Newsletter n. 233


The fact that drew the attention of the press most this week was the action of Xavante Indians in the state of Mato Grosso. Upset with news of changes or even of the possible closing down of Funai, they humiliated another president of the agency by dragging him to the street to demand that the agency should not be closed down, but rather learn how to assist indigenous peoples efficiently. The president of Funai, Julio Gaiger, wasn't beaten by the Indians just because one of his bodyguards shoved him into a private car and drove off. The ex-president of the agency, Marcio Santilli, experienced a similar embarassing situation in February of this year.

The scandal with Gaiger made front-page headlines in the newspapers and showed that indigenous peoples are tired and adopting solutions of their own in a reaction against the sluggishness of the Brazilian government to solve their problems, and they have been resorting to drastic and often dramatic actions. In one week, two indigenous peoples took hostages as a means to force the government to negotiate with them.

In Guajajara, in the state of Maranhao, they demanded and ensured the recovery, albeit unpaved, of the BR-226 highway, which connects Maranhao to various regions of the country and which, because of its terrible conditions in the stretch cutting the village, prevented Funai from providing its precarious assistance to them. The Indians kept 150 hostages for seven days and were supported by the population in their protest.

Funai accused local politicians of manipulating the indigenous community.

The Kaingang people, which lives in the Toldo Pinhal indigenous area in the state of Santa Catarina, has been keeping Funai's administrator, Admir Migliavava, and the director of Incra, Euclides Basso, as hostages since October 23 as a means to ensure the release of funds already earmarked to indemnify invaders of their lands for improvements made thereto. The government has been postponing a solution to the case for two years. In Amazonas, the Waimiri-Atroari continue to block a road through which all the cassiterite production of the Paranapanema industry flows.

With Funai's connivance, the industry stole part of their territory. The Indians want to be indemnified for damages, which include not only the use of the road which cuts their territory but also a payment for the land where the company set up its operations.

CIMI predicted these conflicts and sees them as a result of the disastrous and still assistance-oriented indigenous policy of the federal administration, which continues to disregard indigenous rights to the land and to preserve their unique cultural features by insisting on the suitability of Decree 1,775/96.


Concerned with the fact that the Brazilian government is taking a long time to ratify Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, CIMI and the Pro-Indian Commission invested this week in meetings with senators of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate in an effort to ensure the full approval of the bill. Convention 169, of 1989, was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in 1993 and referred to the Senate. The document adopts international rules to promote and defend indigenous rights and has become a minimum standard for the relations between National States and indigenous communities. The reluctance of the Brazilian government to approve Convention 169 shows how it fully disregards the cultural identity of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Brasilia, 24 October 1996
Indianist Missionary Council - CIMI