Slavery Lives

Slavery Lives

Brazilian Indians who learned the Portuguese and received
some schooling are being expelled from their lands and forced to live in
servitude closer to the cities in the South of Brazil. And they don’t enjoy
the compassionate support offered the Amazon Indians.
By Beto Borges and Gilles Combrisson *

On October 5, 1988, Brazil wrote a new Constitution, which replaced
that of 1967, starting a new chapter in the history of this country, after
20 years of military dictatorship. The new Constitution gave special emphasis
to human rights and instituted very positive policies, such as the guarantee
of indigenous people’s rights. Article 231, specially, recognized both
the cultural and territorial rights of indigenous peoples based on their
traditional heritage. It acknowledged and established their right to permanently
live on their traditional territories, including the exclusive use of the
natural resources necessary for securing their cultural integrity and welfare.
The formal protection against the invasion of their territories was also
inscribed in the new Constitution.

To the enthusiasm of indigenous peoples and sectors of Brazilian society
in solidarity with their cause, article 67 of the new Constitution ordered
the demarcation of all indigenous territories in Brazil within the following
five years. Brazil was applauded internationally and it was hoped that
its historic debt to the indigenous peoples living within its national
borders was going to be resolved. Five years later, however, less than
half of all indigenous territories had been demarcated. The Brazilian government
failed to uphold its constitutional decision: demarcate all indigenous
territories by October 1993.

Today, almost ten years after the 1988 constitutional revision, 291
indigenous territories out of the total 559 still await formal demarcation.
Brazil has had four presidents in these past ten years. Ironically, most
demarcations occurred under President Collor who was impeached in 1992.
In only two years of government, Collor delineated the boundaries of 58
territories and finalized the demarcation of another 112, including the
Yanomami territory, totaling more than 125 million acres. President Itamar
Franco legalized 55 territories in two years of government. A general optimism
followed the victory of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso given his political
history and academic profile. Nevertheless, his government has so far fallen
short from that of Collor’s achievement, having delineated the boundaries
of 30 territories and finalized the demarcation of another 46, about 46.5
million acres. Almost ten years and four presidents after the Constitution
of 1988, 52 % of the indigenous territories still need to be demarcated
and article 67 has yet to be achieved.

This slow progress in demarcating indigenous lands was further aggravated
in January 1996 when President Cardoso signed Decree 1775 into law. Written
and proposed by Minister of Justice, Nelson Jobim, the decree introduced
the so-called principle of contradictory within the administrative procedure
for demarcating indigenous lands. It provides a legal mechanism for those
who also claimed access to indigenous lands to appeal against their demarcation,
giving a chance for commercial interests, such as ranchers, miners, and
loggers, to present their case. Despite strong opposition both in Brazil
and abroad, Nelson Jobim defended the decree as necessary to adjust and
expedite the demarcation process and Fernando Henrique Cardoso guaranteed
that no reduction of indigenous lands was going to take place. In a speech
before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Jobim announced that
the government’s intent was to implement "without obstacles our objective
of regularizing all indigenous lands in Brazil." He acknowledged the
financial support from the World Bank Rainforest Trust Fund and the G-7
countries, but has been incapable of utilizing these funds because of the
obstacles he created.

Contrary to expediting the demarcation of indigenous territories, the
introduction of Decree 1775 has delayed it even further. According to FUNAI
(The National Indian Foundation), there were 531 contestations against
83 different indigenous areas. Nelson Jobim dismissed most of these, except
for 8 areas on which he ordered further evaluation by FUNAI, including
the controversial case of the Raposa/Serra do Sol territory in Roraima.
Adding the number of indigenous areas that were not contested to those
contested but rejected by Jobim gives a total of 148 indigenous areas that
technically should be ready for final demarcation. However, the document
that outlines the administrative steps to execute Decree 1775 (Portaria
no. 14) requires a lot of extra documentation in the process of identifying
areas traditionally inhabited by indigenous peoples. This has created a
serious obstacle within the demarcation process and opened a dangerous
potential for the reduction of indigenous territories throughout the country.
Since Decree 1775 was implemented, no new indigenous area has been identified
or demarcated.

