Brazil's Indian Dilemma
By Staff News & Analysis - June 05, 2013

Brazil calls in army to defuse conflicts over Indian lands … President Dilma Rousseff's government said on Tuesday it would send 110 federal troops to the Brazilian farm state of Mato Grosso do Sul to try to prevent more violence between Indians claiming their ancestral territory and ranchers. The government has been struggling to defuse tensions with indigenous tribes over farmland in several states as well as over hydroelectric dams in the Amazon. − Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: Latin America is soaring just like the West.

Free-Market Analysis: There are factions of Western media, as we have long pointed out, that want to portray the BRICs and even South America itself as similar to the West. That is, possessed of a homogeneity that is similar to European countries, or even the United States, which has an uncanny ability to absorb various cultures.

But we are aware this view of South America is not entirely accurate given what may be called the lower Americas' "Indian problem." This is often ignored by those who want to quote industrial statistics to provide a view of a technocratic society that is powered by modern industrial capitalism above all else.

In Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and, of course, Brazil, the indigenous peoples are well aware of the progress of the regions in which they find themselves – and well aware as well of their previous exploitation and the differences between them and other (European) populations now inhabiting South America.

The origins of ancient indigenous people are to some degree lost in the proverbial mists of time, though ruins tells us of very ancient and sophisticated civilizations. But what is clear in this day and age is that Indian cultures throughout South and Central America are more energetic and insistent than ever before.

The Brazilian protests – and violence – are similar to events taking place across the lower Americas, though little reported by the Western mainstream press. But indigenous peoples are becoming more insistent about their heritage, their rights to tribal lands and their distaste for at least some of the trappings of modernity, especially large hydroelectric projects that are being protested not just in Brazil but also in Chile and Peru.

Here's more from this article:

Tensions escalated in a disputed property in Mato Grosso do Sul that was invaded last week for a second time by Terena Indians angered by the fatal shooting of one of their tribe's members. Local media said the man's cousin was shot and injured on a nearby ranch on Tuesday. "We must avoid radicalizing a situation that goes back a long way in Brazilian history," Justice Minister Jose Cardozo told reporters after meeting lawmakers from Mato Grosso do Sul in Brasilia. "We're not going to put out the flames by throwing alcohol on the bonfire," he said.

However, protests have now erupted across the country. In Rio Grande do Sul state, about 2,000 Kaingang and Guarani Indians were blocking roads to protest the government's decision to put on hold the granting of ancestral lands to indigenous communities, a concession to Brazil's powerful farm lobby. "The government has abandoned us. Dilma isn't supporting indigenous peoples," Indian chief Deoclides de Paula said by telephone from a blocked highway.

In Curitiba, the Parana state capital, 30 Kaingang Indians invaded the offices of the ruling Workers' Party on Monday and only agreed to leave 10 hours later when they were promised a meeting with Rousseff's chief of staff, Gleisi Hoffmann. Hoffmann, who will run for governor of Parana next year, said last month that the role of the government's Indian affairs office, Funai, in land decisions would be restricted. Cardozo, however, stressed on Tuesday that Funai would not be gutted and would continue to play a central role as the main institution that defends Indian rights, though others will be brought in to improve the process of deciding ancestral lands.

When reading tidy assertions about the emergent, modern economies of the Americas, one needs to be careful about the reality beneath the numbers. The "Indian problem" may be resolved in certain parts of South America such as Uruguay, which wiped out its Indians some 150 years ago.

But elsewhere, indigenous peoples are becoming more of a factor in economic life and unlike in the United States, the indigenous populations are fairly large and becoming more and more active politically and economiclally.

This is a development that is not going to go away and one that must be taken into account when evaluating the Americas for purposes of investment, a second home or even regular travel for business or pleasure.

After Thoughts

It is easy to pretend the world is a technocratic place driven by statistics and corporate productivity. But often it is not, not even when it comes to the so-called BRICs. Or at least it is more complicated …

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