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Internet Source: Yahoo News (Reuters, AP, The New York Times, and ABCNEWS.com), March 26, 2001
Source URL: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/nm/20010326/wl/brazil_indians_minister_dc_1.html


Brazil Indians Outraged by Minister's Statements

Axel Bugge

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Indian groups were outraged on Monday at statements by Brazil's defense minister suggesting it had been a mistake to create a reserve for the Yanomami people.

The statements, made last week during a visit to the site of an army base in the northern state of Roraima, prompted one Indian rights group to write to the president and accuse Defense Minister Geraldo Quintao of ``attacking'' democratic rights.

Quintao said it had been ``an error'' to demarcate 8 million hectares (19 million acres) of the Amazon jungle as a reserve for the Yanomami people -- one of Brazil's biggest Indian reserves.

``It (the reserve) is a very delicate question, here and abroad, but it needs to be discussed by society,'' Quintao said, in the statement that was confirmed by the ministry on Monday.

Quintao's statements came as a dispute intensified over the army's plan to build a military base on Indian land in Roraima, near the borders with Venezuela and Guyana. The plan has been blocked by a local judge in Roraima and the government has challenged the suspension.

The Yanomami number about 22,500, making them one of the biggest indigenous groups in the Americas. In an attack on the Yanomani in 1993, 16 of them, including women and children, were killed by miners during a gold rush.

The Pro-Yanomami Commission, a group which has fought for the tribe's rights for 23 years, said it was ``perplexed'' by Quintao's statements because the rights of Indians to land was written into the 1988 constitution.

The Yanomami reserve was recognized by the government in the early 1990s. Indian reserves cover more than 11 percent of Brazil were the total Indian population has fallen to 350,000 from more than 6 million before white men arrived 500 years ago, enslaving and persecuting them.

The Indigenous Council of Roraima sent a letter to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, saying: ``Reducing indigenous land is unconstitutional and unacceptable.''

``We are sorry that the defense minister expresses himself publicly against Indian rights, involving your excellency's name,'' it added.

Accusations that soldiers sexually coerced and abused Yanomami Indians have made the dispute between the Indians and the military more tense in the Roraima region.