Indigenous protesters who blocked a key highway through the Brazilian Amazon demanding help against deforestation and the coronavirus pandemic said Thursday they were suspending their protest after a judge ordered the government to respond.
Brandishing bows and arrows, dozens of protesters from the Kayapo Mekranoti ethnic group in traditional feather headdresses and body paint blocked highway BR-163 on August 17 outside the northern town of Novo Progresso.
The roadblock severed the main artery used to ship corn and soybeans, two of Brazil's top exports, from the country's central-western agricultural heartland to port.
The protesters had however been lifting the barricade periodically in what they called a "humanitarian" gesture for drivers stranded in the long line of blocked trucks.
They said they were now suspending their protest for 10 days to give the government's indigenous affairs office, FUNAI, and the National Department of Infrastructure and Transportation (DNIT) time to respond to their demands, in line with a federal judge's latest ruling in the dispute.
"The judge gave FUNAI and DNIT 10 days to (respond). If they don't, they'll have to pay a fine of 10,000 reals (about $1,800) a day," said one of the protest leaders, Mudjere Kayapo.
"If we have to, we'll come back and close the highway again," he told AFP.
Federal judge Sandra Maria Correia da Silva had ordered the protesters to end the roadblock, citing the damage to the region's economy.
The protesters initially vowed to defy the order, but said they had now decided to press their case in court instead.
The Kayapo Mekranoti are demanding far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government release funds they say they are owed for environmental damage the highway caused to their land.
They also want help fighting illegal mining, deforestation and the new coronavirus, which has hit especially hard among indigenous people in the region.
The Kayapo Mekranoti will return "with an even bigger protest" if they do not get a satisfactory response from the government, said Luis Carlos Sampaio, of the Kabu Institute, an indigenous rights group.
"We'll see how the authorities react," he told AFP.