Last December 24, the situation deteriorated even further when Nelson
Jobim ordered the reduction of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous territory.
His decision favored the interests of local ranchers and miners who have
illegally invaded this indigenous area. It sets a very dangerous precedent
by allowing commercial interests to invade indigenous lands that have been
guaranteed under Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution. If his decision
goes into effect, it may lead to the reduction of other indigenous areas
in Brazil. After the end of the military dictatorship, this is the first
time that the government orders an indigenous territory to be reduced.

This overall stagnation and potential for the reduction of indigenous
lands only accentuates the already pitiful reality of indigenous peoples
in Brazil. Invasions of indigenous lands continue to increase, causing
the destruction and pollution of the natural resource base on which they
rely for physical and cultural survival. Invasions also continue to spread
infectious diseases and generate violence. In 1994 and 1995 alone, there
were 75 reported cases of indigenous people murdered, mostly as a result
of land conflicts. The federal government has done little to curtail these
invasions and FUNAI is incapable of delivering much needed assistance for
indigenous communities. Currently, several indigenous groups face serious


Despair and Suicide

Perhaps the starkest example of the crisis of Indian lands in Brazil
is the case of the Guarani-Kaiowa territory in the southern state of Mato
Grosso do Sul, where over the past decade, over 300 Indians have taken
their own lives in despair. Poverty, expulsion from traditional territories
in recurrent disputes with wealthy ranchers, and the overpopulation of
the remaining lands are the main factors leading this unique people to
slow extinction. Today, over 22,500 Guarani-Kaiowas are pressed into a
fraction of their original territory — 22 recognized areas near Dourados,
a city on the Paraguayan border. In one village called Bororo, 3,700 are
packed into 3,600 hectares, a veritable death sentence for a people accustomed
to utilizing vast expanses of land for their sustenance.

Several areas of the Guarani-Kaiowa territory have been the site of
intense and at times lethal struggles for land. The area of Sete Cerros,
for example, was heavily contested by an agro-industrial company by the
name of Sattin Agropecuária S.A, which has made full use of Decree
1775 and sued the state, claiming title to the land. As a result, Minister
of Justice Jobim has targeted the area for revision, along with seven other
indigenous areas.

In another village known as Jarara, the Guarani-Kaiowa reoccupied their
lands in March 1996, stating that "We are returning to our Jarara
village because we Indians cannot live anymore on the periphery of the
city because we cannot even practice our cultural traditions." The
247 Guarani-Kaiowa-Nandeva people had seen their 590 hectare reserve officially
legalized under Brazilian law. But, in 1993, Miguel Subtil de Oliveira,
a rancher who also claimed the area, succeeded in having a judge issue
a restraining order forbidding the Indians from occupying their own land.
After a campaign of support from Brazilian entities and international NGOs
combined with the threat of more suicides, Judge Theotônio Costa,
of the Regional Federal Court in São Paulo, revoked his previous
ruling authorizing the eviction of Jarara’s inhabitants.

Recently, in another village known as Sucuriy, 53 Guarani-Kaiowas were
illegally evicted by armed civilians. The 14 Guarani-Kaiowa families are
now camped on the roadside about two kilometers outside Maracaju, and awaiting
a judicial decision that would allow them to return to the area, which
ironically has already been demarcated.


Invasions and Death

Brazil’s government suspended its helicopter surveillance operation
of the Yanomami area on March 6, 1996, and as a result, thousands of gold
prospectors have reinvaded Yanomami territory in Northern Brazil. Thirty
five clandestine airstrips have been chopped out of the forest. There is
fear that at any moment, Venezuela will also expel several thousand more
Brazilian gold miners who crossed the border as the result of earlier operations;
many would simply resettle in Yanomami territory in Brazil.

On June 5, 1996, frustrated with government inaction towards the invasion
of his people’s territory, Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa sent a letter
across the world opening with: "We Yanomami send a message to you.
We are very worried that our Yanomami area is being again invaded by gold
miners…." At the time he wrote his letter, there were a total of
7,000 illegal gold miners in Yanomami territory; 3,000 in Brazil and 4,000
in Venezuela.

The dimension of the problem caused by the illegal presence of prospectors
in Yanomami lands can be better understood from the indigenous people’s
perspective: the mere presence of a single foreigner can mean the spread
of plague, and widespread death. For the Yanomami, the lack of immunity
to ailments introduced by miners, the rise in cases of malaria, and their
dependence on natural resources poisoned by mining activities has predictably
resulted in numerous deaths. In April 1996 alone, 12 Yanomami died from
malaria. In addition, the lawless atmosphere of the mining camps has been
characterized by prostitution and gun violence. In November of 1996, three
Yanomami and one miner died following a conflict in Erico village, in Roraima
state. In this case, the information got out. Many more conflicts end in
death and are never investigated.

