Archive for the 'indigenous people' Category

Brazilian Supreme Court Decision – Raposa/Serra do Sol

In a landmark decision yesterday, eight of the eleven judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court voted in favour of the demarcation of the Raposa/Serra do Sol Indigenous Reserve respecting the existing boundaries mapped by FUNAI, the government Indian agency, with no votes against.

Disappointingly, one judge asked for more time to consider his decision, putting back the effective date of the judgement until early 2009, and another also decided to delay casting his vote. The third undecided judge was the president of the court, who traditionally only casts his vote last.

However, it seems that all parties now accept that the final decision will mean the removal of large industrial rice farms from Indian land, the expulsion of settlers and an eventual end to the threats and violence the Indians have suffered for thirty years at the hands of invading farmers.

Discussion is now moving towards demands for massive compensation, with the Governor of Roraima State, José Anchieta Júnior, supporting the claims of six large-scale rice farmers, while accepting that there is now no alternative but to accept the ruling.

The delay in making the judgement final means that there will be a period of several months when the 19,000 Indian inhabitants will be at the mercy of the invaders’ frustration. There is a serious danger of renewed violence in the area.

Joênia Batista de Carvalho, a lawyer acting for the Indians who is herself a Wapichana Indian, called for heightened security in the area.

“We are demanding that the authorities and FUNAI immediately reinforce the security in the region to maintain the peace,” she said. “We already know the outcome, and they [the rice farmers] also know that they are going to have to leave the area, so it is essential to increase security to avoid new conflicts.”

The Indians belong to five ethnic groups: Macuxi, Wapichana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona. They occupy an area of 1.7 million hectares. The rice producers wanted to exclude them from practically all of the fertile areas, leaving them to scratch a living from small patches of less productive land.

The judges brushed aside wild claims by the rice farmers and their supporters that demarcation of the reserve would be handing over control of a sensitive border area to foreign interests, insisting that the police and army would retain the right of access to the area despite the demarcation.

In other areas, the army often maintains good relations with indigenous people, who often benefit from transport and health provided by the army.

The judgement will affect the demarcation of other disputed Indian territories. The government will have to adopt new directives laid down by the court, which affect the process by which the remaining Indian territories which still have not been fully demarcated are handled.

A decision in favour of reducing the legally demarcated area, which would have left the Indians isolated in a series of small ‘islands’ of reserve, could have opened up the possibility of a new wave of challenges to other reserves which have already been demarcated. This is now much less likely, leaving Indians in many parts of Brazil with added security and more confidence in their future.

© Patrick Cunningham


“Amazon” on the BBC with Bruce Parry

Here is a link to the episode of Bruce Parry’s Amazon on BBC iPlayer:

The whole programme is excellent and thoroughly recommended. There is a section about the Altamira gathering which starts at 25 minutes and runs for less than five minutes. Starting at 36 minutes is a visit to the Kayapo village of Kriny.

It will only be available for the nex four days, so don’t let this opportunity slip by.

Bruce Parry at Altamira

Thank you BBC’s Bruce Parry for putting a link to our site on the BBC’s ‘Amazon’ site.

Bruce was there at the Altamira demonstration in May. Like many of us, he was incredulous at the Brazilian government’s insistence on building the white elephant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which will be capable of generating only a trickle of electricity for three months each year, despite being the world’s third largest.

If it is built this dinosaur will come to be seen as a huge error. It will be a mistake of gargantuan proportions which will be irreversible.

The Kayapo are just one of at least seven tribes which will be affected by this scheme. It will bring floods to some village, dry river beds to others, and a disrupted environment and permanent problems in growing, hunting and collecting enough food to eat, for both indigenous people and their rural neighbours.

For a blog from Altamira with pictures, see For stunning pictures of indigenous people and their environment, click on the Photo Galleries on the right.

New Projects

During the Heart of Brazil Expedition, we identified several projects which we intend to support. I will be posting details of each project over the coming weeks.

