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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04BRASILIA1000 2004-04-27 19:07 2011-02-06 00:12 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Brasilia
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
        B. BRASILIA 0946 

        C. BRASILIA 0985 

1. (U) This is Part III of a three-part series about Indians in Brazil. This cable discusses current land disputes. Part I (ref B) provided an overview and Part II (ref C) discussed concerns of indigenous leaders. 

2. (U) Summary. The government of Brazil is facing unhappiness among indigenous communities who are demanding that the land demarcation process be sped up. The Indians' land claims are often in conflict with farmers' interests and, in some cases, the GOB would have to expropriate land to which farmers have title. In the northern state of Roraima, the governor has opposed the creation of large reservation that would displace rice farmers. The governor, who briefly joined President Lula's Workers' Party (PT) last year, has urged Lula to reject the Indian affairs agency (FUNAI) proposal and called instead for the creation of an "archipelago" of reservations that would permit farmers to have continued access to land they currently cultivate. Indian leaders and activist argue that the "archipelago" reservation would condemn the Indians to poverty and leave them vulnerable to invasions by prospectors, hunters, and farmers. In Mato Grosso do Sul state several indigenous communities have adopted the Landless Movement's (MST) occupation tactics in an effort to force the GOB to cede land to them. End summary. 

Governor Fights Contiguous Indian Reservation --------------------------------------------- 

3. (U) One of the most controversial indigenous land disputes in Brazil is in the northern state of Roraima, where state political leaders, 67 non-Indian farmers, a handful of Indians, and some military officers have opposed the demarcation of a 1,750,000 hectare (eight percent of the state's total land area) reservation for 14,000 Indians along the border with Venezuela and Guyana. Rice planters, whose production accounts for 10 percent of the state's economy, oppose the creation of the "Raposa Serra do Sol" reservation in a contiguous configuration, because that would require them to vacate much of the farmland they currently have under cultivation. 

4. (U) The farmers, Roraima Governor Flamarion Portela, and the state's federal Senators are instead proposing to break the reservation up into "islands" to allow for expanded state-directed economic development. Portela has complained bitterly about governing a "virtual state," because the GoB --either through FUNAI or the environmental protection agency IBAMA-- controls more than half of the state's land. In March 2003, Portela switched to Lula's Workers' Party (PT) allegedly after getting a GoB commitment to the archipelago configuration. In December, Portela was asked to leave the PT to defend himself against charges of massive corruption. He is now "without party". 

5. (U) In 1999, opponents of the contiguous reservation plan sued to stop the demarcation process. In March 2004, a federal judge in Roraima ruled in their favor and placed an injunction against the creation of the reservation. The ruling does not, however, prevent the immediate registration of the reservation as a whole. The Solicitor General, the Ministry of Justice, FUNAI, and a federal prosecutor in Roraima have all announced they will appeal the decision. 

Defense Minister Questions Reservations Along the Border --------------------------------------------- ----------- 

6. (U) Defense Minister Viegas has his own reasons to oppose the reservation. He argues that the federal government needs access to the international border, which he believes would be threatened by the creation of the Roraima reservation. In congressional testimony on March 4, Viegas warned against an "overly broad interpretation of indigenous land, above all in the border regions," which "could pave the way for future demands for the establishment of 'indigenous nations' with a legal structure different" from the rest of Brazil. He concluded, "I adamantly oppose this concept". Viegas said the armed forces need to "revitalize" their presence on the northern border, which "is not adequately occupied, demographically or productively" because of Indian reservations and nature preserves and that this "reduces the State's own capacity" to fight transnational and environmental crimes. He also argued that the reservations and environmental preserves make it difficult to build infrastructure projects that would permit greater development. 

Justice Minister and FUNAI Chief Defend Reservation --------------------------------------------- ----- 

7. (U) On March 3, Minister of Justice Marcio Thomaz Bastos guaranteed in a Senate hearing that the contiguous demarcation of the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation would be finalized. At the same hearing, responding to critical comments from Senators from Roraima, Amazonas, and Mato Grosso do Sul states, FUNAI President Mercio Pereira was dismissive of arguments that the various Indian groups might fight among themselves if placed on one large reservation, rather than several smaller ones. He cited an example where twelve different languages are spoken in one reservation, saying the reservation in that contiguous form, "only brought benefits." 

