Slavery Lives

    Brazilian Indians who learned the Portuguese and received
    some schooling are being expelled from their lands and forced to live in
    servitude closer to the cities in the South of Brazil. And they don’t enjoy
    the compassionate support offered the Amazon Indians.
    By Beto Borges and Gilles Combrisson *

    On October 5, 1988, Brazil wrote a new Constitution, which replaced
    that of 1967, starting a new chapter in the history of this country, after
    20 years of military dictatorship. The new Constitution gave special emphasis
    to human rights and instituted very positive policies, such as the guarantee
    of indigenous people’s rights. Article 231, specially, recognized both
    the cultural and territorial rights of indigenous peoples based on their
    traditional heritage. It acknowledged and established their right to permanently
    live on their traditional territories, including the exclusive use of the
    natural resources necessary for securing their cultural integrity and welfare.
    The formal protection against the invasion of their territories was also
    inscribed in the new Constitution.

    To the enthusiasm of indigenous peoples and sectors of Brazilian society
    in solidarity with their cause, article 67 of the new Constitution ordered
    the demarcation of all indigenous territories in Brazil within the following
    five years. Brazil was applauded internationally and it was hoped that
    its historic debt to the indigenous peoples living within its national
    borders was going to be resolved. Five years later, however, less than
    half of all indigenous territories had been demarcated. The Brazilian government
    failed to uphold its constitutional decision: demarcate all indigenous
    territories by October 1993.

    Today, almost ten years after the 1988 constitutional revision, 291
    indigenous territories out of the total 559 still await formal demarcation.
    Brazil has had four presidents in these past ten years. Ironically, most
    demarcations occurred under President Collor who was impeached in 1992.
    In only two years of government, Collor delineated the boundaries of 58
    territories and finalized the demarcation of another 112, including the
    Yanomami territory, totaling more than 125 million acres. President Itamar
    Franco legalized 55 territories in two years of government. A general optimism
    followed the victory of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso given his political
    history and academic profile. Nevertheless, his government has so far fallen
    short from that of Collor’s achievement, having delineated the boundaries
    of 30 territories and finalized the demarcation of another 46, about 46.5
    million acres. Almost ten years and four presidents after the Constitution
    of 1988, 52 % of the indigenous territories still need to be demarcated
    and article 67 has yet to be achieved.

    This slow progress in demarcating indigenous lands was further aggravated
    in January 1996 when President Cardoso signed Decree 1775 into law. Written
    and proposed by Minister of Justice, Nelson Jobim, the decree introduced
    the so-called principle of contradictory within the administrative procedure
    for demarcating indigenous lands. It provides a legal mechanism for those
    who also claimed access to indigenous lands to appeal against their demarcation,
    giving a chance for commercial interests, such as ranchers, miners, and
    loggers, to present their case. Despite strong opposition both in Brazil
    and abroad, Nelson Jobim defended the decree as necessary to adjust and
    expedite the demarcation process and Fernando Henrique Cardoso guaranteed
    that no reduction of indigenous lands was going to take place. In a speech
    before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Jobim announced that
    the government’s intent was to implement "without obstacles our objective
    of regularizing all indigenous lands in Brazil." He acknowledged the
    financial support from the World Bank Rainforest Trust Fund and the G-7
    countries, but has been incapable of utilizing these funds because of the
    obstacles he created.

    Contrary to expediting the demarcation of indigenous territories, the
    introduction of Decree 1775 has delayed it even further. According to FUNAI
    (The National Indian Foundation), there were 531 contestations against
    83 different indigenous areas. Nelson Jobim dismissed most of these, except
    for 8 areas on which he ordered further evaluation by FUNAI, including
    the controversial case of the Raposa/Serra do Sol territory in Roraima.
    Adding the number of indigenous areas that were not contested to those
    contested but rejected by Jobim gives a total of 148 indigenous areas that
    technically should be ready for final demarcation. However, the document
    that outlines the administrative steps to execute Decree 1775 (Portaria
    no. 14) requires a lot of extra documentation in the process of identifying
    areas traditionally inhabited by indigenous peoples. This has created a
    serious obstacle within the demarcation process and opened a dangerous
    potential for the reduction of indigenous territories throughout the country.
    Since Decree 1775 was implemented, no new indigenous area has been identified
    or demarcated.

