CCPY Update 101 - February 1999



1998 was a bad year for the Yanomami: after the fire and the smoke that invaded their territory, the area was swept by a series of epidemics, respiratory diseases, diarrhea and malaria that once again put their survival at risk. Altogether 107 Yanomami died, 31 of them babies under one year old.

Between 6th and 11th December 78 leaders from 16 regions met at the VIth Yanomami Assembly in Paapiu to discuss the situation. They drew up an open letter to President Cardoso, the Minister of Justice and the president of Funai, demanding action against the garimpeiros who have not given up the hunt for gold. "We did not come here to waste time. We came here to defend our forest. The goldminers continue to invade our land. They continue polluting our rivers and streams. Because you have been invading our land for so long, we do not want to see you any more. Now we must speak hard words to the white chiefs, to the President himself. The goldminers are bringing us many epidemics. If it continues like this we will indeed die. With the animals, the crabs, the fish, the palm trees, together with the forest, we will die. As we are being destroyed together with the forest, we are very angry. The President cannot control his own people, he doesn't care about our people, so we are very sad.
We want to live in tranquility, we don't want to die.
Who will expel the goldminers from our land ? Who will stop the advance of the farmers ? Have we got to defend ourselves with our bows and arrows?
You, the president of Funai, what are you thinking about ? I don't want to be on the side of the Yanomami, is that what you are thinking?
We want to stay alive and at peace within our land. We want to be healthy, to feed our children, to work on our gardens. After the collective hunts, we want to continue holding our big ceremonies. After we, the leaders, discussed these subjects, we are sending this letter."

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The letter was signed by Joao Davi of Paapiu, who coordinated the meeting, and all the other leaders. Besides the 78 from other regions, 120 Yanomami from Paapiu Novo and Maloca Paapiu took part in the assembly which was held at the Pakirapeu maloca.

During the five day meeting, the main themes discussed were:

(1) Strengthening alliances between groups

(2) Land

(3) Health

(4) Education

Besides the Yanomami, the meeting was attended by representatives of CCPY, the Catholic Diocese of Roraima, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Medecins du Monde, the FNS and the head of the local Funai post. When it ended the Yanomami handed over to Funai 4 garimpeiros they had intercepted coming down the river with 2 canoes full of equipment.

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"The survival of the Yanomami is once more in serious risk. In spite of its responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of Brazil's indians, the federal government has shown itself indifferent to the problems that affect them". This was the grim warning given by NISI, the Nucleus of Indigenous Health in a document giving details of the health situation. The number of malaria cases has shot up: in the first 6 months of 1998 there were almost as many cases (4152) as in the whole of 1997 (4289). This is an increase of 93.6%.
Pneumonia has become the second cause of known deaths among the Yanomami. For NISI this is because "the constant presence of non-Yanomami people in their territory and the return of patients who have been in hospital in Boa Vista being treated for different diseases has systematically introduced acute respiratory infections into the area, and allied to the Yanomami's low immunological resistance, affects a high percentage of the population, profoundly affecting their subsistence activities". Diarrhea and malnutrition rose 43% in the first half of 1998. Tuberculosis is another disease which is spreading among the Yanomami. They now have a 12 times higher risk of getting TB than the Brazilian population in general.
The infant mortality rate which was already twice the national rate and higher than in Angola and Uganda, rose by almost 50% (47.1) to 197.4 In the first half of 1998. This means that one out of every five Yanomami children now die before they are a year old. The risk of death for the Yanomami is 2.5 times higher than the national average, a rate comparable to Angola and Afghanistan.

For this alarming situation, NISI puts the blame on the government's indefinition about which agency, FNS or Funai ,is ultimately responsible for indigenous health, the lack of adequate criteria when hiring staff which means many want to stay in urban offices rather than work in the field, cuts in the health budget, the decentralization of the health system and the continuing presence of goldminers, as a result of the suspension of Funai's surveillance operation in March 1996. Although the removal operation began again at the end of 1997 and continued throughout 1998 it is again hampered by lack of funding.
"This clandestine human contingent, which illegally invades the Yanomami territory, receives no treatment against malaria and is a guaranteed channel for transmitting contamination and disease." Another contributing factor to the rise in disease comes from the Yanomami in Venezuela, who often migrate in search of medical help in Brazil because of the lack of health care in their own country. "The frontiers of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana are areas permeated by different diseases, (malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis, leishmaniosis respiratory diseases, river blindness, etc) and there is little or no interaction between the health authorities of these countries at a local level."

In one region alone, Auaris, 47 indians died in the first eight months of 1998, according to lSA, the Socio-environmental Institute. About 760 indians live in 19 scattered communities, and many of the deaths were attributed to the refusal of the FNS health professionals to travel to the more distant villages.
This means that sick indians, "even weakened as they are, have no other choice but to travel hours or days through the forest to be treated at a health post. Many of them die on the way. "

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In 1998 over 100 Yanomami died. Nearly all were deaths that need not have happened, if adequate health care had been available. In other indigenous communities health care has also broken down. The search for a solution has led the government health agency, FNS to consider radical changes.

These are:

At the moment the CCPY medical team is responsible for approximately 1000 indians, working from three health posts at Balawau, Toototobi and Demini while other NGOs and church missions are responsible for smaller numbers and the FNS and Funai provide health care in the rest of the area.
The Yanomami situation is further complicated by the hostility of local politicians to the indians and dissatisfaction among the 200 health workers hired to work for FNS on short term contracts who do not want to work in the field. This means that any decision about who should take over the health programme depends on looking at these factors too, and can only be taken after a thorough study of all aspects of the problem. This is now being done through surveys and consultations with all those involved in the Yanomami health question.
Between 23rd and 26th February the FNS will hold a seminar to discuss the situation and see what solution can be reached.

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José Marcio Panoff Lacerda, a career politician from Mato Grosso has been chosen as president of Funai, in the place of Sullivan Silvestre who died tragically in a plane accident on February 2nd. In his inaugural speech Panoff caused surprise and indignation when he said indigenous communities were subject to an "excess of protection from the state" and that mining, logging and biodiversity exploitation in their reserves must be legalised.


A new proposal for the problem of providing adequate health care for the indigenous population has already been widely discussed by government agencies, indigenous organisations and NGOS . This is the DSEI, or special indigenous health district.
In a DSEI, qualified indigenous personnel already exist in many communities, although not yet among the Yanomami: there are over 4000 teachers, 2000 health agents, and almost 100 university graduates. The DSEIs would be linked to the SUS, the national health system.
A bill to authorise the creation of DSEIs was presented in Congress four years ago by deputy Sergio Arouca, but has still not been voted.


In November Survival International sent a letter to President Cardoso expressing their concern with the deaths of the indians in Auaris, and pleading for funds for the DSY to be released immediately in order to prevent more Yanomami deaths. They said " the long experience of the DSY and non-governmental organisations who work with the Yanomami shows that permanent and continual healthcare is essential for the Yanomami and their immediate future while the miners remain in their area, it will be impossible to prevent diseases like malaria spreading." No reply had been received by mid January.
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In 1998 Roraima suffered its worst ever fires because the drought provoked by El Nino caused farmers' fires to get out of hand. The Yanomami reserve was only lightly affected by fire but the drought severely reduced food supplies. Worst hit were the indigenous groups in the savannah area in the North of the state.

Several European NGOs and the European Community joined together with CIR and CCPY to organise a relief programme, which successfully prevented hunger and paid for long term solutions. It began with food baskets to solve the immediate problems, followed by the distribution of tons of seeds, planted in communal holdings. Then artesian wells were dug and in the savannah area miles of pipes were laid to bring water from mountain springs to villages, powered by windmills.

Nearly 4000 families in 182 villages of Macuxi, Wapixana, Taurepang, Ingarico, and Wai-Wai communities benefitted. Food and medicines were also provided for sick Yanomami.

The European organisations which channelled funds and advised the various projects were Oxfam, Movimond, CESE, ACT, Medecins Sans Frontier, and France Liberte working with CIR, CCPY and representatives of the various indigenous groups. The European Community which supplied most of the funding, strictly monitored its application. Roraima's state government provided aid to hundreds of small farmers affected by the drought, but according to the local press the success rate has not been so good mainly because of the lack of accountability.