NGOs call National Security A "False Controversy" --------------------------------------------- ---- 

8. (SBU) According to Andre Lima, head of the Brazilian NGO "Instituto Socio-Ambiental", which advocates for environmental and Indian rights, "It is a false controversy." He notes that the rice farmers arrived after the land had already been demarcated by FUNAI. (In 1970 only 41,000 non-Indians lived in the state. Today, largely as a result of government incentives, the population has grown to 360,000.) Therefore, the farmers cannot be considered to have entered the land in "good faith" and have no constitutional rights to it. Indian interlocutors accuse the state government of establishing a small town and several small villages in the middle of the reservation and providing government jobs to some Indians to prevent the federal government from registering the territory. 

9. (SBU) With respect to DefMin Viegas' national security argument, Lima noted that the Constitution guarantees the federal government access to Indian lands. Indeed, former President Cardoso issued an executive decree in 2002 spelling out the right of the military and police to access Indian lands. In fact, a number of army units are based on Indian reservations today. Moreover, there already exist large demarcated indigenous territories along the border with Peru, where the "military access" argument has never been a concern. According to Antonio da Silva Apurina, Director of Assistance Programs for FUNAI, the real obstacles to demarcating the Roraima reservation are "economic and political interests." 

Mato Grosso do Sul Land Occupations ------------------------------------ 

10. (U) In late 2003 and early 2004, approximately 4,000 Caiovas-Guarani Indians occupied several farms in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul for months, arguing that the land historically belongs to them. They ultimately complied with a judicial order to vacate the land. During the tense stand-off, a farmer, his wife, and their daughter-in-law were briefly taken hostage by the Indians, and one Indian was wounded by gunfire. 

11. (SBU) The Indian land occupations in Mato Grosso do Sul are more complicated than the Roraima situation, according to Lima. The farmers have been on the land for several generations and have land titles issued by the state (in many cases improperly) and so many could be considered to have occupied the land "in good faith", meaning they are entitled to compensation for improvements made to the land. The government does not have the resources to compensate them and is therefore unable to evict them. 

12. (SBU) The Mato Grosso do Sul occupations were the result of Indian impatience with the official process and an attempt to borrow the tactics of the Landless Movement (MST). Guarani tribal leaders say they are facing a suicide epidemic because they have been forced to live on small reservations that prevent them from following traditional customs or economic development. FUNAI President Pereira told Poloff that he is sympathetic to the Indians, but acknowledged that it will be impossible to turn back the clock and give them a significant portion of their lands back. The region's booming soy economy makes such an outcome all but impossible, he said. 

Indians and Farmers Use Violence in Land Disputes --------------------------------------------- ---- 

13. (U) While the Roraima and Mato Grosso do Sul cases are on the front pages, they are not the only cases of Indian disputes in Brazil: 

- On January 12, thirty Pankararu Indians invaded the FUNAI headquarters in Recife in the northeast to protest the dismissal of an agency director. Three Indians were arrested. 

- In January, more than 100 Guajajara Indians blocked a highway in Maranhao in the northeast to protest what they see as encroachment on their land. State military police were called in to break up the demonstration. 

- On February 16, a farmer was shot and killed and six others taken hostage by a group of 200 Caingangues Indians in the southern state of Santa Catarina, as a result of tension over land distribution. The Indians are demanding that their reservation be expanded. FUNAI supports their demand, but the Indians are impatient with delays. 

- On February 24, prospectors in Roraima shot and killed an Indian who worked for FUNAI and was investigating illegal invasions of Yanomami Indian land in the northeast part of the state. An investigation is ongoing. -- On April 7, twenty-nine illegal diamond prospectors were massacred on an Indian reservation in Rondonia state (ref A). 

Comment ------- 

14. (SBU) President Lula faces a growing Indian affairs policy dilemma. Despite several cabinet meetings addressing the Roraima reservation issue, he has put off a decision at least until late April. As in other policy spheres, he faces severely conflicting pressures. While agribusiness and political allies want to reduce the size of some reservations proposed by FUNAI, Indian leaders and activists want faster action to finish the demarcation process. The Rondonia massacre and Roraima demarcation may now force him to show his hand and take a firm stand. End Comment.