Indigenous people continue to be under threats: violence, intimidations and murders. The indifference of Brazilian society. The big lobby against indigenous people in the Brazilian Congress. The new government against the indigenous people. We talked with Bishop Roque Paloschi, president of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) a Catholic institution with the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB).
What are the main problems faced by indigenous peoples in Brazil?
The first big problem is the indifference of Brazilian society; a historical indifference that dates from the time of the colonies, when indigenous peoples were regarded as a backward culture. As if they were people with no dignity. The second problem is the aggression taken against the rights that were introduced, at a very high price, in the Constitution of 1988.
Today there is an attempt underway to deconstruct these rights through numerous proposals for constitutional amendments. Added to this is also the invasion into delimited indigenous lands by mining companies, logging companies and large government works. We can recall some like the hydroelectric plants of Belo Monte, Balbina, Jirau and many others. Finally, there is the big problem of health in the indigenous peoples, which is a generalized chaos: the prospect for this situation to be reversed is very bleak.
Ousted president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) did little regarding indigenous issues during her tenure. It is enough to mention Kátia Abreu, the Minister of Agriculture, a notorious advocate of latifundia, and someone with anti-indigenous views.
For indigenous peoples, the government of Michel Temer [who took the oath of office after the Senate impeachment of President Rousseff on August 31] will be a much more difficult test than Rousseff´s government. The objective of this government is to eliminate the rights of indigenous peoples, to facilitate access to indigenous lands, to eliminate all indigenous promotion policies and differentiated college education. We harbour no illusions with the government of Temer, as we likewise do not with the national Congress; always more and more hostile to the indigenous cause than the Afro population. It is an extremely conservative Congress that is only interested in the international capital markets.
The Brazilian Congress is dominated by parties hostile to the indigenous peoples?
That is the case. In the national Congress we have three anti-indigenous caucuses: the Bible caucus, the bullet caucus and the ox caucus [known as the BBB caucuses (Bíblia, Bala and Boi in Portuguese], referring to the ultra-conservative religious, militaristic and latifundium sectors). The judiciary also has a completely hostile attitude. In short, all branches of government show great intolerance towards indigenous peoples.
One objection that is made to these indigenous policies can be summed up in one sentence: too much land for a few indigenous people.
It is an unfounded objection. Firstly, because all the land of Brazil was theirs; they have lived there for a long time. Second, the indigenous peoples have the right of use of the land, but not ownership; and third, it is generally recognized, even by the Brazilian government, that the indigenous lands are those that are better preserved.
They do not exhibit the destruction of nature as other lands do. Rivers in indigenous lands, those lands that are not invaded by miners, flow with crystalline water. In the end, it is not that the land belongs to the indigenous peoples, but the indigenous peoples are the ones who belong to the land. To belong to the land, instead of owning it, is what defines indigenous peoples. This is a difference that, at first glance, seems incomprehensible to those that are non-indigenous.
Another objection focuses on the need for economic development, especially now that the country has gone from an economic miracle to the crisis.
The country must find a balance. Are all those projects useful? We must choose what kind of development we want. A development where a few have a lot and the majority has nothing? Or do we rather want a balanced development in which we find the right relationship with the environment and Creation? This Common Home, as Pope Francis calls it, is very poorly managed.
The indigenous peoples are those who can teach us how to cure it and maintain it. With this rate of development, the resources will not be enough for everyone. We need to take a path toward austerity, a more sober life rather than the current one promoting consumption for the sake of consumption.
More than 60 per cent of the Amazon belongs to Brazil. This is a fact that is being affected by the legal and illegal extraction of its resources.
The Amazon has always been seen as a place of abundance; first by Portugal, then by Brazil, but not by the indigenous peoples. Its resources have been at the service of national and international capital. The projects come from the top and do not respect the lifestyles of those who have always lived in the Amazon. In other words, they are there to serve big interests and certainly not the Amazonian peoples.
The institutional mission of the government’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) is to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. Is it a task that is being performed adequately?
Historically, Brazil has not worked at indigenous promotion. FUNAI was founded [in 1967] by the military [that ruled between 1964 and 1985] and was guided for a long time by a philosophy of national security. Currently it is a totally disorganized agency that is limited by Brazilian laws.
The indigenous populations have always been regarded as backward. One supports the idea that their way of life can teach the Western society a lot. Since 500 years ago the indigenous peoples have denounced the plundering and violence perpetrated against Mother Earth, imposed by Western society with its highly destructive economic and development model. Indigenous peoples can teach us a harmonious relationship with the environment and nature. They can teach us how to live without being slaves of money and accumulation. The decision is in our hands: either we welcome the cry of indigenous peoples or we destroy our Common Home in the name of profit and the wellbeing of a few.