Though my words will reach far fewer eyes than those of Brazilian journalist Ronaldo Soares, writing in the magazine Veja, I feel bound to offer a repudiation to the gratuitous sensationalism he provides in the guise of journalism.
His opening sentence already shows his prejudice, bordering on racism; “The scenes of a group of savage Amazonians attacking the engineer Paulo Fernando Rezende, of Eletrobrás, circulated the world last week.”
He continues by trotting out tired and discredited references to international interference in the Brazilian Amazon, referring to “an international event promoted by NGOs and environmentalists.” He obviously attended a different event from the one I was at – if, indeed, he was there at all.
I saw a root-and-branch Brazilian event, initiated by a huge body of well-informed and articulate Brazilian indigenous people and supported and organised by Brazilian community groups and NGO’s, most of which were local organisations based in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso.
Before I am attacked by Soares for not telling the whole story, I will say that the event was supported financially by a number of sympathetic organisations from other parts of the world, but as far as I am aware they played no part in organising it, nor did they influence the material discussed.
Soares mentions that the audience was hostile during Rezende’s presentation. He doesn’t mention that the interruptions came not from the Indians, who sat in silence during the whole presentation, but from very vocal non-Indian opponents of the Belo Monte project.
He doesn’t mention that Rezende’s manner was objectionable, to say the least. He harangued the Indians, thrusting his pointed finger in their direction repeatedly. He belittled their importance, stating over and over again that the Belo Monte dam will bring great benefits to Brazil and that they shouldn’t stand in the way of those benefits. He showed a series of impenetrable slides, diagrams and statistics, knowing full well that they would be unintelligible to the majority of his audience – including me. Many of his slides had no units and no scale, and were scientifically and technically meaningless. They appeared to be intended only to belittle and confuse the audience.
Resende came over as arrogant, bordering on aggressive. He appeared disinterested in the Indians’ point of view – or that of the local people – and domineering in his manner. He seemed to have no interest in a dialogue; he was there to say his piece, then he intended to leave.
The fact that he was injured is of course entirely regrettable, but it is understandable. The Indian culture is not the same as the mainstream; they have a formal system of oratory, with a sliding scale of forcefulness, which can encompass a symbolic level of aggression. Rezende overstepped the limits considered polite in Indian oratory, and paid the price.
Even so, I am far from convinced that the wound he received was intended. The Indians, when they surrounded him and tore off his shirt, were making a symbolic point. Members of the press rushed in, cameras held high, in a typical competitive lust for a scoop picture. There were Indians of several ethnic groups, wielding a mixture of borduna war clubs and machetes, crowded round the unfortunate engineer, prodding him with the blunt ends of their bordunas and patting his face with the flats of their machetes. These are formal acts and amount to no more than forceful, if frightening, rhetoric, especially on the part of the Kayapo.
I was not in the middle of this meleé, though I was close to it. I did not see the actual moment when Rezende received the wound, so I cannot say for sure what happened. But I do not believe the Indians intended to injure him; had they meant to, his injuries would certainly have been much worse. In my opinion, it is likely that the injury was an accidental result of the media scrum; it would have been easy for someone pushing in from the back to have nudged an Indian’s arm or back, resulting in an unintended injury.
Soares talks about ‘savage white environmentalist’ who, he claims, planned, armed and incentivated the Indians. He claims that the organisers did not intervene. Yet video footage clearly shows some of the organisers courageously trying to calm the situation, putting themselves between the recumbent Rezende and the Indians, and receiving similar symbolic attention from the raise machetes.
To demonstrate the caring and gentle side of the Indians, I would like to recount a side story. Sitting on the floor close to Rezende at the end of his presentation was an elderly woman, a reporter from National Public Radio in the United States. She was unprepared for the storm of people who crowded in on the speakers, and was in some danger, purely from the pressure from the crowd. Two Indian chiefs, seeing her predicament, pushed through the crowd, gently picked her up and carried her bodily clear of the fracas. Is this the action of those same “savage Amazonians”?
Veja talks about some of the organisers buying machetes for the Indians; anyone who has ever worked with Indians will attest that the machete is a universal tool, used in cultivation, used in the preparation of food, used in the production of craft products, used in construction – in fact, used every day by every member of every Indian community for entirely peaceful purposes.
People working with Indians regularly receive requests for manufactured items, especially from Indians visiting town. Where a good case is made, workers will often agree to help Indians with buying what have become essential every-day items, of which the commonest is the machete. To characterise this as ‘arming the Indians’ is ludicrous and absurd.
Further displaying his poor jounalistic skills, Soares says that the Belo Monte dam “will produce 11,181 megawatts”, despite Eletrobrás having admitted that it will at best achieve 40 per cent of this ‘installed capacity’; other commentators put the figure even lower. Soares fails entirely to include the well-aired opinions of academics and engineers who have shown that Belo Monte alone can never be economically or technically viable. Without further dams higher upriver, which will flood an area larger than any existing dam in Brazil, it will simply fail to provide for Brazil’s energy needs.
Moving on to talk about the legal situation, Soares seems to imply that actions taken by Brazilian public prosecutors, based in Brazilian law, are in some way unjustified. Is he claiming that Brazilian laws should be transgressed with impunity? This is the road to anarchy; only by showing a consistent respect for, and enforcement of, statute law, can Brazil justify the confidence of recent international commentary which justifiably places it on the cusp of being a first world country.
I have shown in previous posts that the destruction of Indian lands cannot be justified, neither on legal grounds, nor on constitutional grounds and especially not on cultural or humanitarian grounds.
Brazil, which acknowledges the importance of the remaining Amazon forest, both to itself and to the rest of the world, has set aside almost 30 percent of the Brazilian Amazon as protected areas, of which over half is designated as Indigenous Territories. This is a huge achievement, and deserves to be acknowledged.