South and Meso American Indian Rights Center



Information from:

Steve Schwartzman
1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, 10th Fl.
Washington, D.C. 20009
Tel.: 202 387-3500; Fax: 202 234-6049

December 9, 1996

On November 15, a group of loggers and miners near the town of Pontes e Lacerda ambushed and violently assaulted at least 14 Katitaulhu (Nambikwara) Indians in the Sarare reserve in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The loggers subsequently looted the Indians village, damaging a health post and school and stealing money, tools and vehicles belonging to the Indians. Supporters of the Indians, who have attempted to mobilize federal officials to comply with court orders to remove the illegal loggers and miners from the reserve subsequently received death threats and intimidation. The Katitaulhu were also threatened with further violence by the invaders. Medical reports state that 14 Indians were wounded, many by having been tied up and beaten. The government has yet to act to ensure the safety of the Indians, protect those working with them and remove the illegal loggers and miners from the area, in spite of federal court orders to remove the invaders dating to 1991. A clause in the 1992 Loan Agreement for the Mato Grosso Natural Resource Management Project between the government and the World Bank conditioned release of $200 million in Bank funds on removal of illegal miners in the same area.

The 76 Katitaulhu are one of 12 Nambikwara subgroups. The Nambikwara came to international public attention in the 1970's, when the BR 364 road, from Cuiaba in Mato Grosso to Porto Velho in Rondonia was opened by Brazil's military government. Decimated by epidemics and forcibly relocated to make way for the road, the Nambikwara died in great numbers making desperate pilgrimages in an attempt to return to their traditional lands. The 67,420 hectare Sarare area was recognized by the federal government as indigenous land in the 1980's. The area was registered in the Office of the National Patrimony (SPU)-- the final step in the official land demarcation process-- in 1990.

In 1991 the nongovernmental Nucleus for Indigenous Rights (NDI) brought suit on behalf of the Nambikwara for the removal of some 6,000 gold miners working illegally within the Sarare area. Placer mining-- explicitly prohibited in indigenous areas in article 231, paragraph 7 of the Brazilian Constitution -- had seriously polluted major watercourses in the area, utterly disrupted the Indians, major subsistence activities, fishing and hunting, and spread malaria and viral diseases. On December 18th, 1991 a federal judge in Brasilia ordered the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and the Brazilian Environmental Institute (IBAMA) to remove the invaders.

On April 15th, NDI and a dozen other Brazilian NGOs wrote to the president of the World Bank, alerting the Bank to the fact that while the Bank was planning to approve a $205 million Mato Grosso Natural Resource Management Project loan to Mato Grosso and the federal government for environmental and indigenous lands protection, the federal court order had been had flouted. Worse, state governor Jaime Campos made a completely illegal &deal8 with the miners, publicly sanctioning the invasion until the date of the loan approval. World Bank staff, alerted to the multiple illegalities of the situation by the NGOs, inserted an explicit clause into the loan agreement requiring the state government and relevant federal agencies to remove the miners and carry out environmental restoration of the degraded area as a condition of loan effectiveness, in May 1992.

The area was in fact cleared in 1992, but the required environmental restoration and long term protection were never undertaken. Local NGOs repeatedly denounced the government's omission with regard to the Sarare area, which has been constantly reinvaded. Such was the disarray of the Bank project, and the state government's environmental protection activities, that four years after its approval the project has been completely reorganized in an attempt to salvage some benefit from the approximately half of the bank funds that remain unspent.

The recent vicious attack on the Kithaulu came on the heels of signals by the Attorney General's Office, FUNAI and other agencies that they were mobilizing to remove the invaders. On the 14th of November, representatives of the miners had promised they would leave Sarare immediately in a meeting with the state governor.

The next day, armed loggers and miners ambushed a group of Kithaulu near their village, and forced them to return to the village, where at least 14 men women and children were tied up and beaten at gunpoint. The chief, Americo, suffered serious wounds when a gunman thrust a revolver into his mouth. After terrorizing and torturing the Indians for most of the day, the invaders looted the village, damaging a school and health post and stealing money and two trucks from the Indians.

Please write or fax the Minister of Justice, requesting urgent action to guarantee the safety of the Nambikwara of the Sarare area and halt the illegal invasions of the area. Also request action to guarantee the safety of Ariovaldo Jose dos Santos, FUNAI agent, whose life is threatened by the invaders.

Minister of Justice
Esplanada dos Ministerios
Bl. T Embassador
Brasilia DF 70064-900
Fax: 55 61 2242448

Copy to:

Paulo Tarso Flecha de Lima
Embassy of Brazil
3006 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: 202 745 2827

Or send copies to the Brazilian Embassador of your country.

Please also fax or write:

Gobind Nankani, acting vice president for Latin America of the World Bank, requesting that the Bank use its influence, and the Brazilian government's contractual obligation to it in the Mato Grosso Natural Resource Project, to ensure that local and federal authorities comply with Brazilian law, enforce existing court orders, and fulfill the terms of their agreement with bank to end the destruction of the Sarare indigenous area and prevent further abuses of the human rights of the Nambikwara.

Gobind Nankani
Acting Vice President for Latin America
The World Bank
1818 H Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20433
Fax: 202 676 9271

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