Burnt tires and trunks blocking BR-367, which connects the municipalities of Porto Seguro and Santa Cruz de Cabrália in southern Bahia. Oitiva with the Federal Public Ministry (MPF). Meeting with attorneys and civil servants of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). The paths taken by the Pataxós to denounce the city of Porto Seguro (BA) have been varied. The climate of tension in the Ponta Grande Indigenous Land – a region coveted by businessmen and politicians linked to tourism – is intensified precisely in the context of national indigenous mobilization against the time frame, which is being voted on in slow steps by the STF.
The episode that prompted the reaction of the Pataxós was on 8/31: a Tuesday that dawned with an operation involving the city of Porto Seguro, the MPF, the Military Police (PM), the Municipal Civil Guard, the Federal Highway Police and the Federal Police. Made without a court order, the action destroyed – with machinery from the city hall – eight Pataxó properties on the shore of Mutá beach. Newly built, the houses would be small craft and food businesses.
Last Friday (10), upon leaving a meeting with the Federal Attorney General and FUNAI, Zeca Pataxó, chief of Aldeia Coroa Vermelha, stated that the demand presented by the community was to file a lawsuit against the city of Porto Insurance claiming collective indemnity for material and moral damages.
At the time the houses were demolished, indigenous people were threatened and attacked by the Military Police, who, according to the legal advisors of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), even gave a chieftain a rear naked choke and handcuffed three people, then released . “Mayor Jânio Natal, a great ally of President Bolsonaro, used his power of influence to carry out illegal demolitions,” says Emerson, a member of the Pataxó Indigenous Youth Association.
In a statement, the Municipality of Porto Seguro alleges that the inspection action found irregular buildings. The municipal government says that, before that, it had carried out notifications and meetings with indigenous people, FUNAI and the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN), in which it would have presented a Conduct Adjustment Term that provides for the demolition of beach huts in disagreement with current regulations. It also accuses indigenous leaders and FUNAI of not having fulfilled the pact of these meetings, of paralyzing the works. The city hall’s version, however, is not in line with what the Pataxós indigenous leaders and property owners claim. According to them, there was no dialogue or warning prior to the demolitions.
The MPF declared that its participation in the episode was restricted to the investigation of possible infractions and that it “is not related” to the “demolition of buildings in the coastal area of Ponta Grande”. The report sought out the Military Police of Bahia and until the end of this article, there was no response.
The coast that was “discovered”
The scenario on the stretch of BR-367 interdicted by indigenous protest during 8/31 made explicit the historic territorial and political disputes in the so-called “Costa do Descobrimento”, one of the great tourist centers in the Northeast. Beside the fire barricades, indigenous Pataxós chants and shouts of order. Groups of white tourists walked along the street with their suitcases, fresh off travel agency buses, unable to reach hotels other than on foot.
“This is all part of the territory of our people”, explains Timbira Pataxó, vice-chief of Aldeia Coroa Vermelha, in an interview with Brazil in fact. The shore, listed as a World Natural Heritage Site by Unesco, is recognized as traditionally occupied by Pataxó according to CIMI lawyer, Lethícia Reis. According to the monitoring of the National Association for Indigenous Action (ANAI), the entire region that integrates the Indigenous Land of Ponta Grande is in the study phase. “The demarcation process is paralyzed because of the Bolsonaro government”, says Reis.
“This soil is sacred, there is a lot of blood spilled from our ancestors”, says Timbira, as he moves away from the barricade and passes in front of high-end buildings located, as well as the destroyed buildings, on the beach’s sand. These are restaurants, many linked to the luxury hotels and resorts across the road. “This massacre took place in 1500 and it is happening again today”, attests the vice-cacique, as he passes in front of a restaurant with the “Capitania” sign hanging at the entrance and then to one with a statue of Pedro Álvares Cabral .
Another monument honoring the same Cabral, but located at the entrance to the municipality of Porto Seguro, was the target of protest during a demonstration against President Bolsonaro on the September 7th holiday. On the occasion, Pataxó women wrapped a black canvas around the image of the supposed discoverer of Brazil.
“Why did they only tear down the indigenous people’s tents?”
