Newsletter n. 261

Government tries to deny negotiation over Raposa/Serra do Sol area

As an attempt to protect the image of the government, shattered in recent weeks by accusations of corruption, the acting minister of Justice, Milton Seligman, rejected information that the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous area would be reduced in exchange for votes in favor of the presidential reelection bill. The negotiation was confirmed by federal deputy Francisco Rodrigues (PFL-Roraima) in an article published in the O Globo newspaper on May 16. In addition to Rodrigues, it seems that federal deputies for the state of Roraima Alceste Almeida (PPB), Elton Rohnelt (PFL), Salomao Cruz (PSDB), Luciano Castro (PSDB), Luiz Barbosa (PFL) and Roberio Araujo (PFL), all of whom belong to the government-supporting bloc, took part in the negotiations. Two of them, Luciano Castro and Salomao Cruz, belong to the same party of president Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

In exchange for their votes in favor of the reelection bill, the deputies wanted mining villages to be left out of the original demarcation project, reducing the indigenous area by 10%. It seems that the agreement was preliminarily made before the visit paid by the former minister of Justice, Nelson Jobim, to the indigenous area, in October, and was officialized in December 1966 by a ministerial instruction. According to Seligman, the reelection bill was not a major issue at the time of Jobim's visit to the area. As the president of Funai, Julio Gaiger, nodded in approval, the minister said that the government could not "simply wipe out villages which grew inside the area of the indigenous reservation." It's a preposterous statement; first, because the government doesn't have to "wipe out" any homes in order to demarcate an area, since the law provides for compensation for improvements in good faith. Second, the "homes" in this case are mining villages, whose problems to indigenous peoples have been constantly denounced.

Cimi issued a note stating that the accusations made by federal deputy Francisco Rodrigues are very serious, as they reveal the personal interest of the president of the Republic in having the reelection bill approved. They also show that the Decree 1,775/96, which made room for indigenous areas to be contested, is only intended to reduce the size of those areas. The deputy ended up confirming that the instruction issued by minister Jobim was not grounded on the law but rather on political interests, as indigenous peoples were the only ones to suffer negative consequences.


About 95% of the population of 126 Arara Indians who live in the Laranjal indigenous area, in the state of Para, have been infected with gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). According to Cimi's regional office in that state, pregnant women and seven-year-old children (who have had their sexual initiation already, according to indigenous traditions) have been infected also. Funai's office in the city of Altamira carried out two actions to detect the existence of the disease, both of which were ineffective, as the visits did not include the presence of doctors, but only of laboratory workers and junior nurses.

The problem was detected for the first time eight months ago, although nobody can tell when the disease began to spread. Cimi has unsuccessfully tried to ensure medical assistance to the Indians by getting in touch with Cosai (Indian Health Board), an agency linked to the National Health Foundation and to the Ministry of Health. The agency took no measures in this regard. Cimi has been insisting on the need of sending a doctor to the area to stay there for at least 30 days, which is believed to be an appropriate period of time to follow up and control the disease. The entity believes that the it is an emergency situation, as the Arara community was only contacted by non-Indians for the first time 12 years ago. Missionaries fear that the disease may spread to other indigenous communities.

Brasilia, 22 May 1997
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi