Go Back

Brazzil - Politics - May 2004

Brazil: Different Laws for Different Folks

In Brazil, a white must obey all the laws, but an Indian can kill,
rape, and take hostages, and won't go to jail. A black can get
ahead in the line to get in college. The landless can invade
private property and buildings at will; that is social justice. And
those from the favela can sell drugs at will since no one is looking.

Janer Cristaldo


Picture So I was wrong. We cannot accuse the President of the nation of a lack of sensitivity. Every time that a serious problem is afflicting Brazil, with a surgeon's precision, he goes to the heart of the problem…and denies it. This is where one finds his extraordinary sensitivity: he only denies that which is in fact evident and leaps out at everyone.

The President is not concerned with denying what is not evident. This is what happened at the beginning of last week. Directing his remarks at the militants of the MST (Landless Rural Workers' Movement), he declared: "Brazil has laws and rules that apply to everyone."

At a certain point, I even began to think that the supreme commander was responding to your humble scribe. Two days before I had written: "In this fraying Brazil, there are laws for white, laws for Indians, laws for blacks, laws for the so-called landless and laws for favela-dwellers, and there are still those who think that the country is running the risk of splitting up.

"Now, the country has been split up for a long time. While a white must obey all the laws in force, an Indian can kill, rape, and take hostages, and won't go to jail. A black can get ahead in the line for the vestibular (college entrance exam) without fraud. The landless can invade private property and buildings at will; that is social justice. And the favela can sell drugs when and how it wishes, and no one is looking."

Cintas-largas (the name means "wide-belt") Indians, in Rondônia, have just killed 29 prospectors. The corpses of the prospectors were already found. They are real; they were rotting, and giving off an unbearable stench. We are not facing a farce like the massacre of Yanomamis in 1992, when 16 Indians were supposed to have been killed, and not a single corpse was found. Four prospectors were arrested for the non-existent crime. How many Indians will be arrested for this crime, which they not only admit, but boast, of having committed. Certainly, not a single one.

"This was a warning, because the warriors are tired of pushing out the illegal prospectors," said the chief Pio Cinta-Larga in an interview. "The prospectors themselves won't stop, and so, this was the warning that they (the warriors) gave them."

That is, there is no doubt about the crime, nor who is responsible for it. What the chief forgot to say—on purpose—is that prospecting is also forbidden for Indians. But in this country, which, according to the President, "has laws and rules that apply to everyone", Indians can prospect. Prospectors can't prospect. Indians kill and are not arrested. Prospectors don't even need to kill to be sent to prison.

In this country where any white who carries a gun will go to jail, the Cintas-largas—or Costas-largas (broad-backs), as they are already beginning to be called—not only exploit prospecting for minerals, but pay for guns with diamonds. Three leaders of this tribe are being prosecuted for purchasing revolvers, pistols and rifles with jewel-stones.

According to the charges, a businessman went as far as investing R$ 1.27 million (US$ 420,000) in their villages, even before receiving the stones. In only one of the transactions, 2000 carats of diamonds changed hands. This is what was reported in the daily Folha de S. Paulo.

The indigenes march across the pages of the newspaper, with rifles and pans [for diamond-hunting], flagrantly involved in illegal activities, with the unfurrowed brow that only impunity can give. That is not even to mention bows, arrows and bordunas [indigenous Brazilian weapons]. They may not be firearms, but they kill just as efficiently. Far from the forests, the laws are different. And this didn't start yesterday.

Crime and Impunity

In 1980, at least 30 farmworkers were massacred by the Indians, in two separate bloodbaths, one of them in the Xingu National Park, led by the Txucarramãe chief Raoni. At the time, Raoni showed off in the newspapers the borduna that "helped to kill eleven farmworkers on one farm."

Not only was he unpunished, completely outside of Brazilian law, but was received with honors by European heads of state. Pope John Paul II, François Mitterrand and the monarchs of Spain, among others, received him as indigenous leader.

Raoni, who wears wooden plates to distend his lips, even went as far as exhibiting his paintings in Paris. One of the murderer's pictures went for as much as US$ 1,600 in a price list that began at one thousand dollars.

Raoni's patron in this odyssey through the West was the English rocker Sting, who created the Rainforest Foundation in 1989, and raised 1.5 million dollars for the demarcation of the Caiapó tribe, in the south of Pará state.

In May 1992, the chief Paulinho Paiakan—how friendly the diminutives are—brutally raped the student Sílvia Ferreira. The chief, whose picture was on the cover of an American magazine, where he was considered to be the solution for the problems of humanity, was sentenced to six years in prison. Is he in prison? Of course not.

For Miguel Rosseto, Minister of Agrarian Development, invasions of property are part of normal democracy. For Mécio Pereira Gomes, president of Funai, it is normal for Indians to kill prospectors—after all, they are fighting for their lands.

Of course, the same cannot be said for white landowners. Woe to one of them who tries to get rid of one of the so-called landless. And Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva affirms, loud and clear, for those who want to listen, that Brazil has laws and rules that apply to everyone.

As if this enthusiastic denial of reality were not enough (something that has been characteristic for a long time of the Workers'Party—PT— in power) he further recommends: "Act as responsibly as possible, because we all will be victims of our words."

Of course such a phrase would never come from the cranium of an inveterate blabbermouth. One can note the influence of some advisor in this speech. A very unfortunate influence, since it meant that the leader of the Left is repeating what General Francisco Franco had to say: "Man is master of his silence and slave to his words."

This is where any resemblance ends. Franco spoke little and did a lot. Lula has been talking forever and does nothing. In the beginning was the word. And today. And will be tomorrow as well.

Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is cristal@baguete.com.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. He is the librarian for music, modern languages and media at The College of New Jersey. Comments welcome at mooret@tcnj.edu.

Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

Anything to say about Brazil or Brazilians? Brazzil
wishes to publish your material. See what to do.