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Road construction through TI Waimiri Atroari, Amazonas - Roraima, Brazil


The BR-174 highway was controversially constructed between 1967 and 1977 in order to facilitate the economic exploitation of the region and connect Boa Vista, capital of Brazil’s northernmost state Roraima, with the city of Manaus in Amazonas. As part of an economic development offensive for the Amazon region, the road constructions formed the starting point for further large-scale development projects based on transnational capital in the 1980s with the objective to boost growth and urban industries, most notably hydropower production and export-directed tin mining in close distance to the BR-174 corridor. The highway cut through densely forested indigenous land and came with side roads to strategic points, e.g. one leading to the Pitinga cassiterite mine, causing violent conflict and the almost extinction of the Waimiri Atroari indigenous group (self-denomination: Kinja). [1] [2]

During military dictatorship, public authorities regarded the indigenous population as disturbers and a hurdle to ‘development’ and, as Baines (2008) outlines, FUNAI’s indigenist work at that time was based on relations of subjection and domination, aimed to ‘resocialize’ and ‘civilize’ indigenous people. [2] When constructions started, the government, which had not previously contacted the community, became confronted with national and international protests against the crossing of the indigenous land and started rapid ‘pacification’ efforts and attempts to relocate them to prevent confrontations, e.g. using attraction stations with gifts in far distance to the highway. However, the Kinja people were unfamiliar with outsiders and regularly opposed the constructions, trying to defend themselves and their livelihood, as they had always done against violent invaders (e.g. illegal miners and extractivists). When the conflict over road construction intensified in 1974, the military, determined to assure the rapid finishing of the construction at all cost, reacted harshly and attacked with explosives and poison thrown from helicopters, explicitly targeting houses and gatherings of the community. Those who survived were attacked by soldiers on the ground and plantations and several villages were destroyed by tractors or set on fire, leading to the death or disappearance of an estimated 2,000 Kinja people, while also at least 26 non-indigenous died throughout the conflict. The introduction of diseases to the isolated indigenous communities further reduced the Kinja population of originally about 3,000 to an estimated 332 people in 1983. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Also the Piurititi indigenous group has widely disappeared since then, with – as it was found in 2011 – only a few remaining community members living in isolation at the margins of the Waimiri Atorari territory. [8]

In the years after, the surviving Kinja community continued to face interferences and occupations of their traditional territory, such as through the installing of military outposts in the course of the Calha Norte Project for national security, the increase of mining activities (especially in the Pitinga area, see related case entry in the EJAtlas), the imposition of the Balbina hydroelectric project (see related case entry in the EJAtlas), and the continuation of FUNAI’s disciplinary indigenist missions, altogether further undermining indigenous rights and livelihoods. [2] [9][10]

After the end of military rule, the surviving indigenous community nevertheless achieved the demarcation of parts of their historical territory and in 1987 the Waimiri Atroari Program was established, financed through compensation payments from the Balbina hydroelectric dam operator Eletronorte. This had led to better protection of the now significantly smaller indigenous territory and improvements in the community’s living standards, but at the same time brought a new institutional frame that let indigenous communities remain in a subordinated role while images of indigenous resistance and cultural revitalization were produced for the wider public. [1][2][6][11]

The paved Amazonas-Roraima section of the BR-174 was inaugurated in 1998 and celebrated by political and economic elites as a step towards regional integration of the region. However, before, the Kinja groups had held street protests against the pavement to finally obtain increased program funding from Eletronorte as a means to prevent illegal land occupation and extractivism. Until today the community – which has now grown again to almost 2,000 members – closes off the highway with a chain every night from 18.30 to 06.00 in order to protect wildlife and itself, a practice that is tolerated by the state. [1] [2] [4] [6] [9] [11][12]

Over the last years, the closure of the highway at night has been facing increasing opposition through a movement of agricultural producers and businesses in Boa Vista, inducing street blockades and counter-demonstrations for free circulation. [13] The highway has also caused protests by affected indigenous communities in other parts of Roraima. For example, in the northern municipality of Pacaraima (bordering Venezuela) the road traverses the São Marcos indigenous reserve and local communities recently protested by blocking the street to demand velocity controls after an eight-year-old indigenous girl was killed by a truck. [14]

The improved access to the region has also triggered changes in land use and cover. While the forest within the Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Reserve today remains widely protected, the opening of especially the isolated south of Roraima through the BR-174 (e.g. municipality of Rorainópolis, north of the territory) has provoked increased colonization and cattle ranching in close distance to the road and side roads, thereby also triggering logging and deforestation. According to a 2016 study, timber extraction in southern Roraima is one of the main economic activities but clearly unsustainable, with about 70 percent of the extraction occurring illegally. [2][15]

In 2011, the Brazilian government under Dilma Rousseff established a ‘truth commission’ to investigate a series of human right violations during the dictatorship and the questionable official historiography up to that point, leading to a report by indigenous specialists and organizations that shed new light upon the massacre of the Waimiri Atroari in the course of the BR-174 construction, but also practices of mining operator Paranapanema to repress indigenous resistance in the years after. [5][6] [7][16]

In 2013, the federal prosecutor’s office (MPF) of Amazonas opened a law suit in which it accused the Brazilian state of genocide of the Waimiri Atroari population and demanded a compensation of $13 million for the community, an official apology and ceremony as well as a museum and the mentioning of the rights violations in public school books. Since then, legal hearings have been taking place in Kinja villages and elderly members gave testimonies over the witnessed attacks and atrocities, speaking out openly for the first time about the violent past, which brought new public attention to the assumed disappearance and killing of 2,000 indigenous people. [3][4][5][6][7] Kinja members reported that after the poison attack on a ceremony, an indigenous village was covered with dead bodies and the few survivors sought shelter in the forest. After the road was opened, they continued to face threats by the Brazilian military and increasingly faced hunting shortages. [7] One community member stated that “before this road we lived well and in peace, we were healthy” but “after the road, people died and we were threatened” [4]. They also emphasized the importance of Brazil’s recognition of the historical violence, as so far the tragic events of the 1970s have not been critically reappraised. A Kinja leader stated: “Everyone should know what happened here so it never happens again” [4]. A chief investigator pointed to the difficulties in finding evidence for crimes committed long in the past, but said that “to not have a Truth Commission would be even worse. We spent 30 shameful years pretending to the world and to ourselves that everything was ok.” [5] Hearings also included military representatives, whose versions differed from the indigenous ones. By May 2019, no final decision has been made by the federal judge as results from forensics (e.g. about the use of chemicals) and further testimonies were being awaited. [3] [5]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Road construction through TI Waimiri Atroari, Amazonas - Roraima, Brazil
State or province:Amazonas - Roraima
Location of conflict:Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Territory; Rorainópolis & Presidente Figueredo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Land
Live Animals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The construction of BR-174 between Manaus, Amazonas, and Boa Vista, Roraima, was carried out between 1967 and 1977 and was part of the military government’s National Integration Plan (Plano Nacional de Integração; PNI). [7]

Today, the BR-174 extends over 3,321 km and leads from Cáceres in Mato Grosso to Pacaraima on the Venezuelan border in Roraima, but parts of it are not yet paved. The section traversing the Waimiri Atroari Indigenous Territory is closed every day between 18.30 and 06.00.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:~ 2,000 people in Waimiri Atroari reserve (more in general)
Start of the conflict:1967
Relevant government actors:FUNAI & Coordenação-Geral de Índios Isolados e Recém Contatados – CGIIRC/Funai
Comissão Nacional da Verdade (National Truth Commission;
Working Group: GT Violação dos Direitos dos Povos Indígenas e Regime Militar
Brazilian government (historically the military government)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Waimiri-Atroari
Movimento de Apoio a Resistência Waimiri Atroari; MAREWA
Comitê da Verdade, Memória e Justiça do Amazonas
CIMI (Indigenist Missionary Council)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Street protest/marches
Threats to use arms


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Fires, Noise pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Other Environmental impactsPoisoning
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Infectious diseases, Deaths, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Displacement
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Land demarcation
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:This is clearly a case of socio-environmental crime, which after more than five decades has no one held accountable. However, investigations are ongoing.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Civic Public Action No. 1001605-06-2017.4.01.3200 (ação civil pública; law suit about the massacre in the 1970s)

ILO Convention 169 on the rights of tribal people

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

2. Baines, S. (2008): The Reconstruction of Waimiri-Atroari Territory. In: Oliveira, A. (ed.): Decolonising Indigenous Rights, pp. 45–64. New York: Routledge.


