Brazilian General Breaks Ranks On Indigenous Policy Amid Protests In Roraima Region

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Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Mission Phillip Chicola for reasons
1.4 b and d


¶1. (C) Brazilian Army General Augusto Heleno, military
commander of the Amazon region, spoke out on April 16 against
the GOB’s indigenous policy calling it “chaotic,”
specifically in reference to a traditionally indigenous area
in northern Roraima state planned to become a protected
reserve. This challenge came after Brazil’s Supreme Court
stopped federal action to forcibly remove rice farmers from
the just demarcated indigenous territory. Both the Supreme
Court decision and the Army general’s statements would seem
to impede settling the final status of this enormous land
area. Further complicating the issue are Brazilian concerns,
fueled by fears of rising prices because of the widely
reported on “world food crisis,” about the levels of its rice
production and plans for “rationing” its harvest. However,
President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Brazil’s Indigenous
Foundation (FUNAI) President Marcio Meiro say that the
demarcation will go forward. Heleno’s security concerns
appear overblown, and resolving the Raposa Serra do Sol
dispute in favor of Brazil’s indigenous would send a strong
message to those who manipulate the demarcation process for
their own ends. Demarcation falls short, however, of what
Brazil’s indigenous need: assistance in developing the
capacity to manage their land, develop it sustainably, and
relate with the outside world by means of government-provided

Supreme Court Interferes, Again

¶2. (SBU) Following an urgent appeal from Roraima’s Governor
Jose de Anchieta Filho to stop Federal Police from forcibly
removing rice farmers from reservation lands, Brazil’s
Supreme Court ruled that the removals should stop because the
final demarcation “could put at risk national integrity and
sovereignty.” The governor called the Court’s decision a
victory for the people of Roraima in the wake of what reports
from Roraima had described as protests akin to a civil war
against forced removals of non-indigenous from the area.
However, Justice Minister Tarso Genro later criticized the
press coverage as unfairly slanted in favor of the rice
farmers. Although obstructionist, setting fires and blocking
federal authorities passage to the reserves, the protesters
numbered only about 150 people.

¶3. (SBU) The Supreme Court has made similar rulings in the
past, generally on the side of land and agricultural
development versus indigenous demarcation of land. In 2005
Federal Police forcibly removed 400 members of the
Guarani-Kaiowa tribe from land in Mato Grosso do Sol state,
notorious for indigenous killings, after the Supreme Court
issued an injunction preventing the land from becoming fully
demarcated. These cases have raised concerns about the
politicization of demarcation, especially when the wealthy
landowners usually get the upper-hand.

The Middle of Nowhere

¶4. (U) The disputed territory Raposa Serra do Sol, located
on the border with Venezuela and Guyana in Brazil’s isolated
northern state of Roraima, covers 1.7 million hectares, about
the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The
military is one of the few federal government entities whose
personnel regularly visit the region, and they do so because
of the military’s national security mandate and border
control responsibilities. The inhabitants of the region are
almost exclusively indigenous, except for agricultural
workers on a few large rice farms. The indigenous peoples
there, numbering approximately 18,000 persons, are from the
Macuxi, Ingarico, Uapixana, Patamona, and Taurepangue tribes.
This final stage of demarcation took almost 30 years to
accomplish, including numerous studies and congressional

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approval. The region has little to no development except for
a few large rice farms, although it is rich in natural forest
lands and crisscrossed by rivers, giving the area significant
biodiversity. To make room for the rice farms, thousands of
hectares of native grasslands were cleared.

General’s remarks (reftel)

¶5. (C) Augusto Heleno, a four-star army general, spoke out
during a seminar in Rio de Janeiro to military authorities,
criticizing the final demarcation of the Raposa Serra do Sol
indigenous reserve. The seminar, titled “Brazil, Threats to
its Sovereignty,” took place in the Military Club in front of
an estimated 150 active and retired military officers.
Heleno said, “The indigenous policy is disassociated from
Brazilian history and must be urgently reviewed. I’m not
against the government organs in the area; I want to
associate myself with reversing a failed policy — just go
there to see what is lamentable, not to mention chaotic.”
This was met with applause from the audience. He also
defended the army’s independence from the government noting,
“The Army High Command is an organization that serves the
Brazilian state, not the government.” (Comment: Heleno’s
words are not as provocative in the Brazilian context as they
might appear. They are backed by historical precedent, as
the Brazilian military has been in a position to intervene
when civilian government fails, and its authority to do so
was written into the previous constitution. Moreover, the
Brazilian military apparatus is not accustomed to strong
civilian leadership since democracy was re-established in
1985. The Defense Ministry itself dates only to 1999, and
Nelson Jobim, appointed minister of defense in 2007, has been
unusually active in managing the military services. End

