By Harald Eraker
Minister of Justice, Iris Rezendes' decision of returning only about 19% of the areas that the Aracruz-indians have claimed was, to say the least, not well received by the Tupinikim and Guarani indians.
In a meeting shortly after the decision on Friday, the Indian leaders quickly decided to reject the minister's decision.
- The minister's decision is an insult to us. We have no choice but to start demarcation ourselves and take back our land, one of the Tupinikim-leaders, Jose Bento, said during the meeting where NorWatch was present.
In an open letter presented on a press conference on Monday March 9th in Vitoria, capital of the Brazilean state Espirito Santos, the indians state that they are "deeply indignant and angry" with the minister's decision.
About two pages long, the document carrying the minister's decision is provocative to the indians for several reasons.
Firstly, it barely mentions that FUNAI since 1993 has carried out three extensive studies, all with the same conclusion: the indians have a just claim to the 13.579 hectares of land in question.
The FUNAI studies assert that the areas belonged to the Tupinikim and Guarani Indians before being occupied by the Lorentzen company.
According to Brazilian law, the areas should therefore be returned to the indians. Whether the areas in question were aquired in a fair or unfair manner by Aracruz Celulose, is not relevant to the issue. According to the Brazilian Constitution, no one may sell indian territories to a third party. According to the indian groups, the Minister of Justice has, through his decision, with one stroke of the pen thrown all of FUNAI's work and the the rights granted to indians by the Brazilian Constitution "in the garbage can".
The Minister of Justice writes that the indians have no rights to the areas because they presently make no use of them. This argument was strongly opposed by the indians in the press conference. The reason why they do not use the areas today is precisely the fact that they are occupied by Aracruz Celulose, and planted with eucalyptus.
- Whenever we try to enter the company's areas, we are chased away by their guards, the indians explain to NorWatch.
In the open letter to the Minister of Justice, the indians write that FUNAI has ascertained that the areas claimed by the indians can be re-developed from the present eucalyptus plantations into areas in which the indians can live and subsist in accordance with their culture and traditions.
The decision to return 2571 hectares of land to the indians, is based in the first round of a land conflict case in 1979. At the time, the indians were granted 4.492 hectares in three different areas, less than FUNAI's recommendation of 6.500 hectares then.
The Minister of Justice now maintains that the indians in 1979 said 6.500 hectares was their final claim. The indians reject this as "false" allegations. The work of FUNAI at the time was based on a mere 10 days of work, with no participation from the indians, and in a political climate of military dictatorship.
"The area that was proposed in 1979 was what was attainable in the conflict with Aracruz Celulose under the prevailing circumstances", say the indians in the letter to the Minister of Justice.
There are several errors to be found in the Minister of Justice's document, which also shows signs of carelessness. For example, the land claim made by the indians is at one place given as 14.590 hectares, whereas another place in the document as 13.335 hectares. The correct and official indian claim is 13.579 hectares.
How the figure of 2.571 hectares, the amount of land now granted by the Minister of Justice, has been worked out by the Minister, is a riddle to the indian groups. However, the decision is unmistakingly similar to a proposal made by the giant cellulose company on February the 18th this year. The offer made by the Lorentzen company was then 2.000 hectares.
"Your decision does not recognize our rights, but fits perfectly with the interests of Aracruz Celulose", say the indians in their letter to the Minister of Justice.
Demand for compensation
In addition to their continued fight for the land through direct actions, there is also general agreement among the indians to take Aracruz Celulose to court in a suit for damages.
In their opinion, the giant cellulose company has become very rich through thirty years of occupying the indians' traditional land and growing eucalyptus on plantations there. The indians now want compensation for this.
On the other hand, Aracruz Celulose has also proclaimed that they will sue for compensation. According to sources in FUNAI, the company has demanded 10 million Brazilian Rials (about NOK 65 million) from the Brazilian state, as compensation for the loss of the 2.571 hectares now granted to the indians by the Minister of Justice.
Present on the press conference in the state parliamentary hall in Vitoria, were 13 indian leaders from 5 of the 6 indian communities that are involved in the land conflict against the Lorentzen company. Both of the indian representatives who visited Norway last year, Guarani Mauricio da Silva Goncalves and Tupinikim Jose Luiz Fransisco Ramos, were present, representing their communities.
The 6th community, Comboios, was, contrary to the original plans, not represented. The reason for this was a police announcement that they would take action against about ten families who illegally have occupied parts of Comboios territory.
The conflict between these intruders and the Comboios indians has been going on for several years, but, coveniently, the police did not interfere in the conflict until the date when the indians planned their press conference. Due to the actions, the police demanded that the Comboios leaders be present in the village.
Pissing on the constitution
Also present during the press conference were several parliamentarians from the PT (Labour Party), and trade union leaders and other organizations supporting the indians' claim for land. PT's representative in the Brazilian Commitee for Minorities, Brice Bragato, was also present.
Neither the Tupinikim nor the Guarani are known for big words and making noise. Still, through their own, low key way of communicating, they leave no doubt that their patience with broken promises and unfair treatment is at a definite end:
- Aracruz Celulose and the Government have, through their treatment of our just claims for land, been pissing on the constitution, was among the statements made by the leader of the Guarani community Boa Espreanza.
Norwatch Newsletter 7/98