Native Realpolitik

September 25, 2007

IN FEBRUARY, WHEN THE KAYAPO INDI- ans of ParAi state hosted a meeting of native people and environmentalists from around the world, a new stage in indigenous resistance began-one of organized "modern" political confrontation. At the same time, in the Upper Envira river valley and the Jutaf, distant groups refused any contact with whites and penetrated ever deeper into the vast Amazon forest. Between these two extremes lies a broad array of ways in which the Indians of Brazil have opposed, with some success, the government's policy toward native peoples. The 136,000 Indians who live in the Brazilian Amazon-many in groups of 100 or less-are, as a for- mer governor of Roraima state put it, "an obstacle" to development. This is certainly true for the prospectors, laborers, plantation owners, mining and lumber compa- nies who must confront the Indians' arrows, spears and lobbying efforts. For the government it is also true, since fighting native peoples is frequently a "joint venture" of public and private capital, with the government ex- propriating Indian lands, building highways and dams and offering fiscal incentives to investors. In the south- east of the state of Pari, for example, public infrastruc- ture projects already occupy 72,000 hectares of Indian lands, and should plans for damming the Xing6i River go forward, 408,000 hectares more will be inundated. Today, everything related to the Amazon-Indians and ecology included-is considered an issue of na- tional security: to the extreme that indigenous people are perceived, implicitly or explicitly, as dangerous "for- eigners." (The most absurd example was the recent use of the Law of Foreigners against two Kayap6 who pro- tested the construction of the Xing6 River dam.) The Calha Norte project, announced in the spring of 1987, calls for a string of military outposts along a 4,000-mile strip. Ostensibly intended to establish a state presence on Brazil's jungle borders, the posts are also an attempt to control the "internal borders" of the Amazon, that is, where Brazil meets the 50,000 Indians who live in the lands affected by the plan. The threat of an independent "Yanomami state" was expressly cited in the initial Calha Norte plan. VOLUME XXIII, NO. I (M 9) I r r r r I r I I t 19Report oN t. Amer4iCa AMAZON "They hunted us down as if we were savage beasts" S4 "NDIAN PEOPLES DO NOT OPPOSE DEV- "I elopment as such," said Ailton Krenak, coordi- nator of the Union of Indigenous Nations (UNI), founded in 1978. "We oppose the development model pursued to date, which has been destructive, nefarious, stupid and disastrous. We oppose monoculture, the grass and the bull. What native peoples want is to adapt new tech- nologies to the traditional practices of Indians, river people and rubber tappers." Where native peoples have fought development, it has been in order to preserve the forest on which their survival depends. For example, in 1987 the Kampa, Kulina and Jaminana peoples of the state of Acre de- nounced the illegal operation of a sawmill on their lands. When the Brazilian Institute of Forest Development (IBDF) and the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) did nothing, the Indians stepped in and dismantled the mill themselves. In the Upper Solimoes river valley, in the state of Amazonas, the Tikuna faced an invasion of lumberjacks in search of mahogany trees, currently worth $10-12,000 each. On March 28 of last year, lum- berjacks ambushed Tikuna families killing eleven-including children-and wounding 22. "They hunted us down as if we were savage beasts," wrote a Tikuna teacher. "They say they are civilized and the Tikuna are like animals.... Even boys of 10 or 12 were all armed with muskets. They were the ones who did most of the killing.' 2 Last October, a lumber magnate and sponsor of pri- vate colonization projects announced that the territory of the Zor6 people in Rond6nia state would be open for occupation by settlers to spearhead the lumber compa- nies' attack. An expedition of nearly 150 Surui, Cinta- Larga, Gavido and Arara warriors responded by expel- ling more than 100 settler families-some new, some old-from Zor6 lands. In retaliation, on October 16, an old Suruf man named Jamin6 was ambushed inside Suruf territory by 20 gunmen who shot him and, to cover up the crime, mutilated his body, wrapped it in a net and burned it. In the same state of Rond6nia a scandal ex- ploded last year over lumber rights on Indian lands, rights authorized by the past president of FUNAI and current governor of Roraima, Romero Juci Filho. When a government audit of Filho's finances showed wrong- doing, UNI coordinator Krenak commented that it is the president of FUNAI, not the Indians, who should be a ward of the state. FUNAI exercises legal guardianship over all indigenous people. IN ALL THESE CASES-AND THEY ARE ONLY a sample of the conflicts that have occurred in the Amazon-the defense of territory is linked to the de- fense of natural resources. Some forms of tribal govern- ment, such as the Tikuna Tribe General Council, grew out of these struggles. So did supra-tribal organizations such as the Indigenous Council of the Territory of Ro- raima and the Coalition of Indians of Rond6nia. Most innovative of all is the organization which unites indigenous people and rubber tappers in the state of Acre. Since the end of the nineteenth century, rubber tappers have looked down on Indians who, for their part, perceived the tappers as invaders of their lands. But in recent years, the Indians' old enemy have come to share their plight. In 1985, the Indigenous Council of Acre and the National Council of Rubber Tappers formed the Alliance of Forest Peoples to defend the Amazon against the big landowners and their hired gunmen, who turn the forest into pasture for cattle. T LEAST 22 INDIAN RESERVES HAVE BEEN invaded by prospectors seeking gold, silver and other minerals.' In 1987, some 560 corporate applica- tions for prospecting rights in indigenous areas were approved and 1,685 more were pending. 