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NYTimes.com Article: A New Intrusion Threatens a Tribe in Amazon: Soldiers

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    This article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by ann.popplestone@tri-c.cc.oh.us. A New Intrusion Threatens a Tribe in Amazon: Soldiers October 1, 2002 By
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      A New Intrusion Threatens a Tribe in Amazon: Soldiers

      October 1, 2002

      SURUCUCU, Brazil - The Yanomami Indians have lived
      precariously in the most remote reaches of the jungle here
      for thousands of years, hunting with bows and arrows, and
      warring among themselves and with the few white intruders
      who have appeared in recent years.

      But now they are facing a threat to their very existence as
      a people: the Brazilian Army.

      As part of a program to strengthen the military's presence
      along Brazil's vast and largely undefended northern Amazon
      border, the Brazilian Armed Forces are building new bases
      and expanding old ones in territories set aside for the
      Yanomami and other tribes. As their numbers expand,
      soldiers are increasingly getting Yanomami women pregnant,
      spreading venereal disease and disrupting patterns of
      village life that have endured largely unchanged since the
      Stone Age.

      "The destruction has already begun," Roberto Angametery,
      the village chief here, lamented in an interview in the
      lodge where members of his community live together. "The
      soldiers say they are here to protect us, but they have
      brought diseases and taken our land without asking us. Soon
      there will be more, and then what will we do? Where will we

      Initiated in the mid-1980's, the military's Northern
      Channel program was shelved during a budget crisis more
      than a decade ago. But with the United States' decision two
      years ago to provide more than $1.5 billion in military and
      other assistance to neighboring Colombia, Brazilians fear
      that the conflict there will spill over into their

      Indian advocates, however, argue that the logic of the
      military expansion is dubious here in Roraima State, which
      borders instead on Venezuela and Guyana.

      "The armed forces are just seizing an opportunity to revive
      a program that has long been desired but long lain
      dormant," Egon Heck, executive secretary of the Indigenous
      Missionary Council, a Roman Catholic church group, said in
      an interview in Bras�lia, the capital. "There is nothing to
      justify the construction of military bases in Roraima,
      because no concrete guerrilla threat exists there."

      Military officials in the border region, at the
      headquarters of the Amazon Military Command in Manaus and
      at the Army Chief of Staff office in Bras�lia declined to
      discuss the issues that Yanomami leaders have raised,
      failing to respond to two weeks of telephone calls, faxes
      and e-mail messages seeking comment.

      In a letter, however, the minister of defense, Geraldo
      Quint�o, blamed the tense situation here on what he called
      "a systematic and reiterated campaign" on the part of
      Indians and advocacy groups "against the army, which
      historically has always conferred a cordial treatment on
      the Indians."

      He acknowledged the existence of sexual relationships
      between soldiers and Indian women but said he saw no need
      to intervene because they were "consenting relations"
      between adults.

      "A relationship that lasts two or three years is not sexual
      abuse," Mr. Quint�o maintained. "It is natural that these
      relationships occur," and "to block them is to impede the
      fruit of human nature."

      As perhaps the most primitive of the indigenous peoples of
      the Amazon, the Yanomami, who number about 15,000 in Brazil
      and another 12,000 just across the border in Venezuela, are
      especially vulnerable to the military effort. In his recent
      book, "Darkness in El Dorado," Patrick Tierney describes
      the Yanomami as having been victimized repeatedly by
      miners, missionaries and anthropologists since sustained
      contact with the outside world began in the 1960's.

      The impact of the increased military presence in Yanomami
      territory appears to have been similar. According to Davi
      Kopenawa, a Yanomami shaman who serves as a tribal
      spokesman, at least 18 children have already been born of
      sexual liaisons between soldiers and Yanomami women: 5 here
      and 13 in Maturac�, a Yanomami village about 250 miles
      southwest of here.

      "The soldiers have women of their own, so why don't they
      bring them along?" he asked. "They should stop messing with
      our wives and daughters, and respect our rights instead of
      abusing us."

      Tribal leaders here refused to allow interviews with the
      women involved, to avoid further humiliation, they said.
      But in a videotaped deposition to the Human Rights
      Commission of the Brazilian Congress last year, one woman
      about 18 years old said she had agreed to have sexual
      relations with a soldier after he gave her thread and food
      as gifts.

      The couple had sex in the barracks at the base here, the
      woman testified. "The sergeant knew what was going on, but
      he did nothing," she said through an interpreter.

