Cablegate: Brazil: Neglected Indigenous Face Land Rights Challenges

DE RUEHSO #0039/01 0290941
P 290941Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 Brasilia 2289



1. (SBU) According to a range of Sao Paulo-based contacts, the
Brazilian Government does not respect fully the territorial and
cultural rights of indigenous peoples, leaving communities to
subsist in squalid urban slums or neglected rural territories that
represent a fraction of the lands the indigenous once inhabited.
While the national government attempts to help the native Brazilian
population through education and health initiatives, advocates for
the indigenous tell us that the real issue facing this population is
that local authorities do not uphold its ownership of demarcated
areas, allowing farms to encroach on native lands. Activists also
highlight that many federal government programs are insensitive to
native traditions and cultures but acknowledge that some initiatives
being implemented by Sao Paulo's municipal government are helpful in
maintaining a sense of dignity and preserving indigenous history.
End Summary.


2. (SBU) Researchers estimate that in 1500, when the first
Europeans arrived in South America, 2-3 million inhabitants
comprising possibly as many as 2000 tribes lived in the land that
today encompasses Brazil. According to the Brazilian Government's
National Indigenous Administration (FUNAI), today 460,000 indigenous
Brazilians live in 225 communities on native lands and an additional
100,000 to 190,000 reside outside of these areas, many in urban
municipalities. Activists tell us that many rural landowners
regularly disrespect demarcated boundaries and force indigenous
Brazilians onto small parcels of land. Local government officials,
often paid off by some of these agricultural barons, do little if
anything to help reclaim the native territories. A recent case
highlights the frustration indigenous Brazilians feel regarding
their lack of rights: members of the Cintas-Largas ("Wide Belt")
tribe kidnapped UN inspector David Martins Castro in Rondonia State
in an attempt to draw attention to the miserable conditions in which
they are living (Reftel). Although the Cintas-Largas eventually
released Castro when FUNAI representatives agreed to address some of
the tribe's complaints such as medical assistance, lack of
educational opportunities and most importantly, sole access to
diamond mining rights in their territory, the story is only one
example of the frustration and anger which many indigenous
communities feel.

Brief Modern History of the Indigenous in Brazil
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (SBU) Jurandir Siridiwe Xavante, a Sao Paulo-based Guarani
leader, President of the Institute of Indigenous Traditions (IDETI)
and a member of the Sao Paulo's Municipal Commission on Human
Rights, said that until the 1930's, large swaths of indigenous
tribes had no contact with Brazilians who trace their roots to
countries outside of the continent. The lack of interaction was due
to the fact that the more recent arrivals lived almost exclusively
near the coast, where indigenous people had by this time either died
from disease or migrated into the country's vast interior. Xavante
listed President Getulio Vargas' (1930-45, 1951-54) programs to
develop Brazil's interior in the 1940's and the military
dictatorship's initiatives to exploit the Amazon region in the
1970's as major causes of 20th-century conflict between
European-descended Brazilians and the indigenous people of Brazil.
Native groups began mobilizing in the 1980's, creating the Union of
Indigenous Nations (UNI) to serve as a national coalition
representing indigenous rights. The GOB did not recognize the
organization, Xavante explained, partly because of the group's
identification as representing sovereign "nations."

4. (SBU) Further complicating UNI's efforts was a lack of

SAO PAULO 00000039 002 OF 004

cooperation between tribes; differences in languages, customs and
cultures; failure of the GOB to recognize indigenous land claims as
promised under the 1988 constitution (Note: Many native Brazilian
groups viewed the new constitution as a victory for the indigenous
community, giving it rights to traditional lands and stating the
mineral and energy resources could only be exploited with
congressional authorization and community participation. End
Note.); and a 1992 rape case against UNI leader Paulinho Paiakan
(who was later pardoned). Xavante said that the Paiakan episode was
the final tipping point leading to the dissolution of UNI.
Indigenous leaders then "returned to their villages" to defend their
local rights rather than focus on a national cause. Xavante
emphasized that the greatest challenge facing the indigenous in
Brazil is that their territorial and cultural rights are not
respected. In addition to blatantly moving into indigenous
territory or planting crops there, he claimed that farmers use
agrochemicals to produce higher crop output, causing contamination
of major sources of food and water for the indigenous.

