War with Rice Farmers Leaves 10,000 Brazilian Indians Isolated

Indian beaten in Raposa do Sol, Roraima, Brazil Brazil's Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR) estimates that 10,500 Indians may be isolated in the indigenous land Raposa Serra do Sol, in the northern Brazilian state of Roraima, since the rice farmers burned the bridges over the small rivers of Araçá and Araujinho. 

Since then it has become impossible to pass the river bed of both due to the increase of rains in the regions that caused the two waterways to overflow.

According to the accusation of indigenous leader Jacir José de Souza, former coordinator of CIR and resident of the Maturuca community, the force of water took away the makeshift route over gravel that the state government made by the side of the riverbed.  "They made an alternate path, they put down planks that still made it possible to get by, but now the water took everything," he said.

The Indigenous Council is worried with the emergency response to the health of the communities; already the highway is blocked slowing the removal of patients in serious condition to the Indian Hospital, in Boa Vista.

"Even today, teams of the FUNASA (Fundação Nacional de Saúde – National Health Foundation) that are going to a meeting about health in Surumu have been turned back.  It is a crime that the rice farmers committed.  Our parents can die because the ambulance cannot pass after the bridge was burned down and the river flooded," Jacir complained

Getting to the region of Surumu is only possible by plane, or by taking the route by raft on the Passarão, that is controlled by rice farmers, which adds up to a distance of approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles).  Another possibility is through the city of Normandia, which can delay the trip by another day.

The supply of school meals is also compromised.  At noon on June 3, according to motorist Eliésio Peres Ribeiro, ten cars and a bus have been returned from the little river of Araçá.

Whoever tries to pass using some pieces of wood run a great risk.  I saw a doctor, along with a nurse, have very hard time crossing the little river.

Jacir de Souza adds that he asked "the federal authorities for a solution to the problem, beyond the punishment of the 'terrorists' that set fire to the bridge."  According to him, the work of the Federal Police, responsible for maintaining the security in the Raposa Serra do Sol is impaired because of the destruction of the bridges.

Supreme Court Decision

Indigenous leaders of Roraima gave a press conference about the tense situation in which the people of Raposa Serra do Sol are living.  Because the Brazilian Supreme Court on April 9, in a preliminary verdict, suspended the operation to return the indigenous lands, the leaders met in Brazil's capital Brasí­lia with representatives of the three branches of the Brazilian federal government about the question of official recognition of the Raposa Serra do Sol land.

During the interview, Dionito Makuxi, coordinator of the Council of Indigenous of Roraima (Conselho Indí­gena Roraima – CIR), said "we are not here fighting just for the rights of the peoples of Raposa Serra do Sol, but for all people.  If the rights of the peoples of Raposa are not respected there will be a precedent for not upholding the rights of all of the indigenous peoples of Brazil."

The possibility of the Supreme Court reversing the decision of legal recognition for the land of Raposa continues to weigh heavily on the minds of the leaders.  In spite of this, they said they were confident in the ability of the government official to discern what is just. 

"We believe that the Supreme Court is going to validate this right, already this very court had determined the demarcation and the legal recognition of the indigenous land", said Makuxi, referring to the decisions in 2005, guaranteeing recognition.

Dionito went on to explain the arguments used by anti-indigenous groups that the legal recognition in the area represented a threat to national sovereignty.  "The rice farmer, Paulo César Quartieiro invaded the indigenous land, did not pay a single cent to the state, he has torn down bridges, burned down the homes of the Indians…. and it's the Indians that are the threat to the sovereignty of the country?  We did not run away.  We are Brazilians, we are in our home and we are going to take care of our home, preserving nature, taking care of the forests and the rivers.  We believe that by doing this we are defending our country."

José Lourenço Wapichana, of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the São Marcos Land, the area next to Raposa, also spoke during the interview.  "We have come to support the population of Raposa, since the confusion created by Quartieiro also effects the São Marcos land and a contrary decision by the Supreme Court will also effect us." 

In the next two months, the Supreme Court has to judge the merit of a lawsuit that seeks the nullification of the declaration of the area as indigenous land.  On May 1, the state prosecutor gave his opinion to the Supreme Court, considering to validation of the legal recognition of Raposa Serra do Sol.

Collectively, there are also ten other indigenous leaders from the CIR, Sodiur, Alidecir, Apitsm, Apir, Opir and Cecac, beyond these organizations the Forum in Defense of Indigenous Rights (FDDI) was also present.

Previous Conflicts

The situation in the community of Surumu, in the Indigenous Land Raposa Serra do Sol (Roraima) has been extremely tense in the recent months.  The bridges that link the town to the capital, Boa Vista, were closed by employees of the rice farmer Paulo César Quartieiro. 

All of this started because of the decision of federal agencies, after three years, to fulfill the order of the Court and take away the land Raposa Serra do Sol from the non-indigenous.

At the end of March, Paulo César Quartieiro was arrested, after a conflict with the Federal Police, but that he was freed almost immediately after making bail.  The employees of the rice farmer organized pickets and closed the federal highway, in the areas close to the bridge over the river Cauamé in order to do recognizance on the retaking of the non-indigenous lands.

Besides this, these employees went up to the community in Surumu and burned the encampment on which some of the indigenous (of Raposa Serra do Sol) were living.  After that indigenous people met with the police, since they were frightened by the acts that could still be ordered by the rice farmer.

The taking back of the Raposa Serra do Sol from non-indigenous was instigated by the indigenous after a meeting with Ibama, the National Agency of Waters (ANA  Agência Nacional de íguas), Funai, the Federal Police, the General Advocate of the Union and Incra.

But the height of the violence against the indigenous communities began still before this news; with the judgment of the Superior Electoral Tribunal, ensuring the return of Quartiero to the post of mayor of the city of Pacaraima.

In an interview with the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI  Conselho Indigenista Missionário), the coordination of the Indigenous Council of Roraima said that Quartieiro used his term as the mayor to interfere in the social organization of indigenous communities.  He was stripped of his rights by the Regional Electoral Tribunal of Roraima in 2006.

For about 30 years, the indigenous of the region struggled for recognition of the Raposa Serra do Sol as non-partitioned land.  This they won during the first term of President Lula when he signed the decree of legal recognition of indigenous land in April 15, 2005. 

Since the signing of the decree by the president, three years ago, the Indians are still struggling to see this put into effect, but always they encounter an obstacle.  The non-indigenous that invaded the area in the 90's want the demarcation of area to reduce the Indigenous Lands to little islands.

In the disputed area, there are several hectares of rice plantations.  Many of the rice farmers are not willing to accept the compensation offered by the government.  That they are remaining in this area is one of the principal points of this conflict.

ADITAL/Indigenous Council of Roraima – www.cir.org.br

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