The projects we are working to develop are, in brief:

  • Purchase of boat for transporting crops, mainly bananas, from the village to the nearest road.
  • Radio Xingu: provision of broadcast transmission equipment to allow the existing team to broadcast their material instead of sending it on CDs to the villages of the Xingu Indigenous Park.
  • Xingu Indigenous Park: Geographical Information System for monitoring/policing the boundaries of the reserve.
  • Various villages: establish a marketing/research facility to identify markets for products and products for markets, and to facilitate the sale of produce at advantageous prices.
  • Various villages: facilitate growth and expansion of existing honey production by establishing a Fair Trade partner in the UK
  • Establish Fair Trade partner in the UK or USA for chocolate (cacau) production; investigate organic certification; technical assistance in the propagation, collection, transport, storage and processing of cacau.
  • Medicinal plant nursery so that the knowledge of medicinal plants can be safeguarded and extended.
  • Reforestation of recovered land.
  • Assistance with video camera and ancillary equipment for recording cultural and historic material.
  • Assistance with recuperation of traditional crop plant species.

‘People’ page updated!

I have added some information to the ‘People’ page.

IPCST and the Bali UNFCCC Conference

It is great to see forests, and tropical rain forests in particular, high on the agenda at the conference. During the Heart of Brazil Expedition, we established that a fundamental force driving deforestation in Mato Grosso and Para States is money.

 It is a sad fact that as long as cleared land is worth more than land with forests standing – in Brazil at the moment roughly five times more – then the destruction will continue.

While schemes to market forest products are important and praiseworthy, they will fall far short of turning this situation around.

World demand for soya beans remains high, and continues for the most part to be blind to the destruction being wreaked to make way for the biodiversity deserts such monocultures create. At the same time, Brazil is pressing ahead with planning a runaway expansion of biofuel production. This can do nothing but exacerbate the situation.

Brazil’s representatives in Bali are bickering with the United States over import tariffs on biofuels, but seem keen to downplay the huge contribution which forest clearance is making to the tally of human-generated greenhouse gases. Currently, rainforest destruction accounts for 20 percent of ALL greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – more than all forms of transport put together!

The delegates in Bali must acknowledge that, purely from a pragmatic point of view, the United Nations Climate Change process has to develop a mechanism to reimburse the rainforest nations for the services the forests provide in terms of the global climate, and they are making some progress in that direction.

Avoidance of forest destruction is a relatively cheap way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Saving all of that 20% would cost a fraction of what it would cost to develop and roll out the technology required to cut 20% of global emissions in industrial nations.

But, at the same time, avoidance is not sequestration. Preventing the emissions from deforestation should not be used by industrialised nations as an ‘offset’ against their emissions. Industrialised nations should only be permitted to emit greenhouse gases if they make arrangements for equivalent amounts of carbon to be captured and sequestered effectively, whether this is by planting new forests where none stood before, or by technological means such as carbon dioxide capture direct from the creation process, for example in the chimneys of coal-fired power stations.

 The mechanism for reimbursing forest nations must be something different and innovative, but it could be linked to the carbon trading system which is being developed as a result of the Kyoto Protocol.

There is, however, a real and present danger that any ‘market-driven’ system which might be developed will do great damage. Large flows of money inevitably attract large corporations with no other motive but profit. They are adept at subverting good intentions, using the system to undermine itself and leaving behind a worse situation than existed in the first place.

Large flows of money rarely even trickle down to rural people, pouring instead into the pockets of already-rich jet-setting city dwellers. They often bring only further poverty and marginalisation to the local people where large-scale projects are implanted. Yet it is rural people, and especially indigenous tribal people like the ones you can see here on this site, who hold the key to really preserving the forests, for the health of the planet’s climate, for the mitigation of the wave of extinctions which scientists tell us is already happening, and for the future prosperity of mankind.

We are hopeful but not optimistic about the outcome of this conference. It seems ironic that, while thousands of delegates spend millions of dollars on this conference, we at IPCST are struggling to raise a few thousand dollars for small projects, which will have such a fundamental and beneficial impact on the people and the trees of the Xingu River basin.

Please consider making a donation to IPCST to support our work with the indigenous people of the Xingu. Click here.

© Patrick Cunningham