Brazil launches largest operation against illegal farmers in Amazon
Operation Eraha Tapiro or “Ox Removal” in the language of the Assurini Indigenous people, intends to regain state control over the Ituna-Itatá Indigenous Territory which has been victim to the worst deforestation during the term of former President Jair Bolsonaro.
The biggest operation to remove thousands of cattle owned by illegal land grabbers from indigenous territory in the Amazon rainforest has been launched by the government in Brazil.
Criminal gangs have tried to block authorities by setting fires, destroying bridges, and intimidating drivers during an effort by the government using three helicopters, a dozen vehicles, and a heavily armed corps of police and environment rangers.
Operation Eraha Tapiro, which translates to "Ox Removal" in the language of the Assurini Indigenous people, intends to regain state control over the Ituna-Itatá Indigenous Territory which has been victim to the worst deforestation and invasions during the term of former President Jair Bolsonaro.
Current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to stop environmental abuse and has vowed to aim for zero deforestation ever since taking office. Since then, a campaign against illegal miners has been launched by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Marina Silva, to drive them out of Indigenous territory under state protection.
Operation commander Givanildo Lima, an agent for the government’s main environmental protection agency, Ibama, described this as a politically symbolic operation in the Amazonian state of Pará.
"The deforestation of Ituna-Itatá was planned and executed by a gang that had great political power. Making this operation successful demonstrates our ability to fight crime in the Amazon, which is increasingly organized," he stated. Ibama, federal police, traffic police, the indigenous affairs agency, and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation were all involved.
Spreading like fire
In 2011, the government took a step to formally demarcate the Ituna-Itatá Indigenous Territory, an area of 142,000 hectares, home to an isolated community, the Igarapé Ipiaçava. As soon as the demarcation begins, non-Indigenous people will be prohibited from entering.
However, local land grabbers, known as grileiros, began burning the land and infesting it with cows, which was exacerbated during the Bolsonaro presidency, leaving the Ituna-Itatá to be the most deforested indigenous area in the Amazon in 2019.
According to Ibama officials, the Rocha farm where the operation was launched, is owned by Danilo José Barros Rocha, and according to Adepará records, the company owns only 70 animals, but inspectors found 400 cattle in the area of 800 hectares (330 hectares already deforested) he illegally took and registered in the Rural Environmental Registry.
Although he was told his actions were illegal and he was ordered to remove the cattle last year, he failed to follow through and thus not only will his cattle be removed but he will be fined 500,000 Brazilian real (£80,000). Other illegal land grabbers are facing similar penalties.
Grileiro WhatsApp groups have been hearing the news spread like fire in the village of Vila Mocotó, which is home to people who look after the cattle on behalf of the land grabbers.
Denial of Indigenous existence
Senator Zequinha Marinho, a Bolsonaro ally and their most known supporter, sent a letter to the government last year calling environmental agents in the Ituna-Itatá area "bandits and scoundrels" and continued to deny the presence of isolated Indigenous peoples despite evidence from anthropologists, settlers and other Indigenous groups that show otherwise.
His office reiterated the claim to The Guardian, claiming that Ituna-Itatá was not indigenous land: "Senator Zequinha Marinho defends and will continue to defend the rights of farming families who have lived for decades in the area known as Ituna-Itatá and adjacent areas."
The economic power of the land grabbers could be weakened by confiscating the cattle, hence depleting their political significance. "The main cause of deforestation in this region has always been cattle. So, just apprehending the herds, causing financial loss to the invaders, can solve the problem," he said. But since compliance does not go as planned, fines go unacknowledged and ignored.
Residents of Vila Mocotó were not armed as the operation's convoys passed through, but they did attempt to impede the removal of cattle by starting fires to scare the cows and scaring off the drivers of the convoys, while one wooden bridge was burned.
Yet, federal agents rebuilt the bridges and made sure that the first batch of cows was transported across the Xingu River for slaughter in Altamira to be donated to social programs.
It is estimated by Ibama that the removal of the remaining 5,000 cows from the indigenous land will take several weeks.