Brazil: Indigenous Peoples of Mato Grosso close roads in protest against Decree 303 that eliminates indigenous rights
By Rebecca Sommer
Sixteen different indigenous ethnicities of State Mato Grosso, Brazil, precisely those who live on the south and west of the state, the Cinta-Largas, Enawenê-Nawê,Nambikwara, Haliti-Pareci, Irantxe, Rikbatsa, Kayabi, Umutina, Bakairi and others came together to show their outrage against Decree 303 and against what they are calling the “scrapping” of the FUNAI (Buerau of Indian Affairs in Brazil)
This demonstration gets a lot of media coverage, as the indigenous peoples continue to block the access to two major interstate highways, BR-174 and BR-364 - hitting effectively the economic nerve of the state.
They began their action still at night. They brought tents, hammocks, cooking gear and food to spend at least seven days without having to return home or call for help, prepared to spend much more time, if needed.
The protestors are over 1400, the young and old willing to face cold, heat, the pressure of angry car and truck drivers, governmental authorities, and the minute by minute discussions often ending in being shouted at - while always trying to debate with whoever comes to disrupt their protest.
The regional group of determined Indigenous Peoples protest against everything that is happening with the reform and restructuring of the FUNAI (Buerau of Indian Affairs) and Brazilian indigenous rights/land issues that are significantly detoriating especially in the past five years, and increasingly under the new president Dilma.
They strongly protest against the new Decree 303, that came out last month, and that has alerted and alarmed those of us that are part of the world’s indigenous movement and indigenous and/or are allies of the Indigenous Peoples human rights and survival struggle.
They also protest against the so-called “scrapping” of the FUNAI, that was announced as well as a product of Decree 7056/2009, that basically destroyed that little bit what has worked at the FUNAI, in the already to the minimum functionality reduced governmental organ - namely the administrational work at large, and their indigenous posts inside the areas where Indigenous Peoples reside, to replace them with cheaper local non-specialized nor experienced staff that overtook the work of administration and coordination with the result that in most regions services, funds and attendments are absolute and severely collapsing, leaving the Indigenous Peoples even more in limbo.
I am not saying, FUNAI is/was great, indeed it has always been a branch of the government under-fundet, and politicized.
But considering the new developments, looking back, the FUNAI, an historical institution of about hundred years, with many of them “indigenistas” of the old times, gave a lot of strength to the guarantee and protection of indigenous lands, which helped the Indigenous Peoples for many years to find their way through the world of white invaders and Brazilian main stream society. Funai, say many now, has been thrown in the trash like old paper, exchanged by the “CLTS”, with very few offices installed in nearby towns and even than to this day often not up and running.
The CLTS, all these changes are weakening the protection of indigenous land and interests, and leave the indigenous peoples in every region even more vulnerable to the many ways and means of white people’s politics, and their ambitions to the indigenous lands.
The dismantling of the Funai created an uproar of protest by the Indigenous Peoples. In the northeast the Indigenous Peoples stayed day and night for 2 weeks inside the FUNAI office before being removed.
Many Indigenous Peoples of Brazil felt the impact of the changes, and began to experience sometimes very severe hardships because of Funai’s re-strukturing process (elimination process, really) with it’s many disruptions and delivery needs coming in some cases for months to an absolute halt. Indigenous peoples remained in most cases quite and calm due to their great hopes that there would be an reversal of this disruption, disfunction and dismantling, and only a question of time before coming back to a certain functionality to what already existed in services .. that were more or less working.
That hope is now gone, in any region of Brazil, there are not one indigenous peoples that believe things will get back to more or less, or to even get better. Now that Decree 303 came out, which is obviously a sign of contempt for the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, blew the lid of the pot.
The protesting Indigenous groups of Mato Grosso for example are organized, and strategic. They demand a word of President Dilma towards repeal of 303 and the reformulation of Funai.
If President Dilma through her ministers gives a signal that this decree 303 will be thrown in the trash, instead of the regional indigenous FUNAI out-posts, and the 7778 decree of the Funai re-restructuring is canceled or redone properly, the protesters will leave their challenging position and return to their villages.
In my view, the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil had enough. The gulf of mistrust of the Indigenous Peoples to the federal government and the authorities in general may cause an attitude of disrespect to Brazilian authorities, and very weird thing could happen in the near future.
As far as I understand the decree 303, it clarifies that the land is for restricted use, and not their land. None of the already ratified indigenous lands could be enlarged. The Indigenous Peoples also have, according to the decree 303, no rights to the water or natural resources on their lands, or the right to say no, if it is for example a military activity for whatsoever reasons. If a road is constructed through their territory, or electricity lines , or hydroelectric dams, or mining operations, it can be done if it is specifically of interest to . . .(?). Also, the Indigenous Peoples would not be allowed to receive payment from, for example, tourism, based on the decree.
International human rights standards, such as the OIT Convention 169 or UNDRIP are clearly violated by this Decree 303.