Brazil, indigenous people; after 40 years, little has changed

In 1967 the Figueiredo report caused an outcry after it revealed crimes against Brazil’s indigenous population: genocide, torture, rape and enslavement during the military dictatorship were described in it. The report was first silenced and then “lost” for the last 40 years. Thanks to an investigation conducted by The Guardian, it has been rediscovered, highlighting again the terror against Brazilian indigenous tribes, raising the question of whether their situation has improved over the years or not. The answer is that after all these years their reality is too much the same and that the implementation of the IX Shared Societies Project Commitment “Promote respect, understanding and appreciation of diversity” is far from being reached.

The document, was submitted by the public prosecutor Jader de Figueiredo Correia. The over 7,000 pages-long text held the Indian Protection Service (widely known as the SPI) responsible for much of the catalogue of atrocities and suffering caused and even for the extermination of some tribes, the very people it was supposed to protect.

Under its founder Marshall Cândido Rondon, the SPI started with high ideals, but it later suffered from bureaucracy and corruption. This neglect worsened into a terrible litany of persecution and exploitation on the part of SPI officials.

When the investigation was released it caused a huge social and political storm. In 1969 the Sunday Times, sent writer Norman Lewis to investigate. His article, ‘Genocide’, shocked the public and led to the founding of Survival International. Despite all of the outcry and the fact that 134 officials were charge of being allegedly involved in more than 1,000 crimes, nobody was jailed. The National Truth Commission, which is investigating human rights violations between 1947 and 1988, believes that some tribes, such as those in Maranhão, were completely wiped out. In one case, in Mato Grosso, only two survivors emerged to tell of an attack on a community of 30 Cinta Larga Indians with dynamite dropped from aeroplanes. Figueiredo also details how officials and landowners lethally introduced smallpox into isolated villages and donated sugar mixed with strychnine.

The report was believed to have been destroyed by a fire at the agriculture ministry soon after it came out, prompting suspicions of a cover-up by the dictatorship and its allies among the big landowners. The document was highly embarrassing for the military regime and a censored press ensured it was rarely mentioned again. The SPI was replaced by another agency, Funai, but tribes continue to struggle against illegal loggers, miners, government dam-builders and ranchers

Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, has stated that nothing has changed when it comes to the impunity regarding the murder of Indians. “Gunmen routinely kill tribespeople in the knowledge that there’s little risk of being brought to justice – none of the assassins responsible for shooting Guarani and Makuxi tribal leaders have been jailed for their crimes. It’s hard not to suspect that racism and greed are at the root of Brazil’s failure to defend its indigenous citizens’ lives,” he said.

“This documentation, which was hidden for many decades, sheds light on conflict situations that endure today. For states like Mato Grosso do Sul, Paraná, Bahia and Amazonas, it contains lots of information that can help reveal once and for all the truth behind many forms of violence against Indians today and provide an insight into the real owners of the land in dispute.”

It is sad that the indigenous people have been seen as an obstacle to progress when they should have been recognized as guardians of the environments whose warnings about the destruction of the habitat and their way of life have been vindicated by subsequent events.  The rest of us are only beginning to understand their insights about the precarious of the balance of nature.


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