Monday, January 20, 2014

Brazil’s Continuing Struggle Over Land and Natural Resources

article from May 30, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

This past week, horrific violence has caused the Amazon Basin of Brazil to suffer a great loss. Land-hungry cattle ranchers are stealing the indigenous territories with impunity, hiring criminals to get rid of the opposition, who many times are ordinary citizen activists, as was the case on Tuesday, May 24, and again on Friday, May 27.

José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo Silva, were found murdered on Tuesday morning. Then, on Friday night, 57-year-old Adelino Ramos was attacked and shot to death in the state of Rondônia. All three victims were known activist who were hoping to make a difference in saving large portions of the Amazon Basin rainforest from illegal loggers, miners and cattle ranchers.


Two suspects were detained by federal police this Sunday, May 29, in the murder of Adelino Ramos. However, police in Nova Ipixuna, to no one’s surprise, “have no leads” in the brutal double murder of the two environmentalist farmers there. The police, of course, are easy prey for the wealthy landowners because of their measly salaries that are supplemented by payoffs and shakedowns.


After these two assassinations, the Catholic NGO MISEREOR urged the Brazilian government to do more to protect the remaining voices in the jungle that are fighting  against overwhelming odds and to do more to protect this huge environmental treasure. To her credit, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff immediately ordered a very thorough investigation of the crimes by the federal police, an institution that is not as easily corrupted as the local police, particularly when under a presidential mandate.


Meanwhile, in Zürich, Switzerland, an unexpected guest showed up, dressed in his Amazonian feathery finest. Twenty-seven-year-old Bolívar Sinãrî Xerente, the first of his tribe ever to go outside his environment to study law, travelled to Switzerland to bring awareness to the rest of the world of the shenanigans that were being used to rob the Xerente of their subsistence lands. This tribe that now consists of about 3,000 souls was almost completely wiped out by settlers in the 1950s, when they were reduced to a mere 435 tribal members.


“We fought for our lands and survival with our blood and sweat,” Sinãrí explains. It was not until the 1970s when Brazil’s federal government finally acceded to worldwide pressure and granted them a reservation of 140,000 hectares. However, constant outside pressure from the cattle industry and, more recently, soy monoculture has reduced their holdings substantially since then.


For the Xerente, the environment has been degraded to such degree that sustenance by hunting and fishing can no longer provide the protein needed for the tribe to survive, and therefore they had no choice but to acquire for themselves about 150 head of cattle.


The Rio Tocantins, a tributary of the Amazon, has been tapped for hydro-electricity, with the first dam having been completed near Palmas and four more planned that are bound to destroy the Xerente’s way of life. This entire tribe of people is being sacrificed to the “greater good,” the industrialization of Brazil, soon to be the world’s fifth-largest economy and home to the largest fresh-water reservoir on the planet.


In a typical bureaucratic brainfart, some officials decided that raising chickens would be a great way for the Xerente to enter mainstream Brazil’s economy (as if they were aspiring to that). The result of that experiment was that the local climate, in the form of unrelenting heat, killed the entire brood stock in a matter of weeks.


Schools on the reservation end after grade 8, and the quality of education is way below the standards of the rest of Brazil. Quality health care is another thing lacking, and until recently, the naming of the children was left to the nurses and other lay health care providers who roam the Amazon Basin, registering the vital statistics in the vast region as well as they can and in the process assigning “white” names to the indigenous children, such as Bolívar Sinãrî Xerente’s name. His being named after Hugo Chávez’s hero, Simon Bolívar, would be comical, were it not so tragic.

[Image of the Amazon Rainforest via Wikipedia]

Jamie DouglasSan Rafael, MendozaWhere the Malbec Wine is Always Fine!

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.