      "It is illegal under federal law for government employees
      to have sex at their workplace, but that is what these
      soldiers are doing," said Martinho Alves da Silva, regional
      delegate for the National Indian Foundation, the government
      agency in charge of indigenous affairs. "They are having
      sex with Yanomami girls in the barracks, on top of cars, in
      the jungle, at waterfalls."

      Mr. Alves da Silva said he had complained to the army about
      such incidents, with few results. "They tell us they have
      taken measures to stop that behavior and opened an internal
      investigation," he said. "We would like for federal
      prosecutors to supervise that process, but they have been
      unable to do so."

      A four-day visit here revealed few if any restrictions on
      fraternization between troops and Indians. Yanomamis were
      observed playing soccer on the army base, and soldiers
      would occasionally swim at a nearby waterfall that is also
      frequented by the Yanomamis, including young women wearing
      only loincloths.

      For the Yanomami, the sudden appearance of mixed-race
      children in their midst has created a cultural quandary.
      The village here consists of only 143 people, and has until
      now been racially homogenous, which is one of the
      requirements for an Indian tribe to maintain its status
      under Brazilian law.

      If tribe members intermarry with whites and the group
      becomes excessively acculturated, its members run the risk
      of being reclassified as caboclos, as persons of mixed
      white and Indian blood are called in Portuguese, and losing
      the benefits and protections provided to indigenous
      peoples. For that reason, the mixed-race children here are
      regarded not just as a source of shame but also as a

      "When these children grow up, no one knows where their
      loyalties will lie," explained Ivanildo Wawanawetery, a
      Yanomami who works for the National Indian Foundation as an
      interpreter. "They may want to follow the path of their
      fathers and live with the whites, and then they will no
      longer be Indians."

      In at least one other case, near Maturac�, a soldier has
      announced his intention to settle down with the mother of
      his child and move into the village and live as a Yanomami.
      This, too, has caused consternation among the Yanomami who,
      while not hostile to occasional visits from strangers,
      clearly delineate between themselves and outsiders.

      Mr. Kopenawa said that one particularly alarming result of
      sexual contact between soldiers and Yanomami women was the
      introduction of venereal diseases, which had not previously
      been reported in the tribe. "The soldiers have already
      brought gonorrhea and syphilis with them, and we fear that
      if they continue to have sex with Yanomami women, they will
      transmit AIDS," he said.

      Claudio Esteves de Oliveira, director of Urihi, a nonprofit
      group that provides health care to the Yanomami under a
      government contract, acknowledged that doctors have
      recently treated cases of gonorrhea in Yanomami villages
      here and elsewhere.

      But he said he lacked proof that the disease originated
      with soldiers, because the Yanomami may have also had
      sexual contact with miners and employees of the
      government's Indian affairs agency.

      At the same time, tribal leaders complain, the army is
      stepping up efforts to recruit young Yanomami men as
      soldiers. Because the Brazilian military has intensified
      its presence along the border, guides and scouts who know
      the their way through the dense, trackless jungle are in
      greater demand, and the Yanomami are clearly the best
      qualified to fill that crucial role.

      Tribal elders worry, though, that the young men will return
      from their one-year enlistments with the white man's
      materialistic values and a sense of cultural inferiority
      that will make it difficult for them to fit back into
      village life. The few Yanomami who have come back from
      military service have already become disruptive forces in
      their communities, leaders say.

      Alarmed by what they see as the threat the military poses
      to their identity and culture, the Yanomami and other
      Indian groups are now seeking to block the construction of
      new bases along the border. The focus of that effort is
      Eric�, a Yanomami village north of here where virtually
      none of the residents speak Portuguese or have had extended
      contact with whites.

      The Indians have also filed a suit seeking the dismantling
      of a new base at Uiramut� on the border with Guyana and
      another older base at Pacara�ma, on the Venezuelan border.
      They argue that the military bases are unconstitutional
      because they violate provisions granting Indians "exclusive
      use" of lands designated for them.

      "The military argues that national security is above Indian
      rights, but we don't think the Supreme Court will agree,"
      said Joenia Batista de Carvalho, a Wapixana Indian who is a
      lawyer for the Roraima Indigenous Council. "But we are
      prepared to go all the way to international courts if
      Brazil does not respect rights of indigenous peoples that
      it has already recognized."

      In the meantime, the situation here is growing increasingly
      complicated. Fleeing a conflict with a group of villages
      further north that has denied them access to their
      traditional hunting grounds, one Yanomami community
      recently moved to a site that is about 200 yards from the
      military base here.

      "Now the Yanomami look forward to the whites' giving them
      food instead of going hunting and tilling their fields,"
      Mr. Kopenawa said. "This is bad, like a dog you feed every
      day. Everything is being ruined."


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