The Commissão Pro-Yanomami, a Brazilian NGO that works closely
with the Yanomami, had managed to achieve good results in improving health
through its work in the area throughout the last two decades. These good
results will be completely undermined if the invasion is allowed to continue.
In other areas, various NGOs and government programs are running into similar

Following a public reading of Kopenawa’s letter the same month it was
sent, Jobim pledged to allocate a sum of $ 5 million to resume the Free
Jungle Operation, aimed at removing miners from indigenous areas. At this
point, however, it would be accurate to say that the Yanomami and indigenist
forces internationally are losing faith in government promises. What is
needed is concrete action.

Nambikwara: Loggers

and Miners Attack

In Mato Grosso state, the Nambikwara people are under attack. In November,
a group of miners and loggers ambushed, tied up, and beat at least 14 people.
This occurred inside the Sarare indigenous area. The village was looted,
money was taken, even the school was ransacked. People who support the
Nambikwara have received death threats. As a further example of government
non-compliance, a clause in the 1992 Loan Agreement for the Mato Grosso
Natural Resource Management Project between Brazil and the World Bank conditioned
release of $200 million in Bank funds on removal of illegal miners in the
same area.

The Nambikwara people became known internationally when Brazil’s military
government decided to build a road (BR 364) from Cuiabá to the western
outpost of Porto Velho in the heavily colonized state of Rondônia.
Yet again, uncontrolled colonization brought epidemics, violence and death,
this time upon the Nambikwara. They were relocated, and decimated. The
few that remained fought to return to their traditional territory, and
in 1990, the government finally registered 67,420 hectares as the Sarare
indigenous area.

Removing invaders from indigenous lands in Brazil is a lesson in bureaucracy,
and at times even corruption. The Nambikwara are a case in point. In 1991
the Nucleus for Indigenous Rights (NDI), a Brazilian NGO, sued the government
on behalf of the Nambikwara for failing to remove 6,000 illegal gold miners
working in the Sarare area. They had wrought devastation to the riverine
environment by practicing placer mining — illegal in Brazil as provided
by article 231 of the Brazilian constitution. In addition, the mining camps
had spread venereal diseases and malaria throughout the area. On December
18, 1991, a federal judge in Brasília ordered Funai and the Brazilian
Environmental Institute (IBAMA) to dislodge the miners.

By April, nothing had been done. The NDI and various other Brazilian
NGOs notified the World Bank of this, since it followed a policy of indigenous
land protection as part of the development project it planned to lend out
money for in Mato Grosso. It then became clear that state governor Jaime
Campos had made an illegal deal with the miners to the effect that they
should maintain their invasion until the date of the loan approval. The
World Bank then conditioned its loan on the removal of miners and the environmental
clean up, and pushed back the date of effectiveness to 1992. In 1996, even
though invasions were still continuing, the Bank disbursed half of its
loan to the state of Mato Grosso.



Twenty five years ago, Jacir José Macuxi and a few other prominent
Macuxi initiated the struggle to demarcate their 1.6 million hectare territory
(Raposa/Serra do Sol) in northern Brazil, on the torrid savannas of the
Venezuelan border area in the state of Roraima. There too, gold miners
and ranchers had taken hold and were spreading Falciparum malaria, a deadly
strain of the disease that was steadily killing off the people. "Many
people fell sick," says de Souza. "My wife was one of them, and
she died."

In 1995, the government even proposed to build a dam inside the area.
Then, backed by state government leaders, the invaders of Raposa Serra
do Sol voted to form a new municipality inside the indigenous area.

After the passing of Decree 1775, Raposa/Serra do Sol became one of
the most heavily contested instances of Indian land. Its location on the
Venezuelan border makes it strategic land for the Brazilian military, always
fearful of foreign encroachments on its territory. "Nationalizing"
the border regions, or sponsoring the settlement of "Brazilians"
as opposed to indigenous people — who lie outside the national project
— has for a long time been a policy of the Brazilian state.