¶6. (U) Heleno indicated particular frustration over the GOB’s
agreement to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
People (DRIP) because of the provisions for demilitarization
of indigenous reserves and the nebulous terms that some argue
grant indigenous peoples direct and sovereign control of
their lands. Heleno said that he had no political or
economic agenda, but rather primarily an interest in national
security because the territory’s demarcation, coupled with
the potential indigenous perception that DRIP makes
indigenous territory inviolable by the military even in times
of national emergency, might expose this sensitive border
territory to threats. Finally, Heleno said that, based on
his experience with the indigenous, after land demarcation
the indigenous do nothing to develop their lands,
specifically with regard to necessary infrastructure for
providing food, education, and health. (Comment: The
demarcation of indigenous lands also runs counter to a common
Brazilian notion that the appropriate way to “deal” with
minorities, racial and ethnic, is through cultural
assimilation with more developed society. Heleno,s
perspective challenges government policy as it is
implemented, as the GOB only provides the indigenous with
land, not taking into account the need for the capacity to
manage it, develop it sustainably, and relate with the
outside world — most notably with government infrastructure.
Of course, both the standard GOB and Heleno’s perspectives
fail to take into account what the indigenous themselves want
and are able to do with the resources at their disposal. End

FUNAI President Rebuts

¶6. (SBU) Heleno is a highly-regarded officer in the Brazilian
military, and although there was a great deal of media
attention to his remarks, including a summons from President
Lula to Minister Jobim and Army Commander General Enzo
Martins Peri to have them explain this public criticism, the
popular general was simply asked not to discuss the matter
publicly. However, during a newspaper interview FUNAI
President Meira, in a veiled reference to Heleno’s remarks,
said that a conservative backlash of prejudice is returning
against the indigenous. He asserted that cultural

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assimilation is a 19th Century concept, and argued that the
indigenous pose no security threat, noting the close and
historical relationship between the Army and the indigenous.
The military was the first to make contact with the
indigenous in the rough, outlying regions of the Amazon, and
currently over half of the military personnel in the border
area are indigenous. Meira also said that the Army’s
presence on the border is a constitutional obligation,
indigenous territories have always been open to the Armed
Forces, and the indigenous peoples have not impeded the
military’s access to them, adding that all indigenous land is
the property of the Federal Union. When asked about the land
titles that the rice farmers demonstrate, Meira asserted that
these land documents were obtained illegally and mean
nothing, saying that all of the farmers in the area are
invaders of indigenous land.

Much Ado about Six Rice Farms

¶7. (SBU) The future of several thousand hectares of rice
plantations is in question, but the reality is that only six
“landowners” are affected. Landowners exert strong influence
on Brazilian decision-makers, including members of congress,
and often affect GOB policy. In this case, however, it seems
that the Lula administration is behind the indigenous.
President Lula has stated publicly that he will work to
overturn the Supreme Court’s injunction to keep Federal
Police from forcibly removing the rice farmers, and his
commitment seems to have the support of his cabinet, most
notably the Human Rights Minister, the Justice Minister, and
the Environmental Minister. Although GOB efforts to protect
Brazil’s “limited” rice supply have complicated the effort to
remove the rice farmers, it seems unlikely that these illegal
Roraima rice growers could contribute much to overall
production levels given their isolation from reliable
logistics points that would allow them to sell their product


¶8. (C) Both Heleno and Meira are sincere in their concerns
about the final disposition of the Raposa Serra do Sol
territory. Meira believes that demarcation is important to
protect the indigenous communities living in the territory
and although mandated by Brazil’s 1988 constitution, final
demarcation has been repeatedly delayed and obstructed by
powerful political and commercial interests. Heleno is also
sincere in his security concerns. However, it is difficult
to see his concerns as legitimately aimed at the indigenous
or GOB indigenous policy, in light of the minimal military
presence currently serving in the Amazon — approximately
24,000 troops cover an area the size of half the United
States (including Alaska). However, Heleno is correct that
simply leaving indigenous in a vast open territory without
proper access to government infrastructure to meet basic
needs as Brazilian citizens is also not appropriate. Living
conditions for many of Brazil’s indigenous are dire, and the
GOB needs to go beyond providing land and find ways both to
provide for the basic needs of its indigenous citizens and to
protect their important cultural heritage. Resolving the
Raposa Serra do Sol dispute in favor of Brazil’s indigenous
would set a precedent and send a strong message to the
powerful wealthy who manipulate the demarcation process for
their own ends. But even if the land is finally demarcated,
the government would be mistaken to think that it has
fulfilled its responsibility to the indigenous on the Raposa
Serra do Sol Reserve.