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Brazzil - Indians - February 2004
 

Brazil: Threats Don't Deter Indians

Despite all the efforts to prevent the holding of the 33rd General
Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the State of Roraima, 1,307
indigenous leaders got together. They complained against
the increasing violence and the inexplicable delay to confirm
the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol that belong to the Indians.

Cimi


The Indigenous People of Raposa/Serra do Sol in the state of Roraima began their struggle for independence more than 30 years ago with the hope to take back their land from invaders and guarantee the future of their people. The Brazil Constitution of 1988 secured their right to the demarcation of their land but the struggle continues and the violence has increased with time.

On January 6, 2004 a group of armed men connected to the rice producers of Roraima invaded and destroyed a technical school and an indigenous hospital located on the indigenous land, Raposa/Serra do Sol. The invaders took three hostages: Ronildo França, a priest, and Carlos Martinez, a brother, both of whom belong to the Diocese of Roraima and Fr. Cesar Avellaneda.

All three were beaten and taken to a place 35 kilometers away called the "hut to settle accounts". After 60 hours, they were released in the presence of representatives from the state government. The captives request for release in the presence of the press as well as medical exams was denied. Contact of the federal government with officials of the state of Roraima as well as denouncements from various embassies and the Vatican secured the release of the hostages.

On January 6 as well, the same group invaded the central office of FUNAI (Government Office of Indigenous Affairs) and also closed down the three roads that have access to Boa Vista, the state capital. The actions of these men were motivated by the announcement two weeks before of Marcio Thomaz Bastos, the Minister of Justice, that the official confirmation of the legal boundaries of Raposa/Serra do Sol would be concluded by the end of the month.

According to representatives of the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), Paulo Cesar Quartiero, one of the largest rice producers in the state, had personally commanded the invasion of the FUNAI office.

Social Movements, Religious Groups and Non-Governmental Organizations sent a formal letter to President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva denouncing the violent actions, organized by rice producers since the beginning of January, against the indigenous in Raposa Terra do Sol. Letters of denouncement were also sent to the General Procurator of Brazil, the President of FUNAI (Indigenous Affairs), and the Minister of Justice.

Explosive Situation

The following facts about the situation in Raposa Terra do Sol have been verified by the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (Conic), Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), Catholic Church's Indigenous Organization (CIMI), Amazon Worker Group (GTA), Diocese of Roraima, Greenpeace, and the Rural Movement of Landless Workers:

"Local political and economic elites in the state of Roraima provoked a series of violent actions in January, 2004, against the indigenous of Raposa Terra do Sol. The media coverage of these actions deceived the population and caused fear and xenophobia. The legitimate struggle of the indigenous to have their land legally demarcated is in accord with the Brazilian Constitution.

"Local elites of the state have never accepted the struggle of the Roraima indigenous for demarcation of their land but have systematically used violence against the indigenous and slandered and disqualified groups allied with the indigenous cause, especially the Catholic church.

"The state press controlled by these elites has distorted facts. For example, the press states that there are thousands of non-indigenous people living in Raposa Serra do Sol and thus the demarcation of the land for indigenous should be limited. However, facts prove that there are no more than 657 non-indigenous people living in Raposa Serra do Sol."

Information quoted from the document below was sent to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other government officials involved with the indigenous affairs.

33rd General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the State of Roraima

"A Free Land: Life and Hope"

Despite all the concerted efforts to try and prevent the holding of the 33rd General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the State of Roraima, 1,307 indigenous leaders representing 10 peoples of the region reaffirmed that they are united and closely connected to claim their constitutional rights. The 33rd Assembly was held on February 7-10, 2004, in the Maturuca Village, located in the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land.

The assembly was opened by the coordinator of the Indigenous Council of Roraima, chief Jacir de Souza who expressed the hope that, "We, the indigenous people of Roraima will celebrate the official confirmation of the bounds of our land." On the other hand, words of indignation for the increasing violence and of lack of patience over the inexplicable delay to confirm the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol land echoed strongly in the beautiful facility that was built especially for this important event of the indigenous movement of Roraima and of the Country at large.

About a hundred representatives of the government and of national and international organizations, churches and grassroots organizations attended the meeting and contributed to the debates, supporting the immediate confirmation of the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol land and of other indigenous lands in Roraima and Brazil at large and the removal of all invaders from them.

The indigenous peoples gathered at the Assembly expressed their confidence that the administrative procedure for the demarcation of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land will be over with the official confirmation of its bounds, as provided for in the Administrative Ruling 820/98 issued by the ministry of Justice, and with the registration of the area with the Real Estate Registration Office of the Federal Heritage Service, without prejudice to rights already ensured.

In the final document of the assembly, the leaders stated that "in order to fulfill the commitments already assumed in relation to the indigenous peoples of Roraima and Brazil at large, the President of the Republic, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, must confirm the demarcation of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land, which is a very simple, indispensable, and urgent administrative act."

The unjustifiable delay of the President to take such measure has created a climate of tension in the region, exposing indigenous leaders and their allies in the struggle to confirm the bounds of the land as a continuous strip to serious risks.

In the document, they also stress that "the lack of effective actions on the part of the Brazilian State to confirm indigenous rights provided for in the Constitution by officially ratifying the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol land gave rise to all kinds of lies and false accusations by made some of the invaders of our land, who enticed a few indigenous persons into joining them and are politically supported by the government of the state of Roraima and by federal and state parliamentarians who are trying to prevent the official recognition of our land."

At the end of the text, the participants reaffirmed that they will continue to press the federal authorities to carry out acts under their exclusive legal competence. At the same time, the indigenous leaders and communities affirmed that they will continue to exercise their right to take the measures they deem necessary to defend the integrity of the right to lands traditionally occupied by them.


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
cimi@embratel.net.br


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