News-Letter Nr. 555

Seminar asks "respect for the rights of indigenous peoples"

"Respect for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" was the name of a seminar that was held last Tuesday at the auditorium of the Attorney General's Office in Brasília and a request made by both indigenous and non-indigenous people engaged in the indigenous cause to the Brazilian public authorities and society.

A series of acts of violence and the lack of respect for the rights of indigenous people in the first months of this year evince the need for immediate changes in the paths of the governmental indigenous policy.

As a result of the debates held during the seminar, a manifesto was drafted with claims to be submitted to the competent authorities. In the discussions and debates, the need for an immediate and broad mobilization to press the government to define a new indigenous policy and ensure the right of indigenous people to the land, as well as to put an end to the violence against them, became clear.

In the manifesto, indigenous organizations and supporters of their cause request the urgent creation of dialogue and articulation mechanisms among the different sectors of the State and civil society to ensure the participation of indigenous people in the formulation and implementation of public policies.

In the contents of the manifesto, the participants express their view that an appropriate indigenous policy should, as a key requirement, put an end to the construction of public facilities - such as power plants, waterways, and roads - that can have a negative impact on indigenous villages and encourage public authorities to expand agricultural borders, make necessary means and resources to implement indigenous rights available, and ensure full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Proposals based on the almost unanimous position of the participants in the indigenous movement, such as the creation of the Indigenous Policy Council, the holding of a conference of indigenous peoples, and the passage of the Statute of Indigenous Peoples, are indicated in the manifesto as the appropriate path for consolidating the new official indigenous policy.

The manifesto also points out that the decision of the Brazilian Government to submit the process of homologation of indigenous lands to the National Defense Council is rather strange.

The Seminar was organized and the manifesto signed by the main indigenous organizations of the Country, namely, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, the Post-Conference Indigenous Commission, the Association of Indigenous Nations of the State of Acre and South Region of the State of Amazonas, the Indigenous Council of Roraima, and by organizations that support the indigenous cause, such as the National Confederation of Brazilian Bishops, the Indianist Missionary Council, the Pro-Indigenous Commission of São Paulo, the Institute for Socieconomic Studies, and the Native Amazon Operation.

Brazil's Attorney General, Geraldo Brindeiro, members of the 6th Chamber of his office, parliamentarians, and representatives of various ministries also attended the seminar.

Affiliation of governor to the workers' party under suspicion of non-homologation agreement

While indigenous people and allies discussed ways to ensure and defend the rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil at the seminar "Respect for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples", Flamarion Portela, governor of the state of Roraima for the Social Liberal Party, joined the Workers' Party (PT). The affiliation of the governor to the party of the President of the Republic can jeopardize the official confirmation of the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land and the demarcation of other areas in the state.

The news that a politician known as a supporter of anti-indigenous interests had joined the PT came as a surprise and outraged the participants in the Seminar.

When indigenous leaders attending the seminar were informed of this fact, they sent an official letter to the 6th Chamber of the Office of the Attorney General requesting clarifications about the official confirmation of the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land. "We are not against the affiliation of any Brazilian citizen to any party, but we will not allow indigenous rights to be used as currency in political or party-related negotiations," they said in the letter.

Suspecting that Portela's affiliation to the PT is based on an anti-indigenous political alliance, the leaders asked the competent authorities to investigate the case. "Given the seriousness and conspicuousness of the facts, we request the Federal Prosecution Service to investigate why the bounds of the Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous land have not been officially confirmed so far," the leaders said in the same letter.

Considered as a traditional ally of the indigenous cause, the PT won the presidential elections with the support of indigenous people. The fact that they are concerned with the developments reported above does not mean that they stopped believing that changes they have been expecting for many years will indeed occur.

Brasília, 20 March 2003.
Cimi - Indianist Missionary Council

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