Jun 022014

Chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe are coming to Europe. In the UK Tribes Alive has organised public meetings with University College, London (UCL) on Tuesday 10th June at 6:30pm, and with Oxford University on Wednesday 11th at 5pm.

Please join us for either of the meetings. For UCL please follow the link below to register. Attendance is free of charge but places are limited, so you need to register:

Register to attend the UCL meeting, 10th June

In Oxford, the venue will be the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre at Christ Church College. There is no need to register.

The Chiefs are here to highlight the failure of the Brazilian government to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples. Not a single indigenous territory (TIs) has been approved since April 2013 and only a handful were approved during the first two years of the Rousseff government, although over 33 percent have yet to be demarcated. In addition there are numerous proposals for changes to Brazil’s constitution and laws which would see indigenous rights drastically undermined.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kayapo Chiefs Raoni and Megaron talk to an International television reporter at the People's Summit, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 15th June 2012. Photo © Sue Cunningham. (Sue Cunningham/SCP)The indigenous people of Brazil today feel marginalised and discriminated against. The government has ignored the timetable laid down in the 1988 Constitution which said that demarcation of all indigenous territories (TIs) must be completed by 5th October 1993.

More than twenty years after that deadline expired a third of all TIs are still not approved.

The present government has the poorest record on demarcation of any since Brazil’s return to democracy, having initially slowed approval of demarcations to a trickle, then paralysed the process completely.

Brazil’s performance on the rights of indigenous peoples has been roundly condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indiegenous Peoples and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Over 500 indigenous people from 100 ethnic groups last week staged marches and demonstrations in Brasilia, in the run-up to the World Cup, using the event to highlight government failings and to protest against the proposed changes to the law.

During their visit to Europe, which has been organised by French NGO Planète Amazone, Chiefs Raoni and Megaron will be meeting representatives of the French and British governments, King Harald of Norway and Prince Albert of Monaco. In the UK they will have a personal audience with Prince Charles.

May 312014

Two Kayapo Chiefs today issued an invitation to the England squad to visit their Amazonian village for a game of football.

In a letter to England Manager, Roy Hodgson, Chief Raoni Metuktire and Chief Megaron Txucarramãe have invited the squad to their rainforest territory “after playing Brazil in the final”.

“We are all huge football fans and we challenge England to play against the Kayapó ‘national team’,” wrote Chief Megaron.

“We live beside the Xingu River in the eastern part of the Amazonian rainforest. Our village is very traditional and we still live as our forefathers, so this would be a great opportunity for you to see how we live.”

The Chiefs are awaiting the Squad’s reply anxiously. Channel 4 News carried the invitation yesterday.

May 082014

British fashion chain Sahara has launched its ‘Xingu’ range. The six tops in the range make use of a traditional face paint design, created by Nghongo Kayapo using genipapo fruit dye. The clothes are the outcome of a co-operation between the company and Tribes Alive.


For every item from the range sold the company makes a donation to the community which will be used to strengthen their culture and protect their territory from invasion.

Here’s the Sahara range.

This collaboration is a great way to bring a little information about the tribal people of Brazil to an audience who might not come across them in their normal lives, while helping to bring much-needed resources to the community.

Nov 302012

Today, the 30th November 2012, representatives of 141 Brazilian civil society organisations will deliver to Brazil’s Supreme Court judges a carefully reasoned letter pointing out the absurd legal inconsistencies which are allowing construction of Belo Monte to continue.

The letter details the loopholes which Norte Energia and the Brazilian government are exploiting to bulldoze through, both literally and metaphorically,  the construction of Belo Monte despite the existence of 13 outstanding legal cases, most of which have resulted in injunctions to prevent the continuation of work. These injunctions have been set aside one by one by a single judge sitting in chambers using a draconian and undemocratic law passed by the generals of the military dictatorship era, fifty years ago.

The dam builders are betting on those cases not reaching the Supreme Court until the dam is a fait accompli. Their actions have no place in a modern democracy which claims to respect human rights and the rule of law. All the Brazilian organisations are asking is that the Supreme Court should adjudicate these cases; we don’t think that is too much to ask!

63 international organisations have endorsed the letter, including Tribes Alive.

Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, the lead organisation, has established an on-line petition (in English), which is open to be signed by individuals from around the globe:
Xingu Vivo Petition

Aug 292012

Not unexpectedly, but still disappointingly, the President of the Supreme Court, Carlos Ayres Britto, has suspended the injunction which halted work on the dam.

