Brazil: Indians in Fear in Their Land

Brazil: Indians in Fear in Their Land

    The president of the Indigenous People’s Committee, Agostinho

    Rodrigues, gave an emotional
    report of how he no longer
    has anywhere to fish, hunt or gather honey for his children,
    and that when
    they try to gather from the lands that the
    farm-owners control, they are chased away by armed guards.




    A Brazilian House of Representative’s Human Rights Committee established to probe complaints by indigenous
    peoples started off its 5th Caravan in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, on October 7. Deputies Orlando Fantazzini (São Paulo),
    Pastor Reinaldo (Rio Grande do Sul) and César Medeiros (Minas Gerais) were part of the group. They were also accompanied
    by an entourage of state deputies made up of Workers’ Party representatives Pedro Kemp and Pedro Teruel and Pastor
    Barbosa. Escorted by the Federal Police, they reached the Buriti indigenous land, 98 km from Campo Grande, at the end of the
    morning, where three indigenous Terena groups live in an area of 2,090 hectares.

    The leaders and more than 400 members of the nine reservations had been waiting for the deputies since the early
    morning. To start with, the leaders welcomed the visitors, and started off the audience with a cultural presentation of Bate-Pau, a
    dance that came about after the Terena had fought in the Paraguay War. The land invasions and violence carried out by the
    farm-owners was portrayed in an open-air theater play.

    The eldest gave reports of how their lands had been stolen. Statements on the issue of land repossession were
    highlighted, a struggle which has already lasted for more than 70 years. The deputies were given a document which stressed the
    violence that the farm-owners use to coerce public institutions to not supply assistance such as blocking highways, shooting in
    the direction of the people camped in the repossessed areas, deforestation, destroying the cemeteries where the indigenous
    people’s forefathers are buried and using legal delaying tactics, which put obstacles in the way of the land demarcation proceedings.

    The indigenous people have also spoken out about how the media has set society against them, highlighting the
    biased and aggressive way in which information is presented, especially where the fight for land is concerned. Finally, they
    expressed sorrow about the situation of Funai, which has neither the structure nor the funds to give assistance to the communities.

    The president of the Indigenous People’s Committee, Agostinho Rodrigues, gave an emotional report of how he no
    longer has anywhere to fish, hunt or gather honey for his children, and that when they try to gather from the lands that the
    farm-owners control, they are chased away by armed guards.

    The indigenous woman Naurelina, 84 years old, dreams of a future for her people and in a challenging yet wise tone
    of voice said: "I am too tired to fight, but I still hope that we will have our land." And she cried out: "I ask the Lord to
    touch the hearts of the authorities so that they return the land to their original owners, peacefully and without further
    bloodshed of my countrymen".

    After listening to the statements, the deputy Orlando
    Fantazzini, speaking on behalf of the Committee, promised to
    be the "spokesman for the wishes and demands of the Terena people in the parliament and the executive authorities ".

    At 5:00 p.m, there was a Public Meeting in the Legislative Assembly, with the objective of listening to the
    representatives of the indigenous people. It was a surprise to see that there were several farm-owners and some indigenous people at the
    assembly who defended the leasing of the indigenous lands and changing Article 231 of the Federal Constitution, so as to allow
    payment for the land to be granted to non-indigenous people.

    The ex-treasurer of Mato Grosso do Sul, Ricardo Bacha, one of the people occupying the Buriti indigenous land,
    speaking on behalf of the National Producers Movement (MNP), said that "the producers are prepared to defend their interests,
    even if this involves deaths".

    Kaiowá, Guarani and Terena leaders spoke to defend their rights and speak out about the violence that these people
    have historically been subjected to. They also criticized the truculence which the large land-owners have used to suppress
    repossession and the negligence of the authorities, as in the case of the Mbarakaí and Ka’ajari indigenous lands, belonging to
    the Kaiowá people, where there have already been seven deaths and where the investigations have not found out who
    perpetrated or organized the crimes.

    The Federal Attorney Generals of Dourados and Campo Grande, Charles Stevan da Mota Pessoa and Wilson Rocha
    de Almeida Neto, respectively, were jeered by the MNP representatives when they defended the rights of the indigenous
    people and the Federal Constitution. The State Deputy Pedro Kemp suffered the same fate. The truculence of the farm owners
    present at the public meeting and of the indigenous people that they brought with them prevented several leaders from speaking,
    and they preferred not to make their statements.

    Especially after Jacintho Honório, from Fazenda Brasília do Sul, in the Taquara indigenous land, had interrupted
    the testimony of one indigenous person several times by shouting and making threatening gestures. If "a picture is worth a
    thousand words", the Human Rights Caravan was treated to an accurate picture of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul when it visited
    the state’s Legislative Assembly. Here the lives of cattle are worth more than those of human beings and the force of the
    farm owners is stronger than human and constitutional rights.

    Diamond Prospecting

    Two days before the Human Rights Caravan reached the state, the governor of Rondônia, Ivo Cassol, met with the
    Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, to ask for the state to control the illegal extraction of minerals in the Roosevelt
    indigenous land, belonging to the Cinta Larga people, in Espigão D’Oeste and Pimenta Bueno.

    The governor handed the minister an official letter containing proposals which would make economic capital out of
    the diamonds in the River Roosevelt. In an attempt to avoid conflicts between prospectors and the indigenous people,
    Cassol proposed that the extraction of diamonds from the land of the Cinta Larga people be restarted, with the prospecting
    carried out by non-indigenous people being covered by indigenous people’s associations and organizations and under the
    control of the state.

    In the document, the governor asks for the Companhia de Mineração de Rondônia – CMR, the state-owned mining
    company, to organize prospecting, mineral research, technical service and environmental recovery. "Through extracting diamond s
    from the Roosevelt Reserve, the indigenous people will get a percentage of the mined production, which will generate the
    resources required to solve the problems that are of interest to the community", the document claims.

    In the official letter, Cassol says that all information relating to the Roosevelt indigenous land will be passed over to
    the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, and that CMR, together with the Caixa Econômica Federal or the Banco do Brasil, will
    be responsible for the purchase of all the diamonds produced. The governor also said that if the proposal was not accepted,
    there would be a lot of bloodshed.

    The audience was granted by surprise. The minister met with the governor who returned to the state with the
    impression that the Federal Government, if it did not immediately accept the proposal, would at least take some action in their
    favor, as a result of the climate of doubt in the conversation caused by the fact that, at no time did the Minister, firmly oppose
    these proposals. He even considered setting up a workgroup to analyze the issue. During the audience, it was at no point
    remembered that it was an indigenous land and not a diamond mine that was being dealt with.

    The activity of prospecting in the Cinta Larga lands is a subject that has been discussed at several government levels
    and by organizations that support the indigenous people’s cause. An emergency plan which would enable the people to
    achieve sustainability has already been proposed. This would not require the resources generated by prospecting. At the
    beginning of this year, a supplementary credit plan was approved which has not, up to the present moment, been passed over to Funai.


    Cimi is Brazil’s Indianist Missionary Council, an organization linked to CNBB, National Conference of
    Brazilian Bishops. You can get in touch with them by sending an email to

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