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.
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:
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.
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 email@example.com