Knowing the dangerous changes instituted by Decree 1775, the world waited
anxiously for a final decision from Jobim on this key area, which would
set a precedent for others. On December 24, the determination fell like
an ax: Jobim, in a decision taken with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
ordered Funai to cut a chunk out of Raposa Serra do Sol the size of Rhode
Island (200,000 hectares of Indian land) for some 14 ranchers to whom the
National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) has been
issuing titles since 1982. It also calls for creating enclaves of non-Indian
land in the middle of the indigenous reserve for five decaying gold boom
towns — a blatant invitation to violence. This decision sends a clear message
across the Brazilian frontier: Never mind the constitutional right indigenous
peoples in Brazil have to their traditional territories; it’s open season
on Indian lands.

The Mahogany Battle

Indian territories in the Amazon are often the last repositories of
precious woods and other natural resources. Knowing this, illegal loggers
do much of their work on Indian lands. For the Parakana people, who inhabit
the Apyterewa indigenous area in southern Pará state, particularly
for youths, contact with loggers has translated into dependency, alcoholism,
and exploitation as the result of the illegal smuggling of mahogany.

Six months ago, the Brazilian state issued a federal decree that imposed
strict restrictions on the logging of mahogany. But the Amazon is big,
and the enforcement of such legislation daunting.

The situation of the Parakana was denounced by Rio’s daily O Globo.
Dwellers of the municipality of São Félix do Xingu spoke
with reporters. In the exploitation scheme, the Parakana get food and alcoholic
beverages to locate stands of mahogany. Some have used firearms provided
by the woodcutters to drive away Funai officials and other persons who
may try to stop the smuggling. It is estimated that at least 15% of the
980,000-hectare indigenous area was invaded by woodcutters, miners, farmers,
and settlers. The sawmills that process the smuggled mahogany are only
100 meters away from the airport of São Félix do Xingu. Funai
doesn’t have the staff or resources necessary to do anything about the

The Parakana Indians, however, have organized to help federal agencies
in the task of curbing invasions and preventing the exploitation of the
hardwood. In 1993, they destroyed machines and other tools of the Perachi
timber company as a means to intimidate invaders. This timber company,
one of the largest in the region, defied the public powers by illegally
exporting mahogany and, in the process, devastated 5,000 hectares of indigenous
territory to open pasture areas.

The longer it takes for all indigenous territories to be demarcated,
the situation of indigenous communities deteriorates and Brazil gets farther
away from upholding its Constitution. The delay in securing the human and
traditional rights of indigenous peoples aggravates their problems and
continues to encourage the pillage of their territories by the usual bunch
of criminal cartels that operate throughout the country. Controversial
policies like Decree 1775 intensify a political impasse, which discredits
the federal government and may cost the reduction of indigenous territories
not yet demarcated. As time goes by, the violation of indigenous rights
increases this gap between apathy and justice, giving way to sad statistics,
which seem to perpetuate the historic debt towards the first inhabitants
of Brazil. Beyond chapters of a constitution, we need to arrive at a reality
where indigenous rights are indeed secured and their cultural wealth considered
a contribution instead of an obstacle.

Sources: Instituto Socioambiental, Comissão Pro-Yanomami, CIMI,
CAPOIB, and Amazon Coalition.

For more information:

Rainforest Action Network, Brazil Program 450 Sansome, Suite 700 San
Francisco, CA 94111 Phone: (415) 398-4404 Fax: (415) 398-2732


Home page:

SAIIC P.O. Box 28703 Oakland CA, 94604 Phone: (510) 834-4263 Fax: (510)834-4264
Office: 1714 Franklin Street, 3rd Floor, Oakland


Home Page:

(*) Beto Borges is the Director of
the Brazil Program at Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco

Gilles Combrisson is the Journal Coordinator for the South and Meso American
Indian Rights Center (SAIIC)

Slavery Lives

Brazilian Indians who learned the Portuguese and received
some schooling are being expelled from their lands and forced to live in
servitude closer to the cities in the South of Brazil. And they don’t enjoy
the compassionate support offered the Amazon Indians.

Wilson Velloso

In theoretical history, the one you learn in school, African slavery
was abolished in Brazil on May 13, 1888, by a law of the Chamber of Deputies
of the Empire of Brazil. Thus were some 800,000 black Brazilians, most
of them illiterate and unskilled, thrown out of the miserable senzalas
(slave quarters) where they had been lodged by their patrões
(slave owners) and joined the army of jobless in that still young country
of 14 million inhabitants.