Focus on Sao Paulo

5. (U) Brazil's 2000 census recorded that 63,789 native Brazilians
live in the State of Sao Paulo, which according to the Pro-Indian
Commission of Sao Paulo (CPI-SP), an NGO that researches and
documents information about the indigenous, is the third highest
indigenous population after Amazonas State (113,391) and Bahia State
(64,240). Of the Sao Paulo figure, although 4,000 are from the
Guarani, Kaingang, Terena and Krenak tribes, the vast majority come
from Brazil's northeastern native populations. (Note: Migration
from Brazil's poor northeast to more prosperous Sao Paulo is common
among all demographic and racial groups. End Note.) The indigenous
population of Sao Paulo lives in 38 villages on 31 "native lands"
within the state's boundaries, but the state has only recognized
three of these as official demarcated areas. The remaining lands
are either awaiting recognition - according to tribal leaders from
the Guarani village of Tekoa Pyau, their community has been waiting
for over ten years - or are not pursuing recognition because their
leaders believe demarcation, even if granted by the state, will not
guarantee their rights. A 2004 CPI-SP study found that of the
state's total indigenous population, only 3,800 reside outside of
the Greater Sao Paulo metropolitan area, and of these, the
overwhelming majority live in poor conditions without access to much
more than basic education and health care.

Government Not Doing Enough

6. (SBU) Several activists on indigenous issues complained about
the government's lack of assistance to native communities. Jori
Ferere, who created Sao Paulo's only indigenous language school,
Sala Sequoia, called FUNAI an overly bureaucratic government entity
whose inefficiency and hypocritical attitude of wanting to "help"
the indigenous while actually assimilating them into modern Brazil
does significantly more harm than good. IDETI President Xavante
agreed with Ferere, emphasizing that specifically in the areas of
education and health, government support is severely lacking and
that until twenty years ago, the GOB behaved as if indigenous
populations did not even exist, taking the position that the
indigenous had already died out or were mixed in with non-native
Brazilians. Today, FUNAI hires unqualified employees who care
little for indigenous interests, and underpays them as well as
trains them inadequately, Xavante said. He added that the Ministry
of Health's National Health Foundation (FUNASA), specifically
charged with addressing indigenous health issues, dispatches to
indigenous communities medical workers who have no knowledge of
tribal needs or cultural practices and who attempt to resolve local
issues with non-traditional means that are not understood by many
native Brazilians. Xavante also complained that FUNASA's focus is
on quick action with no follow up or long-term disease prevention or
health enhancement programs.

7. (SBU) Catholic University of Sao Paulo (PUC-SP) Professor Lucia
Helena Rangel, one of Brazil's foremost indigenous historians and

SAO PAULO 00000039 003 OF 004

anthropologists, summarized today's conflict between "modern Brazil"
and the indigenous as stemming from the GOB's attempt to assimilate
native Brazilians into the modern state while ignoring their
languages, rituals, habits and customs. Highlighting the issue in
Sao Paulo, Professor Rangel said that when the state government
demarcated indigenous territories, it did so without consideration
for the tribes' own interests and forced many communities to live in
areas with which they had no links. Although the government tries
to help the indigenous through programs such as stipends and food
supplements, these initiatives only create a culture of dependency
rather than encouraging the indigenous to pursue their traditional
way of living, she added.

