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March 12, 1997

Environmental and Social Issues in the Amazon and the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Government

Government Decision Undermines Constitutional Protection of Indigenous Lands

Minister of Justice Nelson Jobim's December 24th decision (Despacho no. 80) to reduce and divide the Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Area in Roraima state sets a sinister precedent for the approximately 190 indigenous lands, covering more than 17 million hectares (virtually all in the Amazon) awaiting approval of the Justice Ministry in order for their demarcations to proceed. The decision jeopardizes the G7 Pilot Program's Indigenous Lands Project, and seriously compromises Constitutional protection of Indian land rights.

In the key test case of the FHC government's indigenous policy, Minister Jobim opted to trade Indian land for the votes of the Roraima Congressional delegation in support of a constitutional amendment permitting reelection of the president. The deal struck, in Jobim's meeting with the Roraima state politicians December 22, reduces the 1.6 million hectare area by at least 300,000 hectares, divides it into five parts, and legitimates five illegal gold boom enclaves within the indigenous land. The decision further supports the creation of a new county seat within the indigenous area, by which criterion any state wishing to legislate its "Indian problem" out of existence is essentially invited to do so. The Minister's proposal would exclude approximately 20 Indian villages from the indigenous area, as well as dozens of other sites, natural pastures and other resources on which the Indians depend for their survival. Several Indian villages are on land that would be given to ranchers by the decision, and would have to be removed -- a step expressly prohibited by the Constitution except for reasons of national security or imminent threat to the survival of the indigenous group.

Brazilian Constitutions since 1934 have recognized Indian rights to the lands they traditionally occupy, but only since the 1988 Constitution has the demarcation process -- the administrative process of assigning specified boundaries to Indian land -- gained momentum. The 1988 Constitution committed the government to demarcating all indigenous lands within five years. There are 554 indigenous areas in Brazil, covering over 99 million hectares (11% of the national territory, and nearly 20% of the Amazon). Less than half of the areas, covering some 47 million hectares, have been fully demarcated, mostly since 1988.

The Raposa Serra do Sol area is inhabited by about 12,000 Macuxi, Wapixana, Ingariko and Taurepang Indians, in some 100 villages. Although official recognition that the area was inhabited by Indians dates to 1917, the area was never demarcated, and is currently invaded by miners (most of whom came when they were removed from the Yanomami territory in 1990), ranchers, some shopkeepers and camp followers. The total non-indigenous population is under 2,000. Many of these left the area when FUNAI (the National Indian Foundation) carried out the identification of the area in 1993. The identification, challenged by the state government, was supported by the Federal Attorney General's Office as well as the legal department of the Ministry of Justice, and documents the indigenous occupation and use of the area in exceptional detail. But since the Justice Ministry ceded to political pressure and delayed the demarcation, the state government has systematically stimulated the reinvasion of the area, investing in roads and infrastructure in the decaying gold-boom towns and putting invaders on the public payroll, in order to create the appearance of crisis and prevent the demarcation. Ranches and boom towns alike have been focal points of chronic conflict: in the last eight years, at least 11 Macuxi have been killed, and many others beaten, illegally imprisoned, or had their houses and property destroyed.

The Minister's decision, in creating enclaves for the five gold- boom towns within the Indian territory, renders these conflicts permanent and insoluble: the towns live from illegal mining, which degrades the resources on which the surrounding communities depend. It further, in giving land to ranches that received land titles from the federal land agency (INCRA) since 1981, flouts a central principle of indigenous land protection of the Constitution: Article 231, paragraph 6, states that, "acts that have as their object the occupation, dominion, or possession of [indigenous] lands are null and void, and without legal effect . . ." If, as Minister Jobim would have it, the Indians are to bear the costs of the government's prior error, then any undemarcated indigenous area in which government agencies have unconstitutionally granted land to invaders is open to similar reduction.

The decision, as predicted by the Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR), has already provoked more conflict and violence in the region. The mayor of the town of Pacaraima has begun construction of a road passing though various villages in Raposa Serra do Sol and leading to the Agua Fria gold mine. The mayor of Uiramuta, the municipality created within the Raposa Serra do Sol area to block the demarcation, announced the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the area. A previous attempt by the state government to build a hydroelectric on the Cotingo river generated serious conflict in 1995. On February 16th, Nelino Gale, former coordinator of CIR and currently town councilman in Normandia, adjoining the Raposa Serra do Sol area, was assaulted and threatened with death in the town hall, by one of the invaders of the Indian area, Elizio Pereira.

Ministerial dispatch No. 80 signals a disturbing change in indigenous policy, from slow implementation of the Constitutional mandate to demarcate the lands occupied by indigenous peoples to its reversal in attempts to reduce and fragment them. Minister Jobim has called on FUNAI to prepare the demarcation order (portaria) before he leaves office at the end of March. The indigenous organization, CIR, which has worked for the demarcation of a single, continuous area for the last 20 years, opposes the reduction and division of the area proposed in the Minister's decision.

Minister Jobim's decision on Raposa Serra do Sol should be revoked and the entire continuous area indentified by FUNAI in 1993 be demarcated. Invaders should be removed, and where appropriate, indemnified or resettled.

For more information contact: Steve Schwartzman, EDF, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 1016, Washington, D.C. 20009; Telephone 202 387 3500; Facsimile 202 234 6049; E-mail steves@edf.org.

Jobim Decision Begins to Aggravate Situation of Raposa Serra do Sol

THE INDIGENOUS COUNCIL OF RORAIMA - CIR, on March 6th communicated to Minister of Justice Nelson Jobim and President Fernando Henrique Cardoso profound concern with the consequences of Dispatch no. 80 of 12/12/96 for the Macuxi, Ingariko, Wapixana and Taurepang indigenous communities of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous area, relating the follows facts:

- On February 16, the former CIR coordinator (from 95-96), currently county councilman in the county of Normandia, Nelino Gale was assaulted and threatened with death in the town hall, by Elizio Pereira, of the Triunfo ranch, owner of the Placa bar located on the road from Normandia to Surumu.

- At the beginning of January, the mayor of Pacaraima, seat of the county of the same name, illegally located within the Sao Marcos indigenous area, began to construct a road going from the town of Pacaraima, though villages in Raposa Serra do Sol to the Agua Fria gold mining area.

- The mayor the county of Uiramuta announced the beginning of construction of a 140KW hydroelectric on the Paiua creek. The attempt by the state government to construct a hydroelectric on the Cotingo river in 1995, generated conflicts with the Indians and international repercussions.

These very serious occurrences are the results of the decision to reduce the indigenous area, giving the appearance of legality to acts of invasion that will tend to become consolidated and multiply if Dispatch no. 80 results in a demarcation order (portaria). CIR does not accept Minister Jobim's decision and has been attempting to arrange a meeting with the President to express its concern. Nevertheless, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) has informed us that the Minister intends to sign the order before he leaves office at the end of the month. In order for FUNAI to prepare the demarcation order reducing the indigenous land following the dispatch, which constitutes a new identification of the area without the requisite anthropological report, it will be necessary to send a team to the area to redraw the boundaries. CIR appeals to all organizations to send letters to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Minister Jobim, requesting that the reduction not be carried out, but that the whole Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous area be demarcated.

Boa Vista, March 10, 1997
Jeronimo Pereira - Coordinator of CIR

Please write or fax:

Imo. Sr. Nelson Jobim
Ministro da Justica
Esplanada dos Ministerios
Bl. T Brasilia
DF 70064-900
Fax 55 61 224 2448

Ilmo. Sr
Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Presidente da Republica
Palacio do Planalto
Brasilia DF 70160-900
Fax 55 61 226 7566