A recent study shows that the effects of El Nino on the Brazilian rainforest can add significantly to global warming, because instead of absorbing carbon dioxide as it does in years of normal weather patterns, it pumps out excess carbon into the atmosphere.
The study, published in the December issue of Nature magazine, was carried out by scientists from the Woods Hole Research Laboratory in Massachusetts. They looked at three El Nino episodes between 1980 and 1984, and therefore did not include last year's El Nino effect, considered one of the worst. They found that when the rainforest becomes parched, it produces up to 200 million tons of excess carbon a year, because it is "stressed" and therefore cannot photosynthesise and store carbon dioxide as it would normally do.
However other researchers believe there is evidence that trees that have regrown in previously logged areas are acting as new carbon sinks.

In another study presented at November's Buenos Aires conference on Climate Change, researchers from Woods Hole and the Brazilian- based Amazon Environmental research Institute IPAM, showed that the unusually low rainfall in 1998 had increased the area of fire- vulnerable forest to more than one million square kms, or more than a third of the forests of Amazonia. Another researcher from Embrapa, the government Agricultural Research Company, found an increase of over 300% in the number of fires and burnings in 1998. The government's ambitious PROARCO plan, designed to monitor, prevent and fight Amazon fires, has not yet got off the ground, apparently because bureaucracy is delaying the World Bank's US$26 million funding.

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The news that the government planned to cut 90 percent of the funds for the Amazon Forest Pilot Protection, the Plan PPG-7, which includes the demarcation if indigenous reserves and environmental protection, led to a storm of protest at the end of last year. The cuts were part of the austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund for its US$41 billion rescue package to save Brazil's currency from devaluation - which happened in January anyway.

What made it more absurd was that most of the money being cut was money donated by the G-7 countries. In reply to a letter of protest from Survival International, however, the Brazilian Ambassador in London explained that it was all just a dreadful mistake. "The cuts were inadvertently made in the foreign donations to PPG-7 projects, solely and exclusively due to a technical accounting error", he wrote. The ambassador went on to say that "corrective measures" were being taken to ensure that Congress reinstated the funds. Cuts to Funai's budget for 1999 remain in place.

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President Cardoso has chosen congressman Jose Sarney Filho, a federal deputy of the rightwing PFL party as his new Minister for the Environment. Sarney Filho is son of former president Jose Sarney, and his choice has to do with the president's need to ensure continuing support from the PFL in congress.


In December President Fernando Henrique Cardoso announced a package of demarcations of indigenous areas: 21 areas were ratified - the final step in the complex recognition process while 2 were "declared" including, in the President's own words, one of the most complex and contradictory, the Raposa/Serra do Sol reserve of the Macuxi indians in the north of Roraima. The area they had always claimed as theirs, totalling 1.678.000 hectares, was declared a continuous area, which meant the revoking of former Justice Minister Nelson Jobim's controversial 1996 decision to leave "islands" of goldminer settlements and farms in the middle. While the indians were jubilant that the justice of their claim was finally recognised by the government, the landowners were not. They threatened an economic boycott, distributed pamphlets with misleading information, and petitioned the Supreme Court in Brasilia for the right to stay. CIMI accused the landowners of using the threat of economic chaos to overturn indian rights.

The Supreme Court refused to grant the landowners an injunction, and will judge the case in February. Roraima's Legislative assembly declared support for the landowners, while the Makuxi received support from an organisation of rural and urbanworkers and indians, who accused the landowners of always having been favoured with public funds by the government. All the bona fide occupants of the area now declared Makuxi land will receive compensation. On 27th January CCPY sent a letter to Renan Calheiros, Minister of Justice, asking for the demarcation process of the Makuxi area to be speeded up, and for intruders to be removed. It also asked that due measures be taken to hold responsible those persons who are stimulating an anti-indian sentiment and the use of violence against indigenous communities.

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Announcing the demarcations, President Cardoso reminded the audience of his credentials: he was a founder member of the Brazilian Association of Anthropologists, together with his wife Ruth, and, as a senator, he had helped to draw up the indigenous rights chapter in the 1988 constitution. He said that Brazilians had moral duties towards the indians "because these populations are depositaries of a species of memory of civilization. They must be preserved in their environment". The president defended the need for large areas for indian populations saying there are those who question the need for so much land for so few indians. "They don't understand. They don't know, firstly, that indians have rights. Secondly that they need the land for the reproduction of their cultural values, of their way of life. And thirdly, because it is also the best way of preserving nature."
President Cardoso also spoke of Brazil's plurality of nations, of indigenous groups who have their own culture and how this formed the strength of Brazilian culture."
He recognised that the cooperation of the PP-G7 had been important for speeding up the demarcations, as well as the presence of NGOs. He said government and NGOs must unite to solve the problems of the populations who are in need.


Re-elected governor of the state of Roraima, Neudo Campos announced the creation of a new department , the "Indian Secretariat" at a cost of nearly 2 million real or approximately US$1.5 million. With a projected staff of 54, none of them indians, the proposal was criticised by indigenous leaders. CIR vice coordinator Jose Adalberto said it was "jobs for the boys". If the governor were really interested in helping the indians, he said, he should work with existing organisations who are already active in the area. Ten percent of Roraima's population are indians and they occupy 43% of its area.
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On 23rd November President Cardoso and the outgoing Venezuelan president, Rafael Caldera jointly inaugurated the newly paved road between Boa Vista to Manaus, completing the 1,800 km long link between Brazil through Venezuela to the Caribbean . The Venezuelan foreign minister Miguel Burelli Rivas took the opportunity to declare that the building of the transmission line between the Guri dam and Boa Vista would not be interrupted in spite of the protests by Venezuelan indians, who claim that the project is causing deforestation and serious disturbances to their lives.


A few days before he was elected president of Venezuela in December, Hugo Chavez Frias told an audience of environmentalists in Caracas: "If I have to choose between water and gold, between tropical forest and gold, the gold will stay buried". It was a promise to revoke Decree 1850 which had allowed mining in the forest reserve of Imataca without consultation of the local indigenous population. He was given a standing ovation. Chavez chose as coordinator of his environmental policy the recently elected senator Alexander Luzardo, an environmentalist who promised important changes in environmental policy, including the reconsideration of the binational project to export energy from the Guri dam to Brazil, with a transmission line that cuts through indigenous reserves in both countries, again without consultation. He said that multilateral institutions now conditioned their loans to respect for the environment and the indigenous populations.
Luzardo said they must change Venezuela's image as a government with little environmental sensibility, and proposed that the concept of sustainable development be included in the new constitution "which is very backward in environmental matters. "Indigenous groups have begun preparing proposals for the constituent assembly.

On January 5th however the Caracas newspaper El Universal published an article saying that the Ministry of the Environment was to be merged with the Ministry of Infrastructure (urban development and transport) while the big mining mafias were reported to be lobbying against the appointment of Luzardo and other progressive environmentalists to key posts.

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On 6th January the Environment Minister of Venezuela's outgoing government signed a contract with a department of Zurich University authorising access to "genetic resources" in the Yanomami area. The contract will last one year. Under it the indigenous communities that collaborate will get 30% and the Ministry, 20% of the royalties of any patent. Minister Rafael Martinez Monro signed the contract in the last days of the outgoing government, in defiance of a request from the new government not to sign any contract, bid or authorization that would compromise the new administration. The terms of the contract give the Swiss access to plants and "intangible components", which for Guillermo Guevara of ORPIA (Amazon Indigenous People's Organisation) who revealed the existence of the deal, means looting the biodiversity and the ancestral knowledge of the indigenous communities. Indians of the Amazon Basin have an agreement that prevents the patenting of their medicinal plants.


Reports from Guyana say that Brazil wants to build a bridge over the Takutu River and help finish the Georgetown-Lethem road in order to boost trade and tourism between the two countries. At the same time high level meetings between Brazilian and Guyanese diplomats and military officers are being organised to discuss the invasion of Brazilian garimpeiros, some arriving by air, who are building illegal roads and sometimes forcing out legitimate local miners.

With limited police resources and an absence of border patrols, Guyana is finding it very difficult to stop the invasion. Another problem is that many operate with legitimate local miners. Brazil's Ambassador to Guyana, Claudio de Couto Lyra, said "We regret that the situation in Guyana has taken on such serious proportions and we again restate our commitment to working with Guyanese officials to solve the problem".

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The CCPY is a Brazilian, independent, and non-profitmaking organisation. Its main aims are to support and defend the life, the rights, the culture and the land of the Yanomami people.

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