PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Illegal drugs are becoming a threat to native Brazilians in their villages.
Narco-traffickers usually sell cocaine and marijuana to indigenous. But the users become aligned with the narco-traffickers by doing favors for them in exchange for drugs.
The deals include allowing parts of indigenous reservations – normally located in remote regions – to be used as safe havens for traffickers or as places for addicts to get high.
There are no official figures regarding the number of indigenous addicts, but reports indicate the numbers are escalating.
“I’ve been receiving an enormous number of calls for help, including for [abuse of] legal drugs, such as alcohol,” says Sandra Terena, a member of the indigenous Terena tribe in the state of São Paulo.
Terena, 29, is a journalist and president of the NGO Aldeia Brasil.
Terena became an authority on indigenous issues after travelling the country to film documentaries on Brazil’s native populations.
“An agent from the National Health Foundation (FUNASA) in Rondônia who looks after several tribal villages in the Amazon found out about my work and asked me to create a campaign aimed at reducing alcohol consumption,” Terena says. “Alcoholism has brought violence to the tribes and broken up families. And alcohol can serve as a gateway to the consumption of other drugs.”
In many villages, the situation can lead to fights that end in death, Terena adds.
“There needs to be some type of rehabilitation program for these people and also greater control of people’s access to the villages, because it’s people from the outside who are bringing drugs to the indigenous people,” Terena says.
The National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI) reported that its work with indigenous communities involves raising awareness in order to curb the use of illegal narcotics in their villages.
The Federal Police (PF) is in charge of leading the fight against narcotics in the villages, just as they are in the streets in mainstream cities.
Brazil is home to 817,000 indigenous, who account for 0.42% of the population, according to preliminary 2010 Census data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). The figure has grown 11% since 2000.
Federal Police uses local focus to fight crime
Based on the alerts provided by FUNAI, the Federal Police’s Office for the Combat of Crimes Against Indigenous Communities sends intelligence teams to conduct preliminary investigations in areas where narco-traffickers are suspected of working with indigenous.
“The most serious problems are in the border regions,” says Luiz Carlos Ramos Porto, an officer with the Federal Police’s Office for the Combat of Crimes Against Indigenous Communities.
One example is the municipality of Dourados, in the Mato Grosso do Sul state, which shares a border with Paraguay.
“The drug problem is more acute in this region, and we are going to work together with the regional officers in the area,” Porto says.
The objective, Porto says, is to intensify oversight and closely monitor the movement of people in the villages.
“A lot of times drug traffickers enter indigenous areas to hide and use the location as a drug spot,” he says. “Therefore, the goal is to reach an agreement regarding technical cooperation with the government of Mato Grosso do Sul in order to patrol all of the indigenous lands.”
The two indigenous villages in Dourados – Bororó and Jaguapirú – are home to 12,000 indigenous living on 3,600 hectares (8,896 acres), according to the Office of the Attorney General (MPF).
The violent crime rate has escalated in each village. The homicide rate among the Guarani-Kaiowá people is 210 per 100,000 inhabitants – 795% higher than the national average.
On April 28, a federal court responded to a petition filed by the MPF and ordered the federal government and FUNAI to guarantee the safety of those living in Bororó and Jaguapirú.
The court ordered a minimum of 12 police officers, from the Mato Grosso do Sul Department of Public Safety or the Federal Police, be stationed at the villages around the clock.