    Last December 24, the situation deteriorated even further when Nelson
    Jobim ordered the reduction of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous territory.
    His decision favored the interests of local ranchers and miners who have
    illegally invaded this indigenous area. It sets a very dangerous precedent
    by allowing commercial interests to invade indigenous lands that have been
    guaranteed under Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution. If his decision
    goes into effect, it may lead to the reduction of other indigenous areas
    in Brazil. After the end of the military dictatorship, this is the first
    time that the government orders an indigenous territory to be reduced.

    This overall stagnation and potential for the reduction of indigenous
    lands only accentuates the already pitiful reality of indigenous peoples
    in Brazil. Invasions of indigenous lands continue to increase, causing
    the destruction and pollution of the natural resource base on which they
    rely for physical and cultural survival. Invasions also continue to spread
    infectious diseases and generate violence. In 1994 and 1995 alone, there
    were 75 reported cases of indigenous people murdered, mostly as a result
    of land conflicts. The federal government has done little to curtail these
    invasions and FUNAI is incapable of delivering much needed assistance for
    indigenous communities. Currently, several indigenous groups face serious


    Despair and Suicide

    Perhaps the starkest example of the crisis of Indian lands in Brazil
    is the case of the Guarani-Kaiowa territory in the southern state of Mato
    Grosso do Sul, where over the past decade, over 300 Indians have taken
    their own lives in despair. Poverty, expulsion from traditional territories
    in recurrent disputes with wealthy ranchers, and the overpopulation of
    the remaining lands are the main factors leading this unique people to
    slow extinction. Today, over 22,500 Guarani-Kaiowas are pressed into a
    fraction of their original territory — 22 recognized areas near Dourados,
    a city on the Paraguayan border. In one village called Bororo, 3,700 are
    packed into 3,600 hectares, a veritable death sentence for a people accustomed
    to utilizing vast expanses of land for their sustenance.

    Several areas of the Guarani-Kaiowa territory have been the site of
    intense and at times lethal struggles for land. The area of Sete Cerros,
    for example, was heavily contested by an agro-industrial company by the
    name of Sattin Agropecuária S.A, which has made full use of Decree
    1775 and sued the state, claiming title to the land. As a result, Minister
    of Justice Jobim has targeted the area for revision, along with seven other
    indigenous areas.

    In another village known as Jarara, the Guarani-Kaiowa reoccupied their
    lands in March 1996, stating that "We are returning to our Jarara
    village because we Indians cannot live anymore on the periphery of the
    city because we cannot even practice our cultural traditions." The
    247 Guarani-Kaiowa-Nandeva people had seen their 590 hectare reserve officially
    legalized under Brazilian law. But, in 1993, Miguel Subtil de Oliveira,
    a rancher who also claimed the area, succeeded in having a judge issue
    a restraining order forbidding the Indians from occupying their own land.
    After a campaign of support from Brazilian entities and international NGOs
    combined with the threat of more suicides, Judge Theotônio Costa,
    of the Regional Federal Court in São Paulo, revoked his previous
    ruling authorizing the eviction of Jarara’s inhabitants.

    Recently, in another village known as Sucuriy, 53 Guarani-Kaiowas were
    illegally evicted by armed civilians. The 14 Guarani-Kaiowa families are
    now camped on the roadside about two kilometers outside Maracaju, and awaiting
    a judicial decision that would allow them to return to the area, which
    ironically has already been demarcated.


    Invasions and Death

    Brazil’s government suspended its helicopter surveillance operation
    of the Yanomami area on March 6, 1996, and as a result, thousands of gold
    prospectors have reinvaded Yanomami territory in Northern Brazil. Thirty
    five clandestine airstrips have been chopped out of the forest. There is
    fear that at any moment, Venezuela will also expel several thousand more
    Brazilian gold miners who crossed the border as the result of earlier operations;
    many would simply resettle in Yanomami territory in Brazil.

    On June 5, 1996, frustrated with government inaction towards the invasion
    of his people’s territory, Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa sent a letter
    across the world opening with: "We Yanomami send a message to you.
    We are very worried that our Yanomami area is being again invaded by gold
    miners…." At the time he wrote his letter, there were a total of
    7,000 illegal gold miners in Yanomami territory; 3,000 in Brazil and 4,000
    in Venezuela.

    The dimension of the problem caused by the illegal presence of prospectors
    in Yanomami lands can be better understood from the indigenous people’s
    perspective: the mere presence of a single foreigner can mean the spread
    of plague, and widespread death. For the Yanomami, the lack of immunity
    to ailments introduced by miners, the rise in cases of malaria, and their
    dependence on natural resources poisoned by mining activities has predictably
    resulted in numerous deaths. In April 1996 alone, 12 Yanomami died from
    malaria. In addition, the lawless atmosphere of the mining camps has been
    characterized by prostitution and gun violence. In November of 1996, three
    Yanomami and one miner died following a conflict in Erico village, in Roraima
    state. In this case, the information got out. Many more conflicts end in
    death and are never investigated.

