Indigenous people in Latin America: a history of neglect and violence

Lima, Aug 9 (EFE).- The abuse and mistreatment of indigenous communities in South America remains one of the most significant social problems facing the continent, where little progress has been made on the issue over the last two centuries.

While indigenous customs and traditions change from country to country, minority communities across Latin America continue to be victims of violence and discrimination while being neglected by their government.


Indigenous people in Brazil have denounced an increase in violence and harassment since far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro came to power in January 2019.

“Since democratization, we have never experienced such a violent scene as we are seeing now, it is only comparable to the years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985),” Dinamam Tuxá, one of the executive coordinators of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, tells Efe.

Encroachment into indigenous lands, the illegal exploitation of resources and damage to indigenous heritage by illegal loggers, miners, hunters and fishermen have skyrocketed since 2019, increasing by 137% compared to the year before Bolsonaro came to power.

In 2020, 263 cases of aggression were reported and 182 indigenous people were murdered, 61% more than in 2019, according to the Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples.

The rate of deforestation and fires in the Brazilian Amazon has also increased since Bolsonaro took office.

“This regression is a direct reflection of the hate speech promoted by Bolsonaro,” Tuxá says, referring to the president’s support of exploiting indigenous reserves and easing environmental protection laws.

Tuxá does not predict any improvement in the near future, and says that even if former president Lula da Silva returns to power in elections later this year, Brazil’s indigenous communities will not “heal” from Bolsonaro’s destruction.

“The impact of Bolsonaro’s policies will be felt for some years,” he says.


After decades of armed conflict in Colombia that have seen indigenous communities get caught up in massacres, displacements and homicides, minorities in the South American country are still suffering the daily onslaught of violence.

So far this year, at least 85 indigenous people have been murdered in what the spokesman for the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia has called a “physical and cultural genocide”.

“They are the ones paying the cost of the structural violence that exists in territories where drug trafficking, the rearming of FARC dissidents and paramilitarism take place,” Óscar Montero says.

Montero hopes the situation in Colombia — which is struggling with the worst resurgence of violence since an historic peace agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government was signed in 2016 — will improve with left-wing president Gustavo Petro’s new government.

Petro has pledged to implement the peace deal and engage in dialogue with other armed groups. He has also appointed an indigenous woman, Leonor Zalabata, as Colombia’s ambassador to the United Nations.


Some 25% of Peruvians identify as indigenous or native, but the fight for the government to officially recognize cultural diversity and protect the rights of indigenous peoples is far from over.

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