“We’re not against it,” says chief Zeca Pataxó, referring to the ban on installing tents on the beach’s sand. “But if you have to take them down, let them all take them down then. Why did they only take down indigenous people and the whites are all there?”.
One of the large projects located on the beachfront where the Pataxós had their buildings destroyed belongs to the Vice Mayor and Secretary of Tourism of Porto Seguro, known by the name of its bar and restaurant: Paulinho Tôa Tôa (PL). Another establishment from which the city’s tractor passed away was the restaurant at La Torre Resort, owned by European businessman Luigi Rottuno. Having run for mayor of Porto Seguro in the 2020 PSDB elections, Rottuno presides over the Associação Brasileira de Resorts.
In contrast to the untouched and eye-catching glass doors of the gastronomic establishment of the luxurious La Torre Resort, the tiles and walls of Curió Pataxó’s newly built property mingled, broken, with the grains of sand. “We know that it’s all hotel owners who want this area for them, right? Which actually belongs to us. It’s a constant struggle with these whites, they always want to take what is ours”.
Born and raised in Coroa Vermelha, Curió says that since he was a child he traveled around the region on foot selling indigenous handicrafts. “Here was going to be the first time I was able to sell things from my own stall. Then the dream ended”, he says, with his face painted and looking at the sea beside the rubble. “And the police also said that if you didn’t get out of the way they would shoot,” reports Bullfinch: “Does the Federal Police, who protect the Indian, tell you that? Telling you to leave your own house? That doesn’t exist, only Brazil. Brazil is experiencing a dictatorship today”.
None of the eight destroyed houses was inaugurated as a small commercial point that would sell food and handicrafts. Gradually built since October of last year, they were almost all ready. This was the case of the hut of Antônia Santos and Antônio Correia. She went out to get grout for a finishing touch on the sink and when she came back, everything was on the floor. “This is our dream, destroyed. We spent what we had and what we didn’t have to build it from there. It’s borrowing money. To pay for it, look, it’s more than 5 years. All ready. All painted, tidy.”, he laments. “Where did they drop the rich ones? only the huts of the natives they tear down. They didn’t warn, didn’t talk, they never came here!”, says Antônia.
“When we talk about a time frame, we are talking about a real threat to the Ponta Grande territory, where more than 500 indigenous families live”, attests Emerson Pataxó. If approved, the time frame will limit the recognition of indigenous lands to proof of their occupation before 1988, when the Federal Constitution was enacted.
Voting on the topic has dragged on since August 26, while thousands of indigenous people from all over Brazil organize themselves in camps, acts and the March of Indigenous Women outside the walls of the Supreme Court, in Brasília. So far, the only vote cast has been for Edson Fachin. The minister, who is also the rapporteur of the process, argued that the Constitution guarantees indigenous peoples the original right to their lands.
For Emerson Pataxó, the legal thesis of the time frame needs to be “buried at once”. In the view of the AJIP member, the moment demands attention: “Our history has never been a bed of roses, but especially in this government, we have seen a significant increase in land conflicts between indigenous people and agribusiness people.”
From kiosk signs named “Pataxó Beach Bar” to the Porto Seguro city hall portal, which has, in the foreground, a photo of an indigenous person with a painted face and a headdress, the tourist appeal of the region is based precisely on the observation that the entire coast “discovered” by the Portuguese was inhabited, since long before, by native peoples. “If the time frame is approved, the Brazilian State will be denying its own history”, evaluates lawyer Lethícia Reis, who made one of the oral arguments in the judgment of the subject in the STF.
Asked if they consider that the moment chosen for the demolition of the houses was intentionally close to the vote on the time frame – either to demobilize or to take advantage of the absence of around 600 Pataxós who traveled to Brasília – the chiefs consider it probable.
“What we know is that they came with a lack of respect for our people. But if the intention was to attack us at this moment of mobilization, then they only anticipated our work”, noted Timbira Pataxó, in the middle of the interdicted BR-367. “Here they say that Brazil was discovered”, says chief Zeca Pataxó: “It was not discovered, it was invaded. But we know how to resist. We’ve been doing this for 521 years.”
Edition: Rodrigo Durão Coelho