(AA) Ava-Canoeiro Indians threatened with extinction

Thu, 29 Aug 1996 18:13:20 +0200

Original Sender: cimi@ax.apc.org
Mailing List: NATIVE-L

Newsletter n. 224

The formation of the lake of the Serra da Mesa Hydroelectric Power
Station in the state of Goias on October 1 may condemn the Ava-Canoeiro
Indians to extinction. Because it affects the indigenous area, the
construction of the power station must be authorized by the National
Congress. The consortium that will build the Power Station, headed by the
state-owned company Furnas S.A., has been neglecting this constitutional
principle and acting as if the authorization from Congress were a mere
formality. The company refuses to admit that it has broken a rule and says
everything is ready for the lake to be formed. The flooded area will
affect nine municipalities of the state of Goias - 2,000 km2 - including
part of a 38,000-hectare indigenous area which is still being identified,
where six Ava-Canoeiro Indians who have little contact with the
nonindigenous society live.
It is estimated that of an original population of almost 2,000
Indians, only 10 have survived, four of whom live in the state of
Tocantins with other indigenous peoples and six in Goias. Funai's Isolated
Indians Department says that about 12 Ava-Canoeiro Indians who have never
had any contact with the nonindigenous society live in the region. With
the flooding of the area, they will be exposed to diseases caused by the
decomposition of organic matter. Since the 17th century, the Ava-Canoeiro
have been suffering massacres, the last of which was registered in the
The building of the power station has been characterized by a deep
lack of respect for the culture of the Ava-Canoeiro. The Indians are being
constantly forced to move to different parts of the territory at the
request of the company. The last place they were forced to go is a
location invaded by 64 squatters who are still waiting for Funai to
indemnify them for having to leave. This region is drier than the one
they originally lived in and they may not get used to the weather
conditions prevailing there.
The fast pace at which the power station is being built may cause an
additional legal and financial problem to Brazil. The operation of the
first turbine, in March 1998, depends on the sale of the Nacional
Energetica corporation, which owns 51% of the power station in the
consortium with Furnas. The company belonged to Banco Nacional (National
Bank), which went bankrupt this year for corruption. The money would make
up for the investments made by the Central Bank of Brazil, which under one
of the most questionable agreements ever registered in the country took
over the Nacional Energetica corporation in exchange for a loan of US$6
billion to merge Banco Nacional with Unibanco. The first auction failed.
If an agreement is not reached with a buyer, the Brazilian government will
be forced to provide US$ 100 million to save the power station. The
Consumer, Environment and Minorities Committee of the Chamber of Deputies,
which is analyzing the project, insisted on the need of a technical visit
to the construction site with the presence of various Indian-supporting
entities, including Cimi, which was finally scheduled to take place on
September 4.


At the request of 36 squatters, the Supreme Court of Brazil issued a
preliminary order suspending the demarcation of the Ventarra indigenous
area under the possession of the Kaingang indigenous people in the state
of Rio Grande do Sul. The invaders argue that they own the land based on
title deeds provided by the government of that state over 30 years ago.
The decision of the court also suspended the right of the Indians to keep
the area under their permanent possession. The Supreme Court argues that
the area is under judicial evaluation, as it is being contested before it
by Funai, which has requested that the title deeds issued by the
government of the state be annulled. According to the constitution, the
title deeds in question should indeed be annulled, as they involve
indigenous areas. Cimi will request the Department of Justice to take
judicial measures to suspend the preliminary order. The decision of the
Supreme Court may set a precedent for suspending the demarcation of other
indigenous areas in the same stage of the process.

Brasilia, 21 August 1996
Indianist Missionary Council - Cimi