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In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, indigenous groups fear more violence | Brazil News

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Amarante do Maranhao, Brazil – Davi Gaviao, an indigenous man with a mental illness was known to spend his days wandering the streets of Amarante do Maranhao, a poor and remote rural town on Brazil’s Amazon frontier.

By nightfall, he would usually return to the nearby 42,000 hectare Governador indigenous reserve where he lived with around 1,500 other Gaviao Pykopje tribespeople, in Maranhao state.

But in mid-October, days after the first round of Brazil’s presidential elections, Davi was killed, shot to death by two men on a motorbike as he lay asleep outside a local supermarket.

Sebastiao Wagner Bezerra, a local civil police chief, confirmed to Al Jazeera that an investigation of Davi’s murder was “advancing” but the motive was still unknown.

Rumours spread that Davi had somehow “offended” the matriarch of one of the powerful landowning families that dominate the region. Others speculate that he was killed for being indigenous.

Amarante’s economy, specialists say, is based in large part on illegal timber, much of which is plundered from indigenous reserves like Governador where Davi lived.

“Some locals here see indigenous people as a barrier to progress,” said Guaraci Mendes da Silva, a substitute regional coordinator in Maranhao state for Brazil’s National indigenous Foundation (Funai).

Davi’w murder comes amid rising violence against indigenous people and rural peasants in Brazil’s Amazon states, enabled by recent cuts to indigenous and environmental budgets.

And now, with the election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1, local indigenous activists fear even more violence due to the president’s history of anti-indigenous rhetoric and alliance with Brazil’s powerful farming lobby.





A sign marking an indigenous territory is riddled with bullet holes [Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera]

Shortly after being elected at the end of October, Bolsonaro said in a TV interview, “As far as I am concerned, there is no more demarcation of indigenous land.” 

Increased gun ownership for rural property owners and opening up indigenous lands for mining were also measures touted throughout his campaign.

Hours after assuming office on Tuesday, Bolsonaro issued an executive order transferring the responsibilities of regulating and creating new indigenous lands from the the indigenous affairs agency, Funai, under the Justice Ministry to the Agricultural Ministry. Funai will be moved to a new ministry for family, women and human rights.

Analysts fear that such a move and rhetoric empowers violent loggers and land grabbers in largely lawless and remote rural areas and towns like Amarante.

“It’s a discourse that legitimises violence against indigenous people,” said Cleber Buzatto, executive secretary of the indigenous Missionary Council, an advocacy group, said of Bolsonaro.

‘Sends a message’

In July, Bolsonaro visited Eldorado do Carajas, in the Amazon state of Para, which neighbours Maranhao, site of a 1996 massacre in which 19 rural workers protesting by blocking a highway were killed by military police. Two former police colonels are serving 228 years for the crime.

Brazil’s O Estado de S Paulo newspaper reported that Bolsonaro said, “Who needed to have been arrested were the MST, (Landless Worker’s Movement) who are scoundrels and shameless. The police reacted not to die.”

Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, president of the Democratic Association of Ruralists (UDR), a group of right-wing farmers and activists opposed to land reform, now appointed as Bolsonaro’s secretary for land affairs, told Brazil’s O Globo in a recent interview that he would not “negotiate” with landless peasant movements.

“The tendency is for rural violence to increase even further, it’s very worrying,” said Paulo Cesar Moreira, a national coordinator for Brazil’s Pastoral Land Commission. 

Brazil is already the world’s deadliest country in sheer numbers for indigenous, land and environmental activists with a record 57 killings in 2017 according NGO Global Witness.

Impunity is a huge driver of violence and Maranhao is one of the worst affected states. According to Brazil’s Pastoral Land Commission, a rural violence watchdog, of 157 land conflict killings in Maranhao between 1985 and 2017, just five ended up in court.

Amarante do Maranhao, a municipality of some 40,000 people is home to two large indigenous reserves; Governador and Arariboia. Together, a handful of indigenous lands and conservation units concentrate 70 percent of the remaining Amazon forest in Maranhao state.

