Revealed: Brazil's most corrupt politician targets uncontacted tribe

February 18, 2016

José Riva, a former state deputy, has been labelled the most corrupt politician in Brazil. © Local media

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Survival International can reveal that a rancher targeting the land of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon is a former state deputy labelled “the most corrupt politician in Brazil.”

José Riva, who has formerly been a deputy in Mato Grosso state, is in prison and currently being investigated for over 100 instances of alleged fraud, corruption, formation of criminal gangs, and other crimes.

Mr. Riva owns a ranch on the land of the uncontacted Kawahiva tribe, one of the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. He has repeatedly claimed that the tribe does not exist, despite video and photographic evidence proving they do, and has lobbied for the right to open up swathes of tribal land for cattle ranching and plantations.

He is a prominent advocate of PEC 215, a proposal to change Brazil’s constitution which, if implemented, could strip Brazilian tribes of their hard-won land rights.

Speaking about the Kawahiva territory, Mr. Riva said simply: “There are no Indians in the area… People are trying to push the theory that there are uncontacted Indians in the Rio Pardo… I’ve reported this fraud.”

A Brazilian government team took unique footage of the Kawahiva during a chance encounter in the Amazon in 2011, proving their existence © FUNAI

He and other powerful politicians with vested interests in the region are opposed to the mapping and protection of Indigenous territory, instead pushing for mining and ranching activities that are deadly for the Kawahiva.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, is urging the Brazilian government to map out and protect the Kawahiva’s land to put a stop to their genocide. All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected. Whole populations are being wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

Survival Director Stephen Corry said: “For decades, powerful and corrupt politicians and ranchers have denied the existence of uncontacted tribes in the name of profit. They don’t care that their rapaciousness is leading to the annihilation of entire peoples. The longer Brazil allows people like Riva to plunder the land and resources of the Kawahiva, the greater the risk this tiny tribe will be wiped out forever. Brazil can easily stop this happening simply by protecting their land.”