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Cablegate: Brazil's Indians - Part Ii: Indian Concerns

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/18/2014



Classified By: Poloff David G. Mosby for reasons 1.4 B/D.

1. (U) This is Part II of a three-part series about Indians in Brazil. This cable reviews the concerns of indigenous leaders. Part I provides an overview and Part III discusses ongoing land disputes.

2. (C) Summary. During the 2002 presidential campaign Lula spoke about Indian rights and promised to demarcate and register Indian lands quickly. As a result, Indian leaders and indigenous rights activists were optimistic that many of the longstanding grievances of Brazil's Indians would finally become a GoB priority. However, numerous Indian leaders feel that since Lula took office, he has not paid sufficient attention to their issues. Many express disappointment and even a sense of betrayal. The growing Indian disputes of the last few months, during which time Indians have clashed with farmers and prospectors, in some cases violently, in several states, has served to strengthen these impressions. The president of the GoB's Indian affairs agency defends the government's record but acknowledgs that Lula has not completely lived up to expectations. End summary.

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Indian Government Officials Criticize Lula ------------------------------------------

3. (C) Antonio Apurina, Director of Assistance Programs for FUNAI (the GoB's Indian agency) and the only Indian in a senior position anywhere in the GoB, harshly criticized President Lula during a February meeting with Poloff. Apurina, a chief of the Apurina tribe and an "alternate" senator for the state of Acre, and Jose da Silva-Jaminawa Tunoma, a chief of the Jaminawa Indians and FUNAI's Chief of Station in Acre, told us the Lula government has not developed a policy to address the problems of Indians in Brazil.

4. (C) Apurina said he was "not impressed" with his boss, Mercio Pereira, President of FUNAI. Despite Pereira's background as an anthropologist and specialist in Indian affairs, Apurina accused him of patronizing Indians and said he and Lula are not genuinely interested in dialogue with Indian leaders. He said Indians were disappointed that Lula chose not to appoint the first Indian president of FUNAI and emphasized that he himself is the only Indian senior FUNAI official --criticizing the fact that an Indian had not been placed in charge of Land Issues Directorate, the most powerful of FUNAI's directorates. Apurina said the Lula government has not developed a plan for economic development on reservations and criticized IBAMA, Brazil's environmental protection agency, for contributing to underdevelopment by trying to maintain Indian reservations as de facto nature preserves.

5. (C) Apurina said that earlier this year he and several other Indian leaders were invited to speak with Cesar Alvares, Undersecretary General of the Presidency, about the developing Indian crisis, but Apurina said Indian leaders are "sick of talking." Moreover, he was critical of the fact that none of the ministries responsible for improving the conditions of Indians in Brazil (e.g., Justice, Education, Labor, Health, etc.) attended the meeting. The Indians raised a series of concerns with Alvares, who was unable to make any commitments in response. As a result, several of the Indian leaders thought "the meeting was useless," according to Apurina.

Lula - "Disappointment" for Indian Rights NGOs --------------------------------------------- -

6. (SBU) Andre Lima, head of the Brazilian NGO "Instituto Socio-Ambiental", which advocates for protection of the environmental and Indian rights, told Poloff that the Lula government has been a "great disappointment." And Jose Eden Pereira Magalhaes, head of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic NGO that advocates for Indian rights, told us (unlike Apurina, above, who is "sick of talking") that the "government does not speak with the Indians."

7. (SBU) All four interlocutors commented on the GOB's unnecessary and politically motivated delays in registering indigenous lands. They feel that Lula's quest for a congressional majority has made him unwilling to antagonize powerful politicians from states with significant Indian populations by finalizing the demarcation process. These politicians are beholden to major landowners (or are landowners themselves). Lula, they say, is the first Brazilian president since the 1988 Constitution to reduce the size of an indigenous territory surveyed and demarcated by FUNAI.

Ending the Government's Guardianship of Indians --------------------------------------------- --

8. (SBU) These interlocutors also opined that the GOB's Indian problem goes deeper than the question of land. The greater issue is respect for Indians. They explained that the lack of respect is the legacy of a patronizing system of "tutela" --government guardianship-- of Indians that existed before the 1988 Constitution and, in certain respects, still exists today. Despite the Constitution, much of the old legislation --which essentially treats Indians as wards of the state-- remains in force, according to Lima.

FUNAI President Sympathetic But Defends Government --------------------------------------------- -----

9. (C) On March 12, Poloff met with Mercio Pereira, president of FUNAI, to discuss the criticisms by the Indian leaders and NGOs. When asked if their assessment was fair, Mendes replied, "It's fair, but it's not fair," acknowledging that Lula had greatly raised expectations and has not lived up to them. However, he emphasized, "this government is doing as much, if not more than the previous government."

10. (C) Pereira rejected criticism of Lula for not appointing an Indian as president of FUNAI. "Which tribe would you chose from? There are more than 200 tribes," he said, adding that, "If Lula had picked an Indian as president of FUNAI, there easily could have been violence between Indian tribes." While acknowledging the final registration of the controversial Raposa/Serra do Sol in Roraima state (see Part III of this series) has been delayed for "political reasons," Gomes said the Lula government has finished the demarcation process for all the other territories that were pending when Lula came to office and has moved forward on new demarcations. Asked if the Lula government would fulfill its promise of finishing the demarcation process in four years, Gomes said, "I was optimistic before. Now, I don't know. The government is fragile now because of scandals. It will probably take two terms to completely demarcate and register the final 30 percent."

11. (C) Comment. Some Indian leaders and indigenous rights activists feel betrayed by Lula and the PT. They expected this government to be more aggressive on their issues and are disappointed with progress so far. While Indians make up less than one percent of Brazil's population, they hold powerful symbolic value in Brazilian culture and society. Being accused of being insensitive to their concerns is not an enviable position for President Lula.


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