Brazilian Indians Camp in Brasí­lia But Can’t See Lula or Minister

Brazil's 50 Tupinikim and Guarani Indians who were camping in front of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice in capital BrasÀ­lia since January 17 decided to return to their villages in the southeastern EspÀ­rito Santo state after two days of mobilization.

These two tribes traveled from Espí­rito Santo to Brasí­lia in search of a definition about the demarcation of their lands. They wanted to be received by the Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, regarding to the conflicts with Aracruz Celulose over possession of the land. The struggle has already lasted for more than two decades.

Last Thursday morning, the group spoke to the Advisor of the Minister of Justice, Teresinha Maglia, and to the director in charge of land issues at Funai, Nadja Bindá, in their camp in front of the Ministry.

Maglia justified Márcio Thomaz Bastos' refusal to the requested meeting by saying: "The Minister is not going to receive the indigenous people, just like he is not going to receive representatives of the Aracruz company."

Both questioned the pressure strategy adopted by the indigenous people. Vilson Tupinikim justified it by replying: "Where we live, we are suffering a lot of discrimination."

"We are protesting against the failure to keep a promise: the Minister said that an administrative ruling would be issued by December last year to settle the issue. And he spoke in the name of President Lula, so it was the Federal Government that assumed this commitment," the Tupinikim leader claimed.

In February, 2006, Thomaz Bastos undertook the commitment to legalize the Tupinikim and Guarani lands by the end of 2006, during a meeting of the Espí­rito Santo State Legislative Assembly.

The Indians met with the President of the Commission of Human Rights and Minorities of the Federal Parliament, Luiz Eduardo Greenhalgh. They explained once again the situation and stressed the pressure they feel in the area because of the racist and discriminatory campaign Aracruz has been realizing over the past few months against them.

Greenhalgh committed himself to send an urgent letter to the Minister, asking him to declare the 11,009 ha as Tupinikim/Guarani land and to the Presidency of the Republic asking for an urgent meeting with the indigenous leaders.

During the first day of camp, the group closed off one side of the road, in front of the Ministry of Justice, for five minutes. They were later informed by ministerial advisors that the Minister would not receive the indigenous people and that they should talk to Funai, an indigenist institution linked to the Ministry.

On being given this news, the group headed for the Presidential Office and requested a meeting with President Lula to discuss the difficulties faced by the indigenous peoples in getting access to the Minister of Justice.

It was not possible to book a meeting, but a conversation with the Special Advisor of the President of the Republic, Ricardo Collar, was requested. The advisor has still to reply to this request.

According to the legislation, only the Minister can decide to publish an administrative ruling demarcating land areas. On November 16, 2006, the Minister's Legal Advisor approved the demarcation procedure, stating that the legal formalities had been obeyed. Once this had been done, it was up to the Minister to decide on the process. The decision is 4 months late, based on the legal deadlines.

The discussions between the Aracruz Celulose company and the Tupinikim and Guarani are dealing with the dispute concerning the traditional occupation of the land. The indigenous peoples have four anthropological identification reports issued by Funai in their favor: the company insists that the indigenous peoples were not living on the lands when they arrived.

It's been a year since the Federal Police cleared and destroyed two villages that had been rebuilt within the indigenous land, on January 20, 2006. This eviction resulted in injuries to 13 indigenous people.

"In spite of apologies from the government for this police action, which involved countless improper acts, its effects can still be felt and nobody has been punished," according to the NGO Fase.

The Public Prosecutor's Office has issued a public civil action against the Union for compensation for the material and moral damages suffered by the indigenous people.

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