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“The first big problem is the indifference of Brazilian society”
Paolo Moiola
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Interview with Msgr. Roque Paloschi, president of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI)

In September 2015, Msgr. Roque Paloschi took over the presidency of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic institution affiliated to the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) that was created in 1972 to ensure the existence, culture and traditions of the indigenous peoples and at the same time, help society and non-indigenous organizations to get to know and respect these populations.

After 10 years as bishop of Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima, Paloschi was appointed last December as archbishop of Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, in the northwest of the country. In late July, the CIMI received the special consultative status for indigenous issues in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). According to the CIMI, 33 murders of indigenous people took place between January and July of this year, mostly in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul where the Guarani Kaiowá  indigenous people reclaim their ancestral lands.

Paolo Moiola, Latinamerica Press collaborator, spoke with Msgr. Paloschi regarding the current situation of the indigenous peoples in Brazil.

In the past year, you have gone from the Diocese of Boa Vista to the Diocese of Porto Velho. You have also been named president of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI). Which of the two functions do you believe will be more difficult?
These are two new challenges that demand a lot of dedication. However, there is no doubt that the indigenous matter is now a crucial issue in Brazil. The CIMI was created in the 70s to walk alongside indigenous peoples. A year ago I became president after eight years of Msgr. Erwin Kräutler’s tenure. Today, the organization is experiencing a time of major challenges because of the current difficult conditions of the indigenous peoples. A parliamentary inquiry commission has even been created in Mato Grosso do Sul to look into their activities.

The CIMI recently made public, as it does every year, its report on violence against indigenous peoples in Brazil. What does it reveal?
During 2015 the indigenous peoples have been the victim of numerous cases of violence. This is an internationally recognized report. With it, we denounce the violence of mining, agribusiness and timber companies, but also the violence of the government with its police repression in clashes against indigenous peoples.

What do you think are the main problems faced by indigenous peoples in Brazil?
The first big problem is the indifference of Brazilian society; a historical indifference that dates from the time of the colonies, when indigenous peoples were regarded as a backward culture. As if they were people with no dignity. The second problem is the aggression taken against the rights that were introduced, at a very high price, in the Constitution of 1988. Today there is an attempt underway to deconstruct these rights through numerous proposals for constitutional amendments. Added to this is also the invasion into delimited indigenous lands by mining companies, logging companies and large government works. We can recall some like the hydroelectric plants of Belo Monte, Balbina, Jirau and many others. Finally, there is the big problem of health in the indigenous peoples, which is a generalized chaos: the prospect for this situation to be reversed is very bleak.

Ousted president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) did little regarding indigenous issues during her tenure. It is enough to mention Kátia Abreu, the Minister of Agriculture, a notorious advocate of latifundia, and someone with anti-indigenous views.
For indigenous peoples, the government of Michel Temer [who took the oath of office after the Senate impeachment of President Rousseff on August 31] will be a much more difficult test than Rousseff´s government. The objective of this government is to eliminate the rights of indigenous peoples, to facilitate access to indigenous lands, to eliminate all indigenous promotion policies and differentiated college education. We harbor no illusions with the government of Temer, as we likewise do not with the national Congress; always more and more hostile to the indigenous cause than the Afro population. It is an extremely conservative Congress that is only interested in the international capital markets.

Do you think, then, that the Brazilian Congress is dominated by parties hostile to the indigenous peoples?
That is the case. In the national Congress we have three anti-indigenous caucuses: the Bible caucus, the bullet caucus and the ox caucus [known as the BBB caucuses (Bíblia, bala and boi in Portuguese], referring to the ultra-conservative religious, militaristic and latifundium sectors). The judiciary also has a completely hostile attitude. In short, all branches of government show great intolerance towards indigenous peoples.

One objection that is made to these indigenous policies can be summed up in one sentence: too much land for a few indigenous people.
It is an unfounded objection. Firstly, because all the land of Brazil was theirs; they have lived there for a long time. Second, the indigenous peoples have the right of use of the land, but not ownership; and third, it is generally recognized, even by the Brazilian government, that the indigenous lands are those that are better preserved. They do not exhibit the destruction of nature as other lands do. Rivers in indigenous lands, those lands that are not invaded by miners, flow with crystalline water. In the end, it is not that the land belongs to the indigenous peoples, but the indigenous peoples are the ones who belong to the land. To belong to the land, instead of owning it, is what defines indigenous peoples. This is a difference that, at first glance, seems incomprehensible to those that are non-indigenous.

Another objection focuses on the need for economic development, especially now that the country has gone from an economic miracle to the crisis.
The country must find a balance. Are all those projects useful? We must choose what kind of development we want. A development where a few have a lot and the majority has nothing? Or do we rather want a balanced development in which we find the right relationship with the environment and Creation? This Common Home, as Pope Francis calls it, is very poorly managed. The indigenous peoples are those who can teach us how to cure it and maintain it. With this rate of development, the resources will not be enough for everyone. We need to take a path toward austerity, a more sober life rather than the current one promoting consumption for the sake of consumption.

More than 60 percent of the Amazon belongs to Brazil. This is a fact that is being affected by the legal and illegal extraction of its resources.
The Amazon has always been seen as a place of abundance; first by Portugal, then by Brazil, but not by the indigenous peoples. Its resources have been at the service of national and international capital. The projects come from the top and do not respect the lifestyles of those who have always lived in the Amazon. In other words, they are there to serve big interests and certainly not the Amazonian peoples.

The institutional mission of the government’s National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) is to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. Is it a task that is being performed adequately?
Historically, Brazil has not worked at indigenous promotion. FUNAI was founded [in 1967] by the military [that ruled between 1964 and 1985] and was guided for a long time by a philosophy of national security. Currently it is a totally disorganized agency that is limited by Brazilian laws.

The indigenous populations have always been regarded as backward. You support the idea that their way of life can teach the Western society a lot.
Since 500 years ago the indigenous peoples have denounced the plundering and violence perpetrated against Mother Earth, imposed by the Western society with its highly destructive economic and development model. Indigenous peoples can teach us a harmonious relationship with the environment and nature. They can teach us how to live without being slaves of money and accumulation. The decision is in our hands: either we welcome the cry of indigenous peoples or we destroy our Common Home in the name of profit and the wellbeing of a few. —Latinamerica Press.


Msgr. Roque Paloschi / Paolo Moiola
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