    The Commissão Pro-Yanomami, a Brazilian NGO that works closely
    with the Yanomami, had managed to achieve good results in improving health
    through its work in the area throughout the last two decades. These good
    results will be completely undermined if the invasion is allowed to continue.
    In other areas, various NGOs and government programs are running into similar

    Following a public reading of Kopenawa’s letter the same month it was
    sent, Jobim pledged to allocate a sum of $ 5 million to resume the Free
    Jungle Operation, aimed at removing miners from indigenous areas. At this
    point, however, it would be accurate to say that the Yanomami and indigenist
    forces internationally are losing faith in government promises. What is
    needed is concrete action.

    Nambikwara: Loggers

    and Miners Attack

    In Mato Grosso state, the Nambikwara people are under attack. In November,
    a group of miners and loggers ambushed, tied up, and beat at least 14 people.
    This occurred inside the Sarare indigenous area. The village was looted,
    money was taken, even the school was ransacked. People who support the
    Nambikwara have received death threats. As a further example of government
    non-compliance, a clause in the 1992 Loan Agreement for the Mato Grosso
    Natural Resource Management Project between Brazil and the World Bank conditioned
    release of $200 million in Bank funds on removal of illegal miners in the
    same area.

    The Nambikwara people became known internationally when Brazil’s military
    government decided to build a road (BR 364) from Cuiabá to the western
    outpost of Porto Velho in the heavily colonized state of Rondônia.
    Yet again, uncontrolled colonization brought epidemics, violence and death,
    this time upon the Nambikwara. They were relocated, and decimated. The
    few that remained fought to return to their traditional territory, and
    in 1990, the government finally registered 67,420 hectares as the Sarare
    indigenous area.

    Removing invaders from indigenous lands in Brazil is a lesson in bureaucracy,
    and at times even corruption. The Nambikwara are a case in point. In 1991
    the Nucleus for Indigenous Rights (NDI), a Brazilian NGO, sued the government
    on behalf of the Nambikwara for failing to remove 6,000 illegal gold miners
    working in the Sarare area. They had wrought devastation to the riverine
    environment by practicing placer mining — illegal in Brazil as provided
    by article 231 of the Brazilian constitution. In addition, the mining camps
    had spread venereal diseases and malaria throughout the area. On December
    18, 1991, a federal judge in Brasília ordered Funai and the Brazilian
    Environmental Institute (IBAMA) to dislodge the miners.

    By April, nothing had been done. The NDI and various other Brazilian
    NGOs notified the World Bank of this, since it followed a policy of indigenous
    land protection as part of the development project it planned to lend out
    money for in Mato Grosso. It then became clear that state governor Jaime
    Campos had made an illegal deal with the miners to the effect that they
    should maintain their invasion until the date of the loan approval. The
    World Bank then conditioned its loan on the removal of miners and the environmental
    clean up, and pushed back the date of effectiveness to 1992. In 1996, even
    though invasions were still continuing, the Bank disbursed half of its
    loan to the state of Mato Grosso.



    Twenty five years ago, Jacir José Macuxi and a few other prominent
    Macuxi initiated the struggle to demarcate their 1.6 million hectare territory
    (Raposa/Serra do Sol) in northern Brazil, on the torrid savannas of the
    Venezuelan border area in the state of Roraima. There too, gold miners
    and ranchers had taken hold and were spreading Falciparum malaria, a deadly
    strain of the disease that was steadily killing off the people. "Many
    people fell sick," says de Souza. "My wife was one of them, and
    she died."

    In 1995, the government even proposed to build a dam inside the area.
    Then, backed by state government leaders, the invaders of Raposa Serra
    do Sol voted to form a new municipality inside the indigenous area.

    After the passing of Decree 1775, Raposa/Serra do Sol became one of
    the most heavily contested instances of Indian land. Its location on the
    Venezuelan border makes it strategic land for the Brazilian military, always
    fearful of foreign encroachments on its territory. "Nationalizing"
    the border regions, or sponsoring the settlement of "Brazilians"
    as opposed to indigenous people — who lie outside the national project
    — has for a long time been a policy of the Brazilian state.

