Newsletter n. 255


On Monday, April 7, president Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed a decree creating the National Human Rights Department, directly linked to the Ministry of Justice. It's another agency set up to appease the international public opinion. Both the department itself and the person assigned to head it, former secretary of the Ministry of Justice Jose Gregori, were known by the public in general. The president, however, acted as though it was a surprise and declared that the announcement had been advanced because of images aired by the TV showing military policemen torturing Brazilian citizens in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It seems that the president took advantage of the national outrage over those facts to promote the image of his administration and even the place that he chose to make the announcement Sunday night, April 6, confirms this reasoning: the opening session of a UN meeting in Sao Paulo.

It is not the first time that Brazil acts in a similar fashion. After the violent massacres in Corumbiara, state of Rondonia, and Eldorado dos Carajas, state of Para, the Brazilian government created the Ministry of Land Reform, which has not produced any practical results so far in terms of implementing fair land policies in the country. This is why human rights entities are skeptical about the new department. Police violence in Brazil is not a new fact. In reports issued by Amnesty International and Human Rights, there are special chapters on this issue. In various Brazilian cities, fora have been denouncing ghastly situations. But the international repercussions of the abuse of power by the police led the federal administration to deal with the issue as if it were a new fact.

The National Human Rights Department was created with the mission of implementing the National Human Rights Plan and also of dealing with topics such as violence against minors, child prostitution, violence against women and the situation in Brazilian penitentiaries.


At the same time that the Brazilian government created a Department to "defend" human rights, minister Jobim left the Ministry of Justice showing disregard for indigenous rights. The last thing Jobim did before leaving office, as published in the Official Gazette, was to issue a package of four decisions involving the following indigenous areas: Kampa do Rio Envira (Kampa Indians, state of Amazonas), Bau (Kayapo Indians, state of Para), Apyterewa (Parakana, state of Para), and Seruini-Mariene (Apurina Indians, state of Amazonas). For two of those areas, Bau and Apyterewa, a reduction in size was proposed. The bounds will be reviewed.

These four indigenous areas are among the eight in connection with which Jobim requested new measures on the part of Funai in July 1996. In December, a similar decision proposed that the Raposa/Serra do Sol area should be reduced, giving rise to conflicts between Indians and non-Indians in the state of Roraima. Now, the former minister confirms once again that the Decree 1,775/96 was truly aimed at reducing indigenous lands.

Decisions are still pending for three other areas: Evare I (Tikuna people, state of Amazonas), Krikati (Krikati people, state of Maranhao), and Sete Cerros (Guarani Kaiowa Indians, state of Mato Grosso do Sul). Nelson Jobim left the Ministry of Justice on Monday, one week before the arrival of the Landless March to Brasilia and one year after the massacre in Eldorado dos Carajas. The recent violence of the police seems to have favored the former minister, as he left office somewhat unnoticed, leaving the judgment of various massacres and difficult decisions pending. The former executive secretary of the Ministry of Justice, Milton Seligman, is now the acting minister.


The eight entities which attended the meeting of the Interinstitutional Committee for Indigenous Health (CISI) on April 8-9 in Brasilia issued a document entitled "Open Denunciation of Neglect in the Health Care Provided to Indigenous peoples" which describes the poor health care being provided to indigenous communities.

According to that document, since their first contacts with non-Indian individuals, indigenous peoples have become victims of the flue, diarrheal diseases and malaria. Now, the Brazilian Indians are struggling against tuberculosis, alcoholism, malnutrition, sexually transmitted diseases and "more recently, they face the imminence of one of the worst ethnocides in their history as the AIDS rate grows in indigenous areas." Data provided by the Ministry of Health show that 31 Indians have become infected (in 1996 the figure was 13) in 10 Brazilian states. Altogether, there are 103,262 individuals with AIDS in Brazil. An increase of 2,676 cases was registered, mostly in the state of Sao Paulo. The entities denounced that the Ministry of Health has suspended all actions related to the provision of health care to indigenous peoples. The dismantling of Funai and of the Ministry poses extremely serious risks to the survival of these societies. "The omission of the State in the provision of health care to indigenous peoples is a violation of their constitutional rights," the document says in conclusion.


Ten years have gone by since Cimi's missionary Vicente Canas was murdered and only a few days ago, on April 8, the court of Juina, state of Mato Grosso, held the first session for hearing prosecuting witnesses. In the four-hour audience, judge Marliza Aparecida Vitorio heard the main prosecuting witness, missionary Thomaz de Aquino Lisboa, a personal friend of Canas' and with whom he established the first contacts ever with the Enawene-Nawe people. The audience was held in the presence of defendants Ronaldo Antonio Osmar, former chief of the civil police of Juina, and farmers Jose Martinez and Pedro Chiquetti, who is believed to have instigated the crime. In his deposition, Thomaz Lisboa once again accused Pedro Chiquetti as the main person behind the crime. One of the defendants, Carlos Camilo Obici, did not show up and will stand trial "in absentia." The prosecuting attorney will request a new audience to hear other witnesses.

Missionary Vicente Canas was murdered between April 6 and 7 of 1987, but his body was only found on May 16. He was a Spanish-born naturalized Brazilian and had been working with indigenous peoples for 20 years. The crime had international repercussions due to its violence. Two years after the murder, a child found the skull of the Jesuit in a public square in Belo Horizonte, capital of the state of Minas Gerais.

During the proceedings, various indigenous leaders, Cimi's coordinator in the state of Mato Grosso, Sebastiao Moreira, and prosecuting witnesses received death threats. Before he was killed, Canas lived with the Enawene-Nawe people, who named him Kiwi, and defended the Saluma indigenous area. This is believed to be the main reason of the murder, since farmers accused him of leading the resistance of the Indians against attempts to invade their territory. Canas' murder was only cleared up through a parallel investigation carried out by Cimi and the Native Amazonia Operation (Opan).

Brasilia, 10 April 1997
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi