News-Letter Nr. 500

Federal administration closes down FUNASA

The news was subtly announced by the Brazilian media on Tuesday, the 19th. The National Health Foundation (Funasa), the agency in charge of implementing the national indigenous health policy, was officially closed down. The Indigenous Health System and the Federal Agency for Disease Prevention and Control (APEC) were created to replaced it. According to Provisional Measure 33, published in the Official Gazette, the Indigenous Health System will be directly linked to the Ministry of Health and inspected by the APEC.

Closing down Funasa is part of the neoliberal policy adopted by the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, which has been replacing governmental structures with control agencies. The way the foundation was closed down, however, gave rise to an odd feeling, because the decision was not based on comprehensive discussions around the Special Indigenous Sanitary Districts (DSEIs). Health professionals have no idea of what will happen to the districts, to the training programs for Indigenous Health Agents, to the so-called Homes for Indigenous People (Casas do Índio, which provide emergency care to indigenous people), and to the hospitais that provide health care to indigenous people exclusively.

The indigenous health care system has been dismantled for the second time. Under the administration of ex-president Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992), the indigenous health care system was decentralized. Public policies for health and education, which used to be centralized at Funai, were placed under the responsibility of the ministries of Health and Education. The Ministry of Health delegated health care actions to Funasa, an independent governmental agency operating within the ministerial framework. Funai remained in charge of a health sector and as a result jurisdiction conflicts began to emerge. In the regions, technicians and indigenous people have been trying to contact the two agencies for assistance, causing a lot of confusion.

For some time Cimi has been warning that outsourcing indigenous health care services is dangerous. Responding to requests of indigenous communities, the government created the DSEIs, but other segments can provide health care services to indigenous populations, such as NGOs and city halls. The policy for agreements between the agencies and the Ministry of Health has been defined.

Complaints and problems are piling up. Indigenous peoples began to report cases of corruption, misappropriation of equipament, neglect, professional incompetence, and prejudicial treatment. The last report reached Cimi last week. The Indigenous Council of Roraima (CIR) reported that the budget earmarked for health care agreements was sharply reduced as a result of the standardization of salaries - which may lead to the dismissal of part of the staff.

The fact that Funasa was closed down raised doubts in relation to the future of the indigenous health care system and gave rise to apprehension in indigenous villages. This week, about 250 indigenous people representing 42 peoples of states of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo held a meeting in Caruaru, state of Pernambuco, to evaluate the indigenous health care system, define strategies to deal with the new national policy adopted by the federal administration for the sector, and debate the consequences of closing down Funasa.

Pataxo indigenious people are terrorized by gunmen

A climate of fear and tension has overwhelmed the population of the Caí village in Cumuruxatiba, municipality of Prado, south tip of the state of Bahia, According to reports provided by chief Francisco Timborana, gunmen hired by farmer Vítor Dakeche are attacking the village and trying to kill him and his family. The farmers of the region are against the demarcation of the indigenous territory. In the wee hours of today, Timborana's home was shot at by several men on horseback, bringing despair to the chief's wife, Jovita Maria of Oliveira, and their 13 children. They are now living in virtual exile in their own home, protected by about 60 indigenous people who take turns guarding the house.

This village was reoccupied by the Pataxó in abril of 2000, during the Indigenous Conferência held in Coroa Vermelha. On that occasion, farmer Vítor Dakeche expelled the members of the indigenous community from the area at gunpoint. The crime had national repercussions. After this fact the indigenous people began to be insulted, illegally arrested, and beaten. Difficulties to access the village favor the conflicts. The pressure against the village and the chief escalated once again on Monday, February 11th, when the village was invaded by more than 30 gunmen. Since then, violence has become a routine every night. Faced with this climate of impunity, the indigenous people and the population of Cumuruxatiba are terrified.

The Federal Police (PF), Funai, and the Federal Prosecution Service have been informed about the situation already. The Federal Police sent agents to the region, but they only stayed there for a few hours. The Pataxó want the police to stay in the village and those responsible for the wave of violence to be arrested. The indigenous people are outraged at Funai's omission and want it to produce an anthropological report identifying the indigenous land as a necessary step for the demarcation work to continue.

Brasília, February 21st, 2002
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi

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