    Knowing the dangerous changes instituted by Decree 1775, the world waited
    anxiously for a final decision from Jobim on this key area, which would
    set a precedent for others. On December 24, the determination fell like
    an ax: Jobim, in a decision taken with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
    ordered Funai to cut a chunk out of Raposa Serra do Sol the size of Rhode
    Island (200,000 hectares of Indian land) for some 14 ranchers to whom the
    National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) has been
    issuing titles since 1982. It also calls for creating enclaves of non-Indian
    land in the middle of the indigenous reserve for five decaying gold boom
    towns — a blatant invitation to violence. This decision sends a clear message
    across the Brazilian frontier: Never mind the constitutional right indigenous
    peoples in Brazil have to their traditional territories; it’s open season
    on Indian lands.

    The Mahogany Battle

    Indian territories in the Amazon are often the last repositories of
    precious woods and other natural resources. Knowing this, illegal loggers
    do much of their work on Indian lands. For the Parakana people, who inhabit
    the Apyterewa indigenous area in southern Pará state, particularly
    for youths, contact with loggers has translated into dependency, alcoholism,
    and exploitation as the result of the illegal smuggling of mahogany.

    Six months ago, the Brazilian state issued a federal decree that imposed
    strict restrictions on the logging of mahogany. But the Amazon is big,
    and the enforcement of such legislation daunting.

    The situation of the Parakana was denounced by Rio’s daily O Globo.
    Dwellers of the municipality of São Félix do Xingu spoke
    with reporters. In the exploitation scheme, the Parakana get food and alcoholic
    beverages to locate stands of mahogany. Some have used firearms provided
    by the woodcutters to drive away Funai officials and other persons who
    may try to stop the smuggling. It is estimated that at least 15% of the
    980,000-hectare indigenous area was invaded by woodcutters, miners, farmers,
    and settlers. The sawmills that process the smuggled mahogany are only
    100 meters away from the airport of São Félix do Xingu. Funai
    doesn’t have the staff or resources necessary to do anything about the

    The Parakana Indians, however, have organized to help federal agencies
    in the task of curbing invasions and preventing the exploitation of the
    hardwood. In 1993, they destroyed machines and other tools of the Perachi
    timber company as a means to intimidate invaders. This timber company,
    one of the largest in the region, defied the public powers by illegally
    exporting mahogany and, in the process, devastated 5,000 hectares of indigenous
    territory to open pasture areas.

    The longer it takes for all indigenous territories to be demarcated,
    the situation of indigenous communities deteriorates and Brazil gets farther
    away from upholding its Constitution. The delay in securing the human and
    traditional rights of indigenous peoples aggravates their problems and
    continues to encourage the pillage of their territories by the usual bunch
    of criminal cartels that operate throughout the country. Controversial
    policies like Decree 1775 intensify a political impasse, which discredits
    the federal government and may cost the reduction of indigenous territories
    not yet demarcated. As time goes by, the violation of indigenous rights
    increases this gap between apathy and justice, giving way to sad statistics,
    which seem to perpetuate the historic debt towards the first inhabitants
    of Brazil. Beyond chapters of a constitution, we need to arrive at a reality
    where indigenous rights are indeed secured and their cultural wealth considered
    a contribution instead of an obstacle.

    Sources: Instituto Socioambiental, Comissão Pro-Yanomami, CIMI,
    CAPOIB, and Amazon Coalition.

    For more information:

    Rainforest Action Network, Brazil Program 450 Sansome, Suite 700 San
    Francisco, CA 94111 Phone: (415) 398-4404 Fax: (415) 398-2732


    Home page:

    SAIIC P.O. Box 28703 Oakland CA, 94604 Phone: (510) 834-4263 Fax: (510)834-4264
    Office: 1714 Franklin Street, 3rd Floor, Oakland


    Home Page:

    (*) Beto Borges is the Director of
    the Brazil Program at Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco

    Gilles Combrisson is the Journal Coordinator for the South and Meso American
    Indian Rights Center (SAIIC)

    Slavery Lives

    Brazilian Indians who learned the Portuguese and received
    some schooling are being expelled from their lands and forced to live in
    servitude closer to the cities in the South of Brazil. And they don’t enjoy
    the compassionate support offered the Amazon Indians.

    Wilson Velloso

    In theoretical history, the one you learn in school, African slavery
    was abolished in Brazil on May 13, 1888, by a law of the Chamber of Deputies
    of the Empire of Brazil. Thus were some 800,000 black Brazilians, most
    of them illiterate and unskilled, thrown out of the miserable senzalas
    (slave quarters) where they had been lodged by their patrões
    (slave owners) and joined the army of jobless in that still young country
    of 14 million inhabitants.