15. Barni, P.; Silva, E. (2016): Extração seletiva de madeira em Rorainópolis: a floresta em perigo. XI Semana Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia no Estado de Roraima - Conference Paper, October 2016.

16. Comitê da Verdade, Memória e Justiça do Amazonas (2012): 1º Relatório do Comitê Estadual da Verdade: O Genocídio do Povo Waimiri-Atroari. Comitê da Verdade, Memória e Justiça do Amazonas, Manaus, Amazonas.

9. Instituto Socioambiental (2000): Povos indígenas no Brasil: 1996/2000, p. 360 sqq.;=PP1&hl;=pt-BR&pg;=PP1#v=onepage&q;&f;=false

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

4. Llorente, E. (2019): Amazon tribe testifies Brazilian military slaughtered hundreds to make room for highway. FoxNews, 08.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

13. Lima, V. (2013): Em protesto, produtures colocam corrente no Centro de Boa Vista. G1 Globo, 06.09.2013. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

1. Waimiri Atroari – Indigenous Peoples in Brazil. Portal PIB Socioambiental. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

3. Rocha, J. (2019): Brazil to build long-resisted Amazon transmission line on indigenous land. Mongabay, 13.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

5. Branford, S. (2013): Brazil — Waimiri-Atroari indigenous massacre. LAB Online, 11.06.2013. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

6. Fearnside, P. (2018): O Genocídio dos Waimiri-Atroari: um possível reconhecimento histórico. Portal Amazônia Real, 12.03.2018. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

11. Branford, S. (2017): A stubborn dreamer who fought to save Amazon’s Waimiri-Atroari passes. Mongabay, 18.05.2017. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

8. FUNAI (2012): Funai restringe ingresso em nova área de índios isolados em Roraima. 27.12.2012. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

7. BNC Amazonas (2019): Índios narram a Guernica Amazônica na construção da BR-174. 01.03.2019. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

14. Brandão, I. (2015): Índios bloqueiam dois trechos da BR-174 em Roraima e quebram asfalto. G1 Globo, 25.04.2015. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

10. Plurais Blog (2017): Mineração Taboca. 20.10.2017. Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

12. Capazoli, U. (1996): Waimiri-Atroari. Caderno Extra – O Estado de S. Paulo, 08.12.1996. (retrieved from Online, last access: 18.04.2019.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Foto ilustríssima - Terra indígena Uaimiri-Atroari

Other documents

A hearing of the truth commission in a Kinja village, February 2019 Source: Foxnews (© Victor Caivano)

The regional indigenous movement blocking the BR-174 in Roraima, April 2019 Source: Folha de Boa Vista

Street protest in São Marcos reserve after a deadly accident - the BR-174 also affects other indigenous communities in Roraima (Source: G1 Globo)ígenas_da_comunidade_Nova_Esperança__na_reserva_de_São_Marcos_-_br-174_blockade__Source__G1_Globo_.jpg

The Waimiri Atroari population dropped from 3000 before the construction of the BR-174 to 332 people after the opening. (Source:

A drawing by a kinja reveals the dark history of the 1970s (Source:; note: supporters collected such testimonies in the community around 1985)

Road constructions in the 1970s (Source: Roraima de Fato Online)

Attack of an indigenous maloca in the 1970s (Edílson Martins)ílson_Martins.jpg

The Br-174 highway crosses 125 kilometers of indigenous territory Source: Associated Press (©Victor R. Caivano)

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update16/07/2019



A hearing of the truth commission in a Kinja village, February 2019

Source: Foxnews (© Victor Caivano)

The Br-174 highway crosses 125 kilometers of indigenous territory

Source: Associated Press (©Victor R. Caivano)

The regional indigenous movement blocking the BR-174 in Roraima, April 2019

Source: Folha de Boa Vista

Street protest in São Marcos reserve after a deadly accident - the BR-174 also affects other indigenous communities in Roraima

(Source: G1 Globo)

The Waimiri Atroari population dropped from 3000 before the construction of the BR-174 to 332 people after the opening.


Road constructions in the 1970s

(Source: Roraima de Fato Online)

Attack of an indigenous maloca in the 1970s

(Edílson Martins)

A drawing by a kinja reveals the dark history of the 1970s

(Source:; note: supporters collected such testimonies in the community around 1985)