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, just 25 percent of Maranhao’s previous 110,000 square kilometre of Amazon forest remains, the majority of which was cleared for agriculture and cattle ranching.

Recent data showed that across Brazil’s Amazon states, deforestation increased by nearly 50 percent during the August to October election period.

“Bolsonaro’s discourse throughout the campaign, that he’ll end Ibama [Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources] or the environmental ministry, this sends a message to those that commit environmental crimes, that they will be tolerated,” said Marcio Astrini, public policy coordinator for Greenpeace Brazil. “It has an immediate effect.”

Government data pointed to an overall increase of nearly 14 percent in Amazon deforestation in 2018 compared with the previous year, the worst result in a decade, which the government blamed on illegal logging.





Ibama destroyed several irregular sawmills in Amarante and the surrounding municipalities last year [Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera]

Experts warn that unless deforestation slows, the Amazon will reach a point of no return and eventually begin to turn into shrubland.

“If the deforestation continues and passes 20 – 25 percent, there is the risk of the beginning of the process of the Amazon turning into Savannah,” said Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists.

Nobre said that 16 percent was already gone and could be accelerated through climate change, global warming and forest fires.

Ricardo Salles, Bolsonaro’s environmental minister, has called climate change a “secondary issue” and environmental fines “”ideological.”

‘We have no resources, no support’

In poor rural Amazon towns like Amarante do Maranhao, many locals who depend on the timber trade for their income agree with Salles, leading to conflicts with authorities and indigenous groups.

Last year, Ibama destroyed several irregular sawmills in Amarante and the surrounding municipalities.

“The objective of destroying these sawmills was to protect the biodiversity inside of indigenous lands and conservation units,” said Roberto Cabral, surveillance operations coordinator of Ibama, who was once shot and injured by loggers in the region.

Rosinan Alves dos Santos, 43, said that he had worked at a sawmill that was destroyed by Ibama last year and that afterwards was unemployed for nearly eight months. Now working at another irregular sawmill, he said he could earn 50 Brazilian real (about $13) a day, more than Brazil’s minimum wage.

“They come here and destroy our jobs,” he said of Ibama. “For us, this is the only work we have.”

Roberto Cabral of Ibama said, “There is a false impression that the jobs that sawmills provide are providing prosperity,”

Cabral added that “if you look as cities where clandestine sawmills are present, the city doesn’t develop, because there are no taxes paid.”





Forest guards say that they receive regular threats [Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera] 

Al Jazeera visited the Governador indigenous reserve earlier this year. For decades, the Governador reserve has been plundered by illegal loggers and in 2013, tribesmen set up an indigenous forest patrol guard initiative to keep the loggers out.

“Before, illegal logging in our territory was basically liberated,” said Marcelo Gaviao, 37, the leader of the forest guard. Marcelo Gaviao said he and other leaders receive regular threats.

But it’s far from stopped. It was here, last year, that Sonia Vicente Cacau Gaviao and José Caneta Gaviao, were killed when they were hit by a speeding truck local leaders say belonged to loggers.

Marcelo Gaviao also said that some indigenous on Governador are “co-opted”: that they pass information to loggers in exchange for payment. 

“Even during our monitoring group we have people who pass information about missions,” he said.

Al Jazeera recently accompanied the forest guard on a night patrol of the territory. At one point, Marcelo Gaviao and four other forest guards dressed in camouflage and armed with shotguns in a pickup, sped after a truck laden with timber they suspected was taken from their reserve but gave up after a brief chase, fearful of a violent confrontation.

Now, with the murder of Davi Gaviao and the new Bolsonaro government, Marcelo Gaviao, his forest guard and the community fear escalating violence and increased invasions of their territory.

“We are really scared after what happened to Davi,” Jonas Polino Sançao, a local indigenous teacher and activist said. “We have no resources, no support.”

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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