Violence Targeting Indigenous

8. (SBU) Professor Rangel repeated the widespread allegation that
local authorities responsible for registering new businesses and
farms do not recognize indigenous land rights. Rangel said that
this leads to violent conflicts between large landowners who employ
armed security personnel to kill local indigenous villagers in order
to scare whole communities into moving away. According to the
Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic Church-sponsored
organization supporting native Brazilian rights, 76 indigenous were
killed throughout Brazil in 2007, compared with 40 in 2006, the
highest number in almost thirty years. CIMI experts note that 48 of
those killed were members of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe in Mato Grosso
do Sul State, where land rights conflicts are particularly violent.
In an interview with the widely-circulated newspaper, O Estado de S.
Paulo, FUNAI President Marcio Meira even admitted that "massacres"
occur because the state is not able to exercise its authority in all
areas and protect the indigenous.

FUNASA Refutes Complaints

9. (SBU) FUNASA Sao Paulo Region Indigenous Health Advisor Paulo
Sellera stated that his agency works to help indigenous communities
secure access to drinking water, improve basic sanitation and
coordinate health agreements with the Sao Paulo municipal government
and NGOs to provide medical workers, create local health programs,
and build health clinics. He noted that while FUNASA does face
bureaucratic challenges and budgetary limitations and sometimes has
difficulty addressing indigenous concerns because of cultural
differences (Note: Sellera admitted that all FUNASA Sao Paulo
employees are white or Afro-Brazilian except for a few indigenous
drivers and nursing technicians. End Note.), the agency is
successful in improving living conditions in many indigenous
villages. He said that corruption within the local indigenous
leadership is widespread and that many community elders seek to
personally profit from FUNASA assistance. Sellera agreed that
FUNASA still has much work ahead but defended the group by saying
that it only took over health programming from FUNAI in 1999.
Sellera added that FUNASA's greatest challenge is to empower
indigenous councils (with membership on the local level made up
entirely of indigenous Brazilians and on the district level with
half indigenous and half non-native assistance providers) to create
plans for community renewal and to have villages prioritize their
demands. Responding to criticism of FUNASA, Sellera alleged that
many of the agency's opponents are foreigners or are affiliated with
the Catholic Church. Suh people, he asserted, do not understand
the indgenous community's challenges and many of them have a
personal stake in criticizing the Brazilian Government.

Visit to Indigenous Villages

10. (SBU) Poloff discussed indigenous rights with tribal leaders
during recent visits to two Guarani villages. At Tekoa Pyau, a
community of about 500 located on the western edge of the Sao Paulo
metropolitan area, village elders complained that Brazilian
authorities have left the once rich agricultural area to deteriorate
into an urban slum. According to the community's council, FUNAI and
FUNASA officials seldom visit or commit any form of assistance

SAO PAULO 00000039 004 OF 004

although a FUNASA physician visits the Guarani village of Tekoa Ytu
across the street daily. They indicated that this discrepancy,
based on no clear reasoning, is common throughout Sao Paulo.
Getting medicine is particularly difficult, they told us. Even
young children who may suffer from an illness that needs immediate
attention sometimes have to wait a minimum of 4-5 days to get
medicine. They told us that the community has fought a demarcation
battle for the past ten years to have the government recognize its
territorial jurisdiction. Tekoa Pyau leaders admitted that the City
of Sao Paulo does much more for the community than federal entities,
including providing a well-maintained health clinic and a cultural
and elementary education center. Access to secondary education is a
major challenge because there is no public school nearby and the
community cannot afford to send its youth to private schools.


11. (SBU) The history of the indigenous in Brazil and the
challenges they face today pose a serious human rights issue in
Brazil that is unfortunately often overlooked. Lack of
opportunities and a government focused on other priorities add to
the difficulties that native Brazilians confront, but land conflicts
and the continued killings of indigenous villagers who occupy
desirable farm areas should stand as more than just a red flag. The
history of Brazil's indigenous has much in common with our own
experience in the United States. Our shared legacies offer an
important bridge between our two countries. Programs such as the
PA-run April 2007 shared indigenous workshop, seminar and festival,
which brought together experts from our two countries, are
invaluable in helping tackle the difficulties Brazil's indigenous
have yet to overcome. End Comment.

12. (U) Embassy Brasilia coordinated with and cleared this cable.

© Scoop Media

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