1. In Brazil, the current government is pursuing a controversial process of demarcating huge new Indian reservations. The move is following up on measures taken by previous governments and implementing controversial provisions of the 1988 Constitution. Through this process, groups of Indians numbering only few thousands will be given huge areas in border regions of the Brazilian federation. Some of these reservations are comparable in size to several Brazilian states or even some European countries! In the medium term, and even sooner, this could pave the way for the “independence” of these “indigenous” regions. Since the reservations are adjacent to borders, this could bring about an internationalization of conflicts in regions bordering Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
2. The “independence-internationalization” syndrome could spread in any region where indigenous peoples claim territories on both sides of present international borders in the Amazon region. This may provoke breakups and chaos in vast regions in the heart of South America. Each region could be turned into no man’s land in which drug trafficking, guerrillas, international NGOs affiliated with the World Social Forum (WSF) and entities controlled by the “Catholic left” could find safe havens to create problems. If even the “triple border area” between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, where the situation is entirely different, now raises security concerns, one can imagine what could happen when huge swaths of border territories escape the control of their respective governments.
3. The above scenario is not fiction but reality in Brazil. The most pressing case is one that first erupted in March regarding the proposed Indian reservation called “Raposa Serra do Sol” in the state of Roraima in the north of Brazil, bordering Venezuela and Guyana.
That reservation was demarcated in 1998 to accommodate approximately 12,000 Indians and was given an area of over 4,100,000 continuous acres or 6500 square miles. It takes up 47% of the territory of the state of Roraima.
In April 2005, the establishment of the reservation was approved by a decree of President Lula. On March 27, 2008, Federal Police troops were sent in to expel all non-indigenous inhabitants from the area. The action provoked a strong reaction from the governor and people of Roraima and catapulted the issue into the national limelight. The Governor of Roraima, José de Anchieta Jr., supported by local authorities and a vast majority of the population, including non-Indian inhabitants of the proposed reservation, filed an injunction before the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF) in Brazilia, which was granted by the high court until the lawsuit initiated by Governor Anchieta is judged on its merits.
4. The STF justices announced they will seek a legal solution that respects the rights of the indigenous peoples and the inhabitants of Roraima. They will also decide on the size and shape of the reservation. STF President, Justice Gilmar Mendes, suggested that an alternative solution to a contiguous demarcated territory be studied, which could included “islands” of preservation. “The model picked by the government is very confrontational. We need to discuss viable options. What is unacceptable is to create a state of the Federation and then make a reservation that takes between 40% and 50% of the size of the state.”
For his part, the military commander of the Amazon region, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, considered the continuous territory of the Raposa Serra do Sol Reservation a threat to national sovereignty, and described the Indian policy of the Brazilian government as “chaotic” and “deplorable.”
5. One of the most outspoken critics of the proposed reservation was the recently deceased Senator Jefferson Peres from the state of Amazonas. With his profound knowledge of regional and indigenous problems, he warned the Senate that he believed the situation in the Raposa Serra do Sol Reservation could result in a conflict similar to Kosovo’s, which took place in the nineties between ethnic Albanian separatists and the central government of Serbia.
On that occasion, a “unilateral declaration of independence” sufficed for the European Union to recognize Kosovo as a new state. In this sense, Senator Peres added that non-governmental organizations that defend the reservation, and notorious entities such as the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), which answers to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), have already announced that if the STF does not accept the contiguous demarcation they will call on the intervention of foreign agencies, which could lead to an internationalization of the conflict.
Senator Peres also expressed surprise that the government has insisted on a contiguous demarcation since four different ethnic groups “who do not even speak the same dialects” live in the territory. He also rejected claims that the issue is a dispute between 12,000 Indians and a few rice farmers called “invaders.” According to Senator Peres, who headed the Senate committee that studied the problem, the demarcated region is home to local caboclos or settlers who have been living there longer than the Macuxi Indians. There are other inhabitants who are non-indigenous descendants from settlers who arrived from northeastern Brazil in the late eighteenth century and became farmers, ranchers and loggers. “They have lived there for generations, side by side with the Indians who joined society, and have as much a right to live there as the Indians, whether or not incorporated to society, and the same legitimacy.”
6. When the constituent assembly was rewriting the Brazilian constitution in 1987, Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, a prominent journalist, writer and former deputy at the Constituent Assembly of 1934, published the book A Draft Constitution Causes Anguish for the Nation (Editora Vera Cruz, Sao Paulo, 1987). The work analyzed several legal aberrations of the draft constitution, one of which opened the door to transform Brazilian Indians into a kind of new Brazilian aristocracy. He showed how the Indians would be privileged by being given huge reservations. At the same time, they would be practically kept in slavery since they would be kept confined and immersed in backwardness and barbarism in their respective tribal regimes. Lamentably, the constituents of 1988 ratified these provisions and the results are now being seen.
7. The Raposa Serra do Sol Reservation issue is a political time bomb waiting to explode. Even more serious is the Indian policy itself. Suffice it to consider that the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), a Brazilian government agency under the Ministry of Justice, has already registered the sites for 315 potential Indian reservations that would place vast lands totaling 182 million acres into the hands of Indians who make up a mere one quarter of one percent of the population. To understand what this means, consider the fact total land under cultivation in Brazil now stands at 153 million acres. It is not right to inflate artificially the legitimate rights of Brazilian and Latin American Indians, that no one denies, to the point of infringing upon the rights of entire nations.