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Brazzil - Indians - July 2004

Brazil: Tired of Waiting, Indians Invade Land

Several Brazilian Indians communities began to occupy at the
end of June an area on the banks of the Jauari river, in the
Amazon. According to them, their act is a means to prevent rice
farmers from contaminating their land. They say they have been
trying to solve legally their land problems. In vain, however.



Picture The Indian communities of the Raposa, Serras, Baixo Cotingo and Surumu lands decided to occupy the banks of the Jauari river in an area located 180 kilometers from Boa Vista, in Amazon state of Roraima.

They justified their act saying they were tired of waiting for a decision from the Brazilian government concerning the official confirmation of the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land. They also mentioned their concern about the environmental degradation caused by rice farmers.

The Indians began to occupy the area June 30 as a means to prevent rice farmers from continuing to cause environmental degradation in indigenous lands.

According to them, this situation has been repeatedly reported to the appropriate agencies, namely, Funai, the Public Prosecution Service, the Federal Police, and Ibama. They assure, however, that the authorities have done nothing.

Over 300 indigenous people from villages located in the Raposa/Serra do Sol land affected by the pollution of rivers caused by the excessive use of pesticides in irrigated rice crops are taking part in the action.

The largest rice farmer in the indigenous land, Paulo César Quartieiro, went to the area occupied by the indigenous people on June 29 to intimidate indigenous leaders when they were beginning to build houses/shelters at night on the banks of the river. After failing to intimidate them, he reported the situation to the Federal Police.

Despite all the positive expectations in relation to the official confirmation of the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land, the communities decided not to wait for the judgment of an appeal against a preliminary order issued by a federal court of Roraima, which was upheld by judge Selene Almeida, in order to exercise their constitutional rights. The Federal Administration has suggested that it will confirm the bounds of the land if the preliminary order is rejected.

The delay in confirming the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol land has allowed rice crops to be expanded and has caused irreparable damages to the environment and to the physical and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples. This situation can be attributed to the lack of concrete actions on the part of the Brazilian Government to ensure the territorial rights of indigenous people.

The Indigenous Council of Roraima announced that they will take measures to avoid the occurrence of conflicts between the communities which decided to occupy the area in question and grabbers of federal lands.

Preventing Demarcation

Invaders of the Cachoeira Seca indigenous land, where the Arara people live in Uruará, state of Pará, have plans to prevent the demarcation of the area, which Funai began to carry out in the last few weeks.

According to Paulo Medeiros, from the local Rural Workers' Union and a candidate for mayor in Uruará, they will be going to the place where the Funai teams are demarcating the area.

"We will stop them. We will not accept the demarcation of this land," he said. Medeiros also remarked that the businesspersons and settlers who will participate in the demonstration will block the Transamazônica highway. "We are taking different measures and we will file a suit with a federal court to suspend the demarcation."

He says that the indigenous people do not recognize that area as theirs. "They don't want that land."

According to Petronila Almeida, however, who is a Cimi missionary, the Arara people who live in the Cachoeira Seca land recognize it as their territory and are fighting to ensure their rights to it.

"The struggle of this people is not recent, as they have been fighting for this area since 1993, when the administrative ruling authorizing the demarcation of the land was issued. In 11 years, no measure had been taken by the appropriate agencies to demarcate it," she said.

As evidence of this tireless struggle, Petronila recalled a visit of a delegation of the Arara people to Brasília on June 14-18. At that time, they were granted several audiences with authorities to deal with the demarcation issue.

"On the 16th, they officially delivered a signed petition to the Minister of Justice with 23,000 signatures collected during a campaign for the demarcation of the Cachoeira Seca indigenous land," she said.

Considering these facts, "any acts of violence which these people may suffer can be blamed on the federal agencies, which have been neglectful of their responsibilities in relation to people who have been contacted for the first time by our society only 16 years ago and are at a high risk of being exterminated and massacred if appropriate measures are not taken on an urgent basis," the missionary concluded.

On the occasion of their visit to Brasília, the Arara people reported that as a result of the delay to demarcate the land, they have been constantly threatened and persecuted by its invaders.

In 2000, a member of the Arara people was killed after trying to put an end to predatory fishing inside the area. Since then, they no longer leave their villages alone to hunt or fish for fear of the threats they have been receiving.

"We only go out in groups because we are afraid to do it alone. If we are alone and a white man finds us in the forest and tries to kill one of us, who will save us?" said a leader of the Arara.

Cimi is Brazil's Indianist Missionary Council - www.cimi.org.br - an organization linked to CNBB, National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. You can get in touch with them by sending an email to imprensa@cimi.org.br.

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