their reserve took action. On a forest trek, men from the Tekohaw village spotted loggers using chain saws, trucks and tractors to cut down and haul trees. The indigenous warriors recorded video. Then they intervened, letting the loggers flee before burning their machinery.

“We destroyed their machinery because they have been destroying our lives for a long time. Our life is the forest,” said Ronilson Tembé. On a recent jungle patrol, he was camouflaged from head to foot with leaves and carried a large red horn to summon companions.

The Tembe are proud of their triumph, but worry about retaliation. Police are monitoring makeshift sawmills around their land after the Tekohaw village chieftain filed reports of death threats. “Every day that passes, the invasion comes closer to our village,” said the chieftain, Sergio Muxi Tembé. He wore a colorful headdress of macaw and other feathers and a traditional bone bracelet on his wrist, next to a Casio digital watch.

“We don’t want to be killed by bullets,” he said. “We want the federal government to assume its responsibility and guarantee the right that we have to live in our lands, to live in peace.” Their 1,080-square-mile (2,766-square-kilometer) Alto Rio Guama homeland is officially protected. But in reality, it’s under siege by loggers who try to extract prized hardwood in a Brazilian state that is one of the Amazon’s largest producers and exporters of timber.

Like other Amazon states, Para has also been hit by thousands of fires that have intensified international concern about the world’s largest rainforest, considered a vital bulwark against climate change. An Associated Press team traveled for days in the Amazon to document the fires and deforestation on the remote indigenous reserve, which can only be reached by river or on rough roads.

On a recent day, a boa constrictor slithered in the sun on a red dirt road leading to Tekohaw, where about 600 members of the tribe live on the banks of the Gurupí River. Their life mixes tradition and modernity. Villagers fish for piranhas, hunt for birds, and pick fruits and take materials for traditional medicine from jungle trees, while some watch television or log on to the Internet on phones inside thatched-roof huts.

Like elsewhere in Brazil, stricter enforcement of environmental laws between 2004 and 2014 sharply curbed deforestation in the Amazon. The rate began climbing after that, and ramped up further as the fires escalated in early August, according to Brazilian state monitors.

Amid an international outcry, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sent the military to help battle some fires and banned most legal fires for land-clearing in the Amazon for 60 days. However, he had previously promised to loosen protections for indigenous lands as a way to develop Brazil’s economy, a pledge that critics say has stoked clashes.

Bolsonaro believes past allocations of land to indigenous people were excessive. About 14 percent of Brazil is indigenous territory, a huge area for a relatively small population, according to the president. Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, said in Washington last week that the opening of the Amazon to development is “the only way to protect the forest.”

One expert on Brazil said the plight of the Tembe people is the direct outcome of government policy. “This leads to a situation where the lawlessness of the Amazon region ... becomes such that the livelihood of the indigenous people is under a real threat. And they don’t have a lot of capacity to defend themselves,” said Monica de Bolle, a Brazil expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“These are the people who live off the land, who do substance farming. They are very much aware of the environment around it and how to maintain it because that’s how they sustain their livelihood,” said de Bolle, who recently testified before US Congress about the Amazon.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released this week that deforestation in the Amazon “is driven largely by criminal networks that use violence and intimidation against those who try to stop them.” It blamed Brazil’s government for failing to protect the rainforest and people trying to protect it.

Those networks can “coordinate large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, while deploying armed men to intimidate and, in some cases, kill those who seek to defend the forest,” Human Rights Watch said. It based its report on interviews with indigenous people and others in the Brazilian states of Para, Maranhao and Rondonia.

In Brazil’s Congress, lawmaker Edmilson Rodrigo from Para state made a call to defend the Amazon’s indigenous people, including the Tembe. “Land grabbers, miners, loggers have taken their lands and they’ve reacted by trying to protect it,” he said.
Women of the Tembe tribe said their men will suffer casualties if they get into a fight with loggers likely to have firearms. They hope an international donor can provide the men with bulletproof vests.

“Our husbands go to look out after our lands, and this is our only weapon,” said Anailde Tembe, the chieftain’s wife. She lifted a bow and a sheaf of feathered arrows.