    Many Brazilian anthropologists and economists consider the May 13 law
    a cruel and meaningless political gesture. It caused unnumbered deaths
    and untold suffering among the new free citizens, until then taken care
    by their owners as the valuable assets they were.

    Chronologically, slavery in Brazil had lasted since the first blacks
    kidnapped from African Guinea were introduced in the country in 1532, thirty-two
    years after the land was claimed as a Portuguese colony.

    In the intervening five centuries, a comparatively small number of Brazilian
    blacks have improved their lot somewhat but the great mass — nobody knows
    for sure how many — live mainly in the favelas (shanty towns) of
    most bigger Brazilian cities, still illiterate, still untrained, still
    hoping to draw the grand prize of life’s lottery and become great soccer
    players or popular entertainers.

    Instead of solving the problems of the poor and the blacks, a long succession
    of Brazilian governments have, since the generals proclaimed a Republic
    in 1889, used all sorts of stratagems and ruses to make the numbers of
    blacks seem smaller than they actually are. Under Brazilian legislation,
    census enumerators just ignore the numbers. The official rationale is that
    counting whites, blacks, mixed-bloods, Orientals, etc., would be "racism"
    and cost too much. So they just don’t count them.

    The Africans were introduced in Brazil because the Indians then living
    in the territory were still in the polished Stone Age, were mostly nomads,
    and lived off the fauna and flora. They were no farmers, and balked at
    learning white man’s skills.

    It is a melancholy irony that the Brazilian Indians who had the most
    contact with the colonists, learned their language and received some schooling,
    nowadays are being expelled from their lands and often forced to live in
    servitude. Not in the North, in the rain forests of the Amazon, but much
    closer to the "centers of civilization" in the South.

    At least, the Northern Indians of Brazil enjoy some compassionate support
    in America and in Europe, both concerned with the destruction of the rainforest.
    But the three branches of the Guarany nation, the Kaiowás, the Ñandevas
    and the M’byas, supposed to be wards of the Brazilian State, are being
    exploited just as the blacks were in the 18 and 19 centuries. Says Maria
    Víctor Guarany, president of the Kaguateka Association of Displaced
    Indians: "Over 7,000 Indians are working in the charcoal mills and
    the sugarcane processing plants (in Brazil). They live in state of slavery.
    This is the integration that the whites offer us. But we, Indians, the
    first owners of this land, cannot accept this humiliation and inhumane

    The Kaiowás number approximately 25,000 people and live in the
    state of Mato Grosso (thick woods) do Sul, near the Bolivian and the Paraguayan
    borders. There are Guaranys also living in the Province of Corrientes,
    Argentina. The total Indian population of Brazil is estimated at 250,000
    from a grand total of some 3 million at the time of the discovery.

    For the Guarany, land is the supreme value. But Mato Grosso do Sul is
    fast losing the right of calling itself that way as the big trees are being
    decimated by timbermen and ranchers. For a long time, the Brazilian Indian
    Protective Services (SPI) had the reputation of being faithful to its mission,
    and of rather losing their men than killing a single Indian. The situation
    changed in recent years as the SPI was superseded by a mostly bureaucratic
    entity, the Indian Foundation, FUNAI, that illegally sold timber belonging
    to the Kaiowás.

    Deprived of the use of the forest and rivers for hunting and fishing,
    the Kaiowás have been forced into virtual slavery, working in sugarcane
    plantations or in the mills where the sugarcane is ground to make molasses
    then processed to manufacture sugar, or distilled to obtain alcohol used
    in the beverage industries.

    The work regime is that of serfs, long hours under the sun or rain,
    lodged in rickety improvised galpões (sheds), eating whatever
    food the foremen and owners feed them, paid ridiculously low wages, and
    forced to stay on the job three months as a minimum. Often these Indians
    have to walk more than 70 miles to reach their own homes, outside the precinct
    of the canaviais (cane plantations) and engenhos (mills and

    Survival for Tribal Peoples, a London organization is coordinating international
    awareness concerning the wicked treatment of the Guarany-Kaiowás
    on their inexorable route to extinction. If you want more information you
    can contact them directly: Survival, 11-15 Emerald Street, London WC1N
    3QL, United Kingdom, Telephone: 0171-242-1441, Fax: 0171-242-1771.

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