World Rainforest Movement

A dictatorship-type action gives Aracruz a spurious victory

Last 18th of March the Brazilian Government launched a military operation -similar to the actions against the indigenous peoples undertaken during the dictatorship period- seeking to put a definitive end to the struggle of the Tupinikim and Guarani for the demarcation of their traditional lands. Clearly the aim of the authorities’ action was to create the necessary conditions for the indigenous peoples to be forced to accept the imposition of Aracruz Cellulose.

The roads giving access to the indigenous villages were occupied by armed members of the Federal Police. Every contact between the villagers and the organizations that had been supporting their struggle was then interrupted. Leaders from CUT (Central Unica dos Trabalhadores – Central Workers Union), that had participated in the demarcation initiated on March 6th, were arrested and treated like criminals. Similarly members of the Movimento dos Sem Terra (Landless Peasants Movement), who had also supported the indigenous action, were removed by force from the villages. As informed in WRM Bulletin nr. 10, the Dutch missionay of CIMI Winfried Overbeek was arbitrarely arrested by the Federal police and threatened to be expelled from the country.

The negotiations between the Government, the indigenous leaders and Aracruz Celulose took place in Brasilia. During this whole period, the indigenous representatives were kept isolated and impeded to establish contact with any person or organization that could give support and advise to them.

Finally, on April 2nd., the Tupinikim and Guarani leaders signed an agreement called “Term of Adjustment of Conduct” valid for a period of 20 years. According to it, the indigenous peoples “accept” to exchange the limits of their traditional lands -occupied by Aracruz Celulose- for financial assistance provided by that corporation. The President of FUNAI and representatives of the Federal Public Prosecution Service also signed the agreement.

The presence of the armed police was maintained until April 8th in order to guarantee that this agreement would get the approval of the indigenous communities. A decree of FUNAI (Dec. nr. 268/98) forbade the indigenous peoples to receive in their own lands representatives of the organizations that had been in close contact with them for many years.

The intention of the Brazilian authorities to expel Winfried Overbeek from the country was neutralized by a judicial decision that accepted an Habeas Corpus appeal presented by CIMI. Nevertheless the Federal Police initiated an inquiry against him under the accusation of “practising political activities, or interfering directly or indirectly in the public affairs of Brazil”. In case he is declared guilty, the punishment can vary from one to three years of detention. Fabio Vilas, also a member of the CIMI team, was denounced for inciting the Tupinikim and Guarani to commit crime, in the case of the “illegal” self-demarcation action.

In the meantime Aracruz Celulose is celebrating the agreement. During a visit to Comboios (the only village which did not participate in the demarcation action and signed a separate agreement) on April 19th to celebrate the National Day of the Indian, the President of the Company, Mr. Lorentzen, announced that the originally stipulated U$S 500,000 that during 20 years Aracruz would give to the village were raised to U$S 2,000,000. Money seems not the be a problem for the Company. At the same time the claim of Comboios for 1,300 additional hectares was not accepted and only 121 hectares were awarded to them instead.

Nevertheless other people do not find reasons for celebrating. At a meeting held in the village of Caieiras Velhas to commemorate the National Day of the Indian, representatives of other four villages as well as members of Parliament, academic institutions, trade union leaders and CIMI, denounced the Brazilian Government and FUNAI for their attitude regarding the conflict. Many people of the communities showed their disatisfaction with the agreement. Internal conflicts have emerged in relation to the money offered by Aracruz as well. As a consequence of the above named decree of FUNAI -that literally isolated the Tupinikim and Guarani villages- the education project undertaken by CIMI and other three NGOs was interrupted.

In a declaration dated April 20th. CIMI states:

“1. Considers the ‘agreeement’ SCANDALOUS and IMMORAL. It was obtained by means which offend seriously the fundamental rights and liberties guranteed in the Federal Constitution valid for any individual -including the Indians. Also, it is extremely harmful to the rights and interests of the mentioned indigenous communities and to their physical and socio-cultural integrity. Finally, it is flagrantly UNCONSTITUTIONAL by violating Art. 231, par.4, of the same Constitution which orders that indigenous lands are ‘NOT TRANSFERRABLE’ and ‘UNAVAILABLE’, and therefore NOT NEGOTIABLE.

2. Rejects vehemently the role of the President of FUNAI in the whole episode, since who has the legal duty to protect and make respect the indigenous rights never could have assumed a supposedly impartial posture and much less participated in the pressures on those whose rights he should defend.

3. Denounces the anti-indigenist policy of the Federal Government, which prefers to hit the Constitution in its sacred rights which recognise the demarcation of lands traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples, benefitting the interests of a multinational company which invaded these mentioned lands.

4. Clamours, for the benefit of the public interest and a state which respects democracy and civil rights, for the immediate repeal of the decrees nrs. 253 and 268/98, which forbid the entrance of non-governmental organizations in the indigenous lands Tupinikim and Guarani in Espirito Santo

5. Elevates the gestures of solidarity that the Indians received from so many parts of the land and from abroad, specially from the society of Espirito Santo which always has been in favour of the Indians struggle. It is worth emphasizing that the support and solidarity of the MST, CUT, the Workers Party, Human Rights organizations and other organizations of the state of Espirito Santo, obtained special importance during the self-demarcation promoted by the Tupinikim and Guarani. At the same time, CIMI rejects the usage of legislation to impede the fundamental right of showing solidarity.

6. Wants to show all its solidarity with the Tupinikim and Guarani communities, victims of so much pressure, and reaffirms its uncompromising support to their struggle for a real solution of the problem, that is to say, the demarcation of the 13,579 ha, untransferrable and essential right which no agreement can undo.”

Brasilia-DF, 20th April 1998”

CIMI has started an evaluation process about this serious problem. Supporting organizations of the land struggle are asked to keep mobilised and to think of a future strategy.

The WRM will continue coordinating actions with CIMI and the Brazilian organizations that have been supporting the Tupinikim and Guarani struggle. We strongly condemn the agreement, which is the result of the open alliance between the Brazilian authorities and Aracruz Cellulose. We consider that the Tupinikim and Guarani were in fact forced to enter a no way out situation and compelled to renounce to their legitimate claims.

Source: CIMI, April 1998.