Friday, April 18, 2008

Indigenous peoples in Brazil Harassed, Threatened

REPORT: Indigenous peoples in Brazil Harassed, Threatened
Human rights NGOs Draw a Sad Balance; Illegal Logging, Drug Trafficking, Gold Mining Blamed

By David M. Kinchen Editor

The plight of the approximately 235 Indigenous nations living in Brazil is truly a desperate one: Loss of land, violence, slave-like working conditions, assaults, racism, marginalization, poverty, murder threats and actual murders mark their every day life to this day. That's the conclusion of a case study released in April 2008 by Brazil-based non-governmental organization CIMI and the German-based Society for Threatened Peoples International.

"Anyone raising their voice for example against illegal timber-felling risks their life", said Yvonne Bangert of the Society for Threatened Peoples International German headquarters. "The spokesperson of the Surui Indians from the federal state of Rondonia, Almir Surui, who was the guest at our human rights organization in February, received death threats on her return from Germany. We are very worried for her safety."

"The indigenous peoples of Brazil are confronted everywhere in Brazil with the destruction of the environment, removal of their land, illegal invasion of their territories, militarization, suicide, high infant mortality rates and the lack of medical care, especially in the federal state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the murder rates are rising, just from 2006 and 2007 by 99 percent from 27 murdered people to 53, most of whom have been outspoken about the injustices their communities endured," Rebecca Sommer, the U.S.-based representative of the STPI and a frequent contributor to Huntington News Network on rights issues told this reporter.

Sommer added: "In the state of Roraimia, the ongoing issue of Serra Raposa do Sol, widely known by human rights organizations to be one of the worst examples on how Brazil is treating its civil society which is indigenous. Rich landowners are killing members of the indigenous communities out there, and the police and military forces look the other way, or, in some cases, support these landowners. The indigenous peoples of Brazil are the most marginalized and the most vulnerable groups of society, but it appears that the Brazilian government is not addressing their plight to resolve this."

"There are countless cases of severe injustice never addressed; for example, the Guarani, who number in all some 40,000, live beside the roads between large plantations of sugar-cane, soy beans and maize and also pasture land for cattle. It is one of the most saddest situations I have have ever witnessed," Sommer added.

The destruction of the environment, directly affects the very survival of the Indigenous communities, Sommer told HNN. She added that 95 percent of the forest has already disappeared in Matto Grosso -- celebrated as a hot spot with one of the most richest biodiversity of our planet.

"With the boom in the demand for the biofuel ethanol, which in Brazil is obtained from sugar cane, the plantations are steadily expanding," Sommer added.

"The land of the Suia and other traditional communities in Matto Grosso are surrounded by these plantations, we cannot even drink the water from the rivers anymore, because all these pesticides from the plantations are poisoning the rivers, it is a disgrace, the rivers are the livelihood of my people," said Wetag SuiĆ”.

This is in direct violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who have never given their prior informed consent to have their land and very survival affected by these plantations. Sommer added.

Most of the Guarani have no chance of supporting themselves on the remaining land. Frustration and violence are also rife in the communities. And the jobs in the sugar-cane factories are not an alternative. They are poorly paid and the working conditions are miserable. In March and November 2007 controllers from the Ministry of Labour released more than 1,100 Guarani-Kaiowa and Terena from the most shameful conditions in sugar-cane factories in Mato Grosso do Sul.

"Lula da Silva [Brazil's president] has now been in office for six years and the majority of the indigenous peoples of Brazil are growingly in despair, without any recourse to get their situation resolved," said indigenous expert Azelene Kaingang, from Brazil's Instituto Indigena Wara. "Something needs to be done by the international community."

"The Yanomami are now faced with the return of malaria and our territories are invaded by illegal, and extremely dangerous gold-miners and loggers ---people who have no shame: if they meet the Yanoami, they kill us," said Davi Kopenawe,a leader from the Yanomammi community Dimini.

"The Ashaninka, at the border of Peru, are threatened by illegal loggers and drug traffickers. They have guns, and they use them," said Benki Pinhanta from the Ashaninka community, who received the alternative peace Nobel price.

Sommer said that the number of dam-building projects has also risen to such an extent that whole eco-systems are changing and the very means of existence of thousands of Indians is being destroyed. Examples of these are the diversion of the Rio Sao Francisco in north-east Brazil, the planned dams of San Antonio and Jirau on the Rio Madeira in Rondonia and the plan for the construction of the Belo Monte Dam on the River Xingu.

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