In a move which represents a total capitulation of the Supreme Court to the wishes of the Executive he refused to comment on the legal aspects, but nonetheless suspended the injunction until the case reaches a full Supreme Court hearing.

How is this a total capitulation? According to Norte Energia, the company building the dam, the government has already spent the major part of R$5 billion through the largely nationally-owned companies which form the core of Norte Energia, and it is incurring further costs daily. Immense damage has already been done in terms of the destruction of the physical, social, cultural and food security of the indigenous tribes affected. The environment suffers more with each day that work progresses. We are at, or very close to, the point where the damage done is irreversible, and the investment so huge that no judgement from any court could stop the Leviathan’s progress.

No date has been set for a hearing in the Supreme Court. The case is unlikely to reach the Court for months or even years, by which time the dam will be more or less built, the destruction will have already have been done, the indigenous cultures will have been wiped out, and therefore the case will be no more than academic.

Ayres Britto seems to be blind to the fact that the government has succeeded in bypassing the country’s constitution and huge swathes of its environmental and human rights legislation. Because of the enormity of the project, judging that a fait accompli was carried out illegally can do nothing to reverse the damage done. The Supreme Court will have no sanction available; at worst the government may receive a slap on the wrist, which it will simply shrug off on its march towards the next illegal mega-project on the next river.

It is sad to see Brazil’s young democracy suffer such degradation. Without a proper balance between the Three Powers – which are so iconically at the heart of Brasilia, where the Executive, the Judiciary and Congress all sit on the Square of the Three Powers – Brazil is reverting to a dictatorship, with a Judiciary cowed into submission by an all-powerful Executive, which in turn is endorsed by a supine and submissive Congress, influenced and financed by corporate interests.

We watched through the 1980s as Brazil left the years of dictatorship behind. We were in awe as the country swept into a new age of enlightenment, enacting progressive laws to protect the rights of its citizens, whether rich or poor, black or white, immigrant or indigenous. The adoption of the 1988 Constitution was a high point, and the hosting of the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit was a triumph. Brazil was seen throughout the world as a bright star, a shining example of how a young democracy could vigorously defend what was good and humanitarian.

How sad to see such promise dashed. Mired in wave after wave of corruption at the highest level – ironically the Supreme Court cannot judge the Belo Monte case because it is embroiled in the Mensalão case, which is about corruption in the highest ranks of the government – Brazil’s burgeoning wealthy elite are following the worst example of their gurus in the developed world and enriching themselves with no thought for those who are paying the price for their riches.

The government is enthusiastically endorsing policies and legislation which has no other intention but to take away the safeguards built so painstakingly into the fabric of the modern Brazilian state. First, the courageous and far-reaching (if poorly enforeced) Forest Code was watered down, paving the way to rising deforestation and increased conflict over land tenure. Now there is a project to change the constitution (known as PEC 215) which will transfer responsibility for demarcation of indigenous territories from FUNAI to the National Congress, where each and every proposal will be bogged down for years unless it is simply dismissed at the outset. There is the crazy AGU 303 decree referred to in another article here. And there are the multiple mega projects planned for the Amazon which will result in no more nor less than cultural genocide.

President Dilma Rousseff appears disinterested in anything which might impede her developmentalist agenda for the Amazon. She seems to look upon anyone and anything which is not part of the rich, new world of Brazilian economics and business as a trifling impediment to be brushed aside, whether they be indigenous people, rural settlers, threatened species or ecosystems. She has her priorities and nothing and no-one may be permitted to stand in her way.

Aug 202012

In a decision which has fundamental implications for the Brazilian government’s relationship with indigenous people, the Federal Regional Court 1 (TRF1) in Brasilia unanimously upheld an earlier decision by the Federal Court in the State of Pará on appeal. The court ruled that the 2005 Congressional Decree which allowed the Belo Monte dam project to be developed was illegal, and accordingly annulled it. The effect is that all of the subsequent environmental licensing process is also invalid. The appeal court also upheld the lower court’s decision that the Government acted in flagrant breach of the United Nations International Labour Organisation Convention 169, of which Brazil is a signatory and which is therefore incorporated into Brazilian Law.

