Newsletter n. 224


The formation of the lake of the Serra da Mesa Hydroelectric Power Station in the state of Goias on October 1 may condemn the Ava-Canoeiro Indians to extinction. Because it affects the indigenous area, the construction of the power station must be authorized by the National Congress. The consortium that will build the Power Station, headed by the state-owned company Furnas S.A., has been neglecting this constitutional principle and acting as if the authorization from Congress were a mere formality. The company refuses to admit that it has broken a rule and says everything is ready for the lake to be formed. The flooded area will affect nine municipalities of the state of Goias - 2,000 km2 - including part of a 38,000-hectare indigenous area which is still being identified, where six Ava-Canoeiro Indians who have little contact with the nonindigenous society live.

It is estimated that of an original population of almost 2,000 Indians, only 10 have survived, four of whom live in the state of Tocantins with other indigenous peoples and six in Goias. Funai's Isolated Indians Department says that about 12 Ava-Canoeiro Indians who have never had any contact with the nonindigenous society live in the region. With the flooding of the area, they will be exposed to diseases caused by the decomposition of organic matter. Since the 17th century, the Ava-Canoeiro have been suffering massacres, the last of which was registered in the 1960s.

The building of the power station has been characterized by a deep lack of respect for the culture of the Ava-Canoeiro. The Indians are being constantly forced to move to different parts of the territory at the request of the company. The last place they were forced to go is a location invaded by 64 squatters who are still waiting for Funai to indemnify them for having to leave. This region is drier than the one they originally lived in and they may not get used to the weather conditions prevailing there.

The fast pace at which the power station is being built may cause an additional legal and financial problem to Brazil. The operation of the first turbine, in March 1998, depends on the sale of the Nacional Energetica corporation, which owns 51% of the power station in the consortium with Furnas. The company belonged to Banco Nacional (National Bank), which went bankrupt this year for corruption. The money would make up for the investments made by the Central Bank of Brazil, which under one of the most questionable agreements ever registered in the country took over the Nacional Energetica corporation in exchange for a loan of US$ 6 billion to merge Banco Nacional with Unibanco. The first auction failed. If an agreement is not reached with a buyer, the Brazilian government will be forced to provide US$ 100 million to save the power station. The Consumer, Environment and Minorities Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, which is analyzing the project, insisted on the need of a technical visit to the construction site with the presence of various Indian-supporting entities, including Cimi, which was finally scheduled to take place on September 4.


At the request of 36 squatters, the Supreme Court of Brazil issued a preliminary order suspending the demarcation of the Ventarra indigenous area under the possession of the Kaingang indigenous people in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The invaders argue that they own the land based on title deeds provided by the government of that state over 30 years ago. The decision of the court also suspended the right of the Indians to keep the area under their permanent possession. The Supreme Court argues that the area is under judicial evaluation, as it is being contested before it by Funai, which has requested that the title deeds issued by the government of the state be annulled. According to the constitution, the title deeds in question should indeed be annulled, as they involve indigenous areas. Cimi will request the Department of Justice to take judicial measures to suspend the preliminary order. The decision of the Supreme Court may set a precedent for suspending the demarcation of other indigenous areas in the same stage of the process.

Brasilia, 21 August 1996
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi