Indigenous policy under fire from Indians as top official visits London

Brazilian Indians have called on President Lula to dismiss the country's top Indian Affairs official Mércio Pereira Gomes, who is visiting London this week, after he implied that Indians already have enough land and that future land claims may be restricted.

Brazil's largest Indian organisation, COIAB, has called on Brazil's President Lula to clarify whether or not Gomes's statement reflects government policy and if not, to dismiss Gomes as head of the Indian Affairs department, FUNAI.

COIAB, which represents Indians across the Amazon Basin, says that Gomes statements ‘echo the interests of ranchers, loggers and other invaders interested in the riches of indigenous territories, who yearn for the physical and cultural extinction of indigenous peoples.'

Gomes dismissed Sydney Possuelo, head of FUNAI's isolated Indians section, on Monday after Possuelo criticised him in the newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo. Possuelo told the paper that Gomes's position is ‘like a minister of justice saying they won't defend justice and an environment minister ordering for trees to be chopped down.'

Possuelo, a former head of FUNAI, is responsible for Brazil's ground-breaking policy of mapping out and protecting the land of uncontacted Indians, without making contact with them. He turned Brazil's policy around after witnessing the devastating effects of contact missions he took part in himself in the 1970s.

Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Brazil's past has seen the destruction of dozens of Indian tribes but things have improved in many areas over recent decades. With over 200 indigenous territories still unrecognised by the government, it's extremely alarming now to hear that the man in charge thinks enough has been done. It hasn't. There are many uncontacted Indian peoples still facing annihilation and some, long since contacted, who live as roadside squatters and beggars because they have been thrown off their land.'

Mércio Pereira Gomes is to give a lecture at the London School of Economics this Friday.

Photos and footage available. For more information call Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]

To read the COIAB statement click here