The summer has passed and we are now in the bracing clutches of autumn. Yet it seems only a few weeks ago that we had the immense pleasure of hosting Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramae, leaders of the Kayapo and spokesmen for all of Brazil’s indigenous peoples, in our home.
The Chiefs in front of the House of Commons
Their visit was a whirlwind. They would have liked a little time to see our country, and we wanted very much to show them some of the sights that date back to tribal times in England, like Stonehenge and the Uffington White Horse.
But that was not to be; despite having very short notice of their visit we managed to put together a full programme, including open meetings at Oxford University and University College London, a meeting with senior-level MPs at the House of Commons and media interviews. They met with Survival International and the Gaia Foundation, and the Rainforest Foundation helped us to put on a press conference, chaired by Bianca Jagger. They even had a private meeting with Prince Charles.
We have produced a short video report of the visit:
British politicians active in the areas of international environment and human rights are now better informed about the situation on the ground in the Amazon. The impact of this is difficult to evaluate because the results are not always obvious.
Meeting at Paliament
The visit has elevated the public profile of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and highlighted the Brazilian government’s lack of commitment to supporting and prioritising environmental sustainability and indigenous peoples’ rights.
Raoni spoke passionately about the demarcation of indigenous territories. In particular he talked about Capot Nhinore, traditionally inhabited by the Kayapo, where his ancestors lie buried.
Although the government acknowledged the Indians’ claims over thirty years ago the area is still occupied illegally by settlers and farmers. Successive governments have unjustifiably sidelined the demarcation of this area.
The Kayapo are left with no alternative but to take matters into their own hands. If the government will not act to fulfil its obligations, then the indigenous people feel they must do it for themselves. They need our support to do this, and today, following a plea from the Chiefs during their visit, we launch a fundraising initiative to help them.
Please make a donation to our demarcation appeal:
After thirty years of procrastination, in 2012 Brazil’s courts directed Funai, the Indian agency, to demarcate the land. The technical work has now been completed, but the demarcation still requires the signature of the Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo. It joins a growing number of other indigenous territories which have been fully researched and signed off by Funai, but which the Minister has refused, so far, to sign into law.
To put this into perspective, the 1988 constitution mandated the government to complete the demarcation of all indigenous territories within five years. Yet more than a quarter of a century later many remain undemarcated. The rate of demarcation declined under the presidency of Lula and has ground to a halt under Dilma Rousseff – not a single territory has been demarcated since April 2013, despite the pile of cases on Cardozo’s desk being now over thirty. The following table shows demarcations signed into law during the last six presidencies:
|Dilma Rousseff [Jan 2011 to Nov 2014]
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2007 to Dec 2010]
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2003 to Dec 2006]
|Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1999 to Dec 2002]
|Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1995 to Dec 1998]
|Itamar Franco [Oct 92 to Dec 94]
|Fernando Collor [Mar 90 to Sep 92]
|José Sarney [Apr 85 to Mar 90]
(Source: Instituto Socioambiental – ISA)
The complete halt since April 2013 clearly demonstrates this government’s reluctance to fulfil its statutory obligations.
Changes to Brazilian Law
Proposals to change Brazilian law in ways which will badly affect Brazil’s indigenous peoples are deeply troubling for Megaron. He told his audiences about several measures, any one of which will spell disaster for many indigenous communities. These range from moves to modify the 1988 constitution itself, to changes in ministerial regulations which could open up indigenous territories for mining and agriculture, oil exploration and dam building.
These represent a major attack on the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. They go against the letter and the spirit of Brazil’s international commitments, including United Nations declarations and conventions which it has signed up to. They also conflict with rights granted under Brazil’s own laws, but the justice system is heavily loaded in favour of the government and against the intersts of indigenous communities.
Dams present polemical problems in the Amazon. The Brazilian government claims they are a source of green energy, yet they produce so much methane that they can contribute more to climate change than producing the same amount of energy from fossil fuels. The social and environmental impacts are horrendous, and they bring hundreds of thousands of migrants into sensitive environments with no infrastructure, where they wreak unrestrained havoc.
Belo Monte construction site
But the Brazilian government is adamant: Brazil will build ever more dams. Belo Monte, the world’s third largest, is presently under construction, despite Brazil’s courts having found it illegal time and time again. There are over twenty legal cases against it, mostly initiated by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in Belém. Each case takes years to come to court, yet when the courts impose injunctions to stop the construction they are suspended in days by a judge in chambers, pending a hearing in a higher court. That hearing is always years away, and in the intervening time the construction project steams ahead despite being judged illegal.
One case which was initiated nine years ago, brought on the grounds that the project is unconstitutional, finally reached the Court of Appeal in August of 2012. Three High Court judges unanimously upheld the findings of the lower court and reimposed the injunction, paralysing the scheme. Within days, a carefully chosen Supreme Court judge had suspended the injunction yet again, allowing construction to recommence. By the time the case gets to a full hearing in the Supreme Court, the dam will be complete, so any finding will be too little, too late.
These inequalities in Brazil’s legal process are at odds with its claim to be a modern democracy. They hark back to the dark days of military dictatorship.
Brazil has plans for up to sixty huge dams in the Amazon, and hundreds of smaller ones.
The sensitive rainforest environment is already changing, becoming drier and less stable. Rapid development in the States of Mato Grosso and Pará in recent years are already causing a reduction in rainfall which threatens to leave the dams with insufficient water to work efficiently, yet the viability and environmental studies for them failed even to consider these factors at all.
With Belo Monte fast becoming a fait accommpli, attention is now moving to the next river, the Tapajos, where three dams are already in the advanced planning stage. These will have a massive impact on the Mundurucu indigenous people.
Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam: http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/belo-monte-dam
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Amazon Dams: http://amazonwatch.org/news
Scientific Paper about GHG emissions from Dams: http://www.academia.edu
Tapajos River – Hydroelectric dams: http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/tapaj%C3%B3s-basin-dams-3352