Church Accuses Brazil of Violence Against Indians

Brazil’s Indian Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário) (Cimi), which is linked to the Catholic Church, has released a report entitled "Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil," with data for the years 2003 to 2005. The last time Cimi published a report on violence against Indians was in 1997,

The Cimi vice president, Saulo Feitosa, says that the report shows that there is a connection between violence against Indians and land demarcation.

"The less land that is legally set aside for the Indians, the more violence there is." declared Feitosa, explaining that of the approximately 800 Indian reserve areas in Brazil, only 35% have actually been demarcated.

And he adds that while the annual average number of areas demarcated between 2003 and 2005 was six, the average number of Indians assassinated annually was 40.

Feitosa explains that the demarcation process for Indian lands is extremely slow, weighed down by red tape.

"There is a big difference between our numbers and the government’s numbers on Indian reserve areas that have been demarcated. The reason is that we only count areas where demarcation has been completed. The government counts areas from the moment when the process begins."

Funai Disputes

The president of Funai, Mércio Pereira Gomes, questioned the data in the Report on Violence Against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil. According to Gomes, Cimi violence indexes are higher than the should be.

"Cimi based its information on media reports from the interior of Brazil where Indians die for various reasons. They have fights with white people, fights among themselves, automobile accidents and commit suicide. Cimi even counts domestic disputes between husbands and wives," says Gomes.

The Cimi report deals at length with the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. According to the Cimi vice president, Saulo Feitosa, there has been a significant increase in violence involving Indians in that state, mainly in areas near urban centers.

And the violence has been mainly sexual abuse and suicides. Feitosa points out that the suicide rate among the Guarani-Kaiowá has risen sharply, especially among young people who see no future for themselves.

Gomes sees the violence in Mato Grosso do Sul from an entirely different perspective. The state is "an area of territorial recovery conflicts," says the Funai president, explaining that since the 1930s the government has been working to return land to the Guarani-Kaiowá.

But it is a difficult process, Gomes adds. "Farmers are informed that their land does not belong to them; it belongs to the Indians. But the farmers believe they are the rightful owners. So we have to explain that Indian rights to the land antedate farmer rights. And this results in conflicts. Today the Guarani-Kaiowá have 26 reservation areas, with another six areas in the demarcation process."

Mércio Pereira Gomes admits that the reservation areas are small and that there is intense pressure for space. He says that 35,000 Indians have 150,000 hectares.

"It is very difficult to recover land for Indigenous peoples. Many countries do not even try. But in Brazil we are making the effort."

Agência Brasil

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