Many Brazilian anthropologists and economists consider the May 13 law
a cruel and meaningless political gesture. It caused unnumbered deaths
and untold suffering among the new free citizens, until then taken care
by their owners as the valuable assets they were.

Chronologically, slavery in Brazil had lasted since the first blacks
kidnapped from African Guinea were introduced in the country in 1532, thirty-two
years after the land was claimed as a Portuguese colony.

In the intervening five centuries, a comparatively small number of Brazilian
blacks have improved their lot somewhat but the great mass — nobody knows
for sure how many — live mainly in the favelas (shanty towns) of
most bigger Brazilian cities, still illiterate, still untrained, still
hoping to draw the grand prize of life’s lottery and become great soccer
players or popular entertainers.

Instead of solving the problems of the poor and the blacks, a long succession
of Brazilian governments have, since the generals proclaimed a Republic
in 1889, used all sorts of stratagems and ruses to make the numbers of
blacks seem smaller than they actually are. Under Brazilian legislation,
census enumerators just ignore the numbers. The official rationale is that
counting whites, blacks, mixed-bloods, Orientals, etc., would be "racism"
and cost too much. So they just don’t count them.

The Africans were introduced in Brazil because the Indians then living
in the territory were still in the polished Stone Age, were mostly nomads,
and lived off the fauna and flora. They were no farmers, and balked at
learning white man’s skills.

It is a melancholy irony that the Brazilian Indians who had the most
contact with the colonists, learned their language and received some schooling,
nowadays are being expelled from their lands and often forced to live in
servitude. Not in the North, in the rain forests of the Amazon, but much
closer to the "centers of civilization" in the South.

At least, the Northern Indians of Brazil enjoy some compassionate support
in America and in Europe, both concerned with the destruction of the rainforest.
But the three branches of the Guarany nation, the Kaiowás, the Ñandevas
and the M’byas, supposed to be wards of the Brazilian State, are being
exploited just as the blacks were in the 18 and 19 centuries. Says Maria
Víctor Guarany, president of the Kaguateka Association of Displaced
Indians: "Over 7,000 Indians are working in the charcoal mills and
the sugarcane processing plants (in Brazil). They live in state of slavery.
This is the integration that the whites offer us. But we, Indians, the
first owners of this land, cannot accept this humiliation and inhumane

The Kaiowás number approximately 25,000 people and live in the
state of Mato Grosso (thick woods) do Sul, near the Bolivian and the Paraguayan
borders. There are Guaranys also living in the Province of Corrientes,
Argentina. The total Indian population of Brazil is estimated at 250,000
from a grand total of some 3 million at the time of the discovery.

For the Guarany, land is the supreme value. But Mato Grosso do Sul is
fast losing the right of calling itself that way as the big trees are being
decimated by timbermen and ranchers. For a long time, the Brazilian Indian
Protective Services (SPI) had the reputation of being faithful to its mission,
and of rather losing their men than killing a single Indian. The situation
changed in recent years as the SPI was superseded by a mostly bureaucratic
entity, the Indian Foundation, FUNAI, that illegally sold timber belonging
to the Kaiowás.

Deprived of the use of the forest and rivers for hunting and fishing,
the Kaiowás have been forced into virtual slavery, working in sugarcane
plantations or in the mills where the sugarcane is ground to make molasses
then processed to manufacture sugar, or distilled to obtain alcohol used
in the beverage industries.

The work regime is that of serfs, long hours under the sun or rain,
lodged in rickety improvised galpões (sheds), eating whatever
food the foremen and owners feed them, paid ridiculously low wages, and
forced to stay on the job three months as a minimum. Often these Indians
have to walk more than 70 miles to reach their own homes, outside the precinct
of the canaviais (cane plantations) and engenhos (mills and

Survival for Tribal Peoples, a London organization is coordinating international
awareness concerning the wicked treatment of the Guarany-Kaiowás
on their inexorable route to extinction. If you want more information you
can contact them directly: Survival, 11-15 Emerald Street, London WC1N
3QL, United Kingdom, Telephone: 0171-242-1441, Fax: 0171-242-1771.

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