This decision is extremely important. It recognises that the Brazilian government has failed to respect fundamental issues of legality, including its own constitution, its own human rights and environmental legislation, and its international obligations. It was handed down unanimously by three judges sitting in a higher court in the capital. It is made on the basis of the legislation and irrespective of the government’s overriding ambitions. And it is unequivocal in its condemnation.

The court imposed an immediate halt to the construction of the dam, with a daily fine of R$500,000 for any breach. In an interview following the ruling, Judge Souza Prudente was damning; “We are not fighting the government’s acceleration project,” he said. “But it cannot be a dictatorial process. The communities are crying out to be heard but they continue to be ignored. The model of preliminary authorisations followed by studies after the event for hydroelectric dams needs to be looked at again because it is authoritarian and unacceptable.”

Public Prosecutor Felicio Pontes, the author of the original action, said “The legislative decree which authorised Belo Monte without consulting the Indians was a truly monumental affront to the Constitution.” According to him, because the judgement relates to the constitution, the only recourse open to the government now is an appeal to the Supreme Court.

If it chooses to respect this decision, the government will have to go back to the beginning and instigate properly-constituted consultations with the indigenous communities involved, which have to be carried out by Congress and not by the partisan organisations which have so far been involved with the consultations – such as they were – carried out as part of the licensing process. It will then have to go through the steps of obtaining approval from the government agencies involved before it can issue new licenses, since those already in place are no longer valid.

But it is unlikely that the government will be willing to take this legal and democratic route. The same court handed down a judgement a week earlier on another dam project, on the Teles Pires River, in which its judgement was based on the same issues. Again the judgement was unanimous and unequivocal. But just a week later the President of TRF1, Mário César Ribeiro, sitting in chambers, set aside the injunction and permitted the continuation of work on the Teles Pires pending a further appeal. It seems likely that we will see this same process of a judge sitting secretly in chambers overturning the decision of a panel of judges sitting under public scrutiny in an open court in the case of Belo Monte.

Nonetheless, this decision is a great triumph for the cause of the environment, indigenous people and Brazilian democracy and justice. It represents a landmark in the relationship between the executive and the judiciary, with the judiciary finally being prepared to stand up for their own independence and authority in the face of enormous pressure from the Rousseff government.

Aug 202012

Brazil’s Indigenous communities depend on the land they occupy. Their whole way of life depends on the natural resources it provides – food, medicinal plants, building materials and the materials to make many of the everyday objects they use. But it also depends on their spiritual connection with the land, the air, the rivers, the forests and the earth, all of which have a spiritual identity as well as a material one.

The Brazilian government Attorney General’s office last month issued a decree, number 303, which effectively removed most of the rights the Indians enjoy as the original owners of Brazil and as citizens of the country, and demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the spiritual nature of the indigenous people’s reltionship to the land they occupy.

There is no democratic mandate for them to do this, and there is no justification for the dictatorial powers the government is claiming by this instrument. It would allow them to reduce the size of indigenous territories, permit the installation of infrastructure projects – roads, hydroelectric dams, army bases, for example – without leaving the indigenous peoples any recourse to the Brazilian judicial system, and with no prior consultation, let alone any idea of obtaining ‘prior informed consent’, as required by the United Nations International Labour Organisation Convention 169 – of which Brazil is a signatory.

The Attorney General’s staff arrived at this breathtakingly absurd decree by a perverse and twisted process. They took the conditions imposed by the Supreme Court on one specific decision, on the exceptional case of the Raposa-Serra do Sol in the extreme north of Brazil, and tried to apply them indiscriminately to all indigenous territories throughout Brazil, using an explicitly anti-indigenous interpretation of each point. Those conditions were never intended to have any application other than in the very restricted circumstances of Raposa Serra do Sol. Even a cursory reading makes it very clear that to attempt to apply them more widely would be completely at odds with the thinking of the court. Yet that is exactly what this decree set out to do.

Thankfully we quickly discovered that there remain some people in authority in Brazil with some sense of balance. It was quickly accepted that the decree was flawed, and it has now been suspended until the 24th September, pending consultations. We are hopeful that it will now be quietly dropped, but we must remain aware that it could rear its ugly head again next month.

If this decree is not withdrawn completely it will make it very much harder for Tribes Alive to continue our work with the communities we support. We are passing this on to you at the specific request of two of our partner organisations, Instituto Kabu and Instituto Raoni. We’ll keep you up to date through the website and through Facebook.