Brazil: Different Laws for Different Folks

 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.

by: Janer


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

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

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

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