Brazilian politicians push for shutdown of Indian Affairs Department

Major indigenous protests in Brasilia, April 2017
Major indigenous protests in Brasilia, April 2017
© VOA

WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS

An inquiry established by Brazilian parliamentarians who represent the powerful agribusiness lobby has just published a report calling for the closure of the Indian Affairs Department, FUNAI.

Its findings have been met with outrage and incredulity in Brazil and beyond. Francisco Runja, a Kaingang spokesman said: “Killing off FUNAI is tantamount to killing us, the indigenous peoples. FUNAI is a crucial institution for us; our survival; our resistance; and it’s a guarantee of the demarcation of our traditional territories.”

The report attacks indigenous leaders, anthropologists, public prosecutors and NGOs, including Survival International.

It alleges that FUNAI has become a “hostage to external interests” and calls for dozens of its officials to be prosecuted for backing what it calls “illegal demarcations” of tribal territories.

Yesterday a group of 50 Indians was barred from attending the session in congress discussing the inquiry.

The inquiry took 500 days and the report is over 3,300 pages long. It is a blatant attack on indigenous peoples and a crude and biased attempt to destroy their hard-won constitutional rights.

Mutilated indigenous victim of ranchers' attack in May 2017.
Mutilated indigenous victim of ranchers' attack in May 2017.
© Anon

It was headed by politicians representing Brazil’s powerful agri-businesses who have long coveted indigenous territories for their own financial gain.

One member, congressman Luis Carlos Heinze, received Survival’s Racist of the Year award in 2014 following his deeply offensive remarks about Brazilian Indians, homosexuals, and black people.

Another member, congressman Alceu Moreira, called for the eviction of tribal people attempting to reoccupy their ancestral lands.

The increasingly hostile, anti-indigenous climate in many sectors in congress is fuelling violence against indigenous peoples. Last month, 22 Gamela Indians were injured following a brutal attack at the hands of local landowners’ gunmen.

FUNAI has suffered severe budget cuts, which have resulted in the grounding of several teams responsible for protecting uncontacted tribes’ territories. This effectively leaves some of the most vulnerable people on the planet to the mercy of armed loggers and land grabbers.

The organization has been greatly weakened. Many staff have been made redundant, and political appointees now run key departments.

In the last five months, it has had three presidents. Earlier this month the second president, Antonio Costa was dismissed. In a press conference he strongly criticized President Temer and Osmar Serraglio, the Minister of Justice, stating that they “not only want to finish off FUNAI, but also public policies such as demarcation of [indigenous] land… This is very serious.”

Yanomami shaman and spokesman Davi Kopenawa said: “FUNAI is broken… it is already dead. They killed it. It only exists in name. A nice name, but it doesn’t have the power to help us.”