4 Pressure for such legal authorization has been building since the early 1980s. In 1983, the mining companies obtained a decree-law from then President Jo.o Figueiredo, author- izing state companies and, "in exceptional cases," pri- vate domestic companies, to prospect and mine in in- digenous areas. Due to the protests this decree gener- REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 20ated, it was never put into effect. Notwithstanding, be- tween 1983 and 1987, when the government tried once again to enforce the decree, 356 prospecting permits were authorized. At the National Constituent Assembly in 1987-88, mining was at the heart of the debate on Indian rights, one of the ten most controversial issues considered in the drafting of the new constitution. A virulent press campaign accused the defenders of Indian rights of con- spiracy against Brazil's sovereignty-their crime, main- taining that mining on Indian reserves should be a last resort, pursued only for strategic minerals which cannot be obtained elsewhere in the country. Indian rights spokesmen called for a case-by-case review by Con- gress, and for limiting the mining to state enterprises. Of all these conditions, only one was approved: Con- gress was given the task of authorizing, case by case, prospecting and mining in the subsoil of Indian lands. The mineral riches of the topsoil, such as surface gold, continue to be regulated by previous legislation which reserves them exclusively for indigenous peoples. WHILE THESE BATTLES RAGED IN THE Assembly, the mining companies broached direct agreements with indigenous groups, or, in other cases, resorted to armed invasion, as in the Waiampi reserve in Amapd. Both approaches prompted the Indians to deal in the white man's Realpolitik. In 1985, for example, 200 Kayap6 warriors from Gorotire, painted and armed with spears, occupied a gold mine which had attracted 5,000 men to invade their lands. In return for allowing the mine to reopen, the Kayap6 demanded the demarca- tion of their territory. Despite legal mandate, the demar- cation of all Indian lands had yet to be achieved; the Kayap6 were only asking for the law to be enforced. After a two-month sit-in, the government relented. The Kayap6 gained control of gold mining on their land and now charge the prospectors 5% of gross sales. None of the Kayap6 engages in prospecting but with the income they bought planes and radio equipment to unite their vast nation and control their borders, not to mention the fine homes some have purchased. In the Upper Negro river valley, in the state of Ama- zonas near the Colombian border, the Tukano also faced an invasion of prospectors in 1983. Tensions escalated until January of 1986, when rumors circulated that 60 native people had been massacred. At that moment, a large private Brazilian mining firm, Paranapanema, pro- posed a deal: The company would control the prospec- tors, in exchange for the Indians allowing the company to use the prospecting permit it had already obtained from the government. The tribe and the company reached Indians are considered wards of the State, in the same legal category as the mentally retarded w c- WRetAMAZON th AMAZON an accord and Paranapanema proceeded in 1986 to hire a private army from a security company to expel the pros- pectors from the Traira mountains. Ironically, the same security company, Sacopa, was used by cattle ranchers against the Macuxi people in Rond6nia. A DECREE ISSUED ON NOVEMBER 18 SET up "national forests" in the state of Roraima. Couched in ecological fervor, the decree formed part of Brazil's response to widespread criticism of the destruc- tion of the Amazon. In effect, the decree expropriated half of the lands of the Yanomami people- South Amer- ica's largest forest group-turning them into "national forests" and legalizing an invasion by some 35,000 prospectors which had already taken place. Despite the name, "national forests" are hardly bo- tanical sanctuaries; the rational exploitation of forest products and by-products is allowed. In July of last year, the Brazilian Institute of Forest Development (IBDF) proposed an additional activity, unheard of in the annals of environmental protection: mining. 5 The same trickery was used on the people of the Negro river valley who for 17 years had requested the demarcation of their territory. They finally accepted a proposal made in 1987 by the National Security Council to establish three separate "indigenous colonies," each surrounded by national forests. The government is now attempting to impose a similar deal in Amapi on the Uaca, Galibi, Wayampi and Jumini peoples. In fact, these measures mock the constitution, which guarantees native peoples the lands they inhabit and the exclusive use of those lands "used for their productive activities, those [lands] indispensable to the preservation of environmental resources necessary to their well-being and to their physical and cultural reproduction, accord- ing to their uses, customs and traditions.'"6 In the na- tional forests of the Yanomami territory, the Indians have only "preferential use," according to the Novem- ber 18 edict, and no longer enjoy the exclusive rights guaranteed by the constitution. The edict, in effect, is an invitation to occupation by non-Indians, and a program for progressive expropriation. It is not a machiavellian impulse that drives politi- cians to use ecological rhetoric and environmentalist legal formulations to impose the de facto expropriation of Indian lands. Ecological trappings are now required by multilateral banks for the release of energy sector loans. As Ailton Krenak says, "The army knows the Amazon is green and wants to keep it that way. But the green they see is that of the dollar." Native Realpolitik 1. L. dos Santos and L. Andrade (eds.), As hidrelrtricas do Xinga e os Povos Indigenas, (Sao Paulo: Comissio Pr6-Indio de Sho Paulo, 1988). 2. A Ldgrima Ticuna d uma so, (Benjamin Constant, Amazo- nas: Maguta, 1988), p. 5. 3. According to the report "Terras Indigenas," (Sao Paulo: CEDI and Museu Nacional, 1988). 4. Empresas de Mineraqdo e terras indigenas na Amaz6nia, (Sao Paulo: Dossie CEDI/CONNAGE, 1988). 5. "Proposta de regulamento das Florestas Nacionais," July 1988. 6. National Constitution, Article 231, Paragraph 1.

Tags: Brazil, indigenous politics, Protest, development

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