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Urban Legend: We Love Our Forest People

Brasília.

Part I: The Show

Ladies and Gentlemen, the day has come! The government has the great pleasure to open the Second Meeting of the Alliance of the Forest People. Lula himself came to the National Theater to announce that neither exhaustion nor sleepiness shall keep him from welcoming the wonderful peoples in Brazil’s capital. The Symphonic Orchestra and a famous singer chirp harmony and development policy; a tribute to Chico Mendes has its due moment and the indigenous in their colorful traditional costumes are the stars of the night.

Three days will the conference last; many representatives of the leftist government applaud their own work for the people–no one complies with the 20 minute limit for each speaker, too many wonderful things to say. Institutes, banks and companies dwell in presentation of their own precious contributions to the improvement of living standard of our oh-so-beloved peoples and guardians of the Brazilian forests or what is left of them. The World Bank, of course, is present; it has financed most of the event and may now exhibit on big screen all the progress it will bring to the Amazon. Highways and dams are mostly what will bring wealth and happiness to the jungle. A delicate choice of authorized media records the splendidness for the world to receive.

The beloved forest people sit in the audience and meddle with their “Alliance of the Forest People”-bags, notebooks and pencils. All gifts. They may keep them. What’s more: the podium announces that after three hours of non-stop listening to the presentations, there shall now be time to debate. The mob may now make statements and ask questions. One minute each.

One minute to tell us what reality is like in the forest. That women still die during child-birth, because there are no doctors in sight. That healthcare simply does not exist. That children do not go to school, because there are no schools. That still today community leaders who defend their rights, have to fear for their lives. That only two weeks before an indigenous young was beaten to death. That the wonderful small credits that the government is so proud of exist only on paper.

That many never even get to apply for a credit, because the branch is too far away and folks do not have the money to get there. That an Indio tried in vain to persuade a bank official to give him the credit he is entitled to by law; in vain, because he is an Indio, not Brazilian, mind you! Ain’t no credits for Indios and now, hush, go drum in your tipi. That the World Bank projects are nothing but the very same destruction of the rain forest, annihilation of forest communities and uprooting of the oh-so-beloved forest people. That it is one damned impertinence to have the forest dwellers travel for days to reach the capital only to keep listening for yet more days and without being heard. That the bureaucrats at the IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources, do everything to make people’s life more difficult instead of supporting them, which it is supposed to. That so many promises continue empty words, while loggers, cattle ranchers and the soy industry keeps cutting down the Amazon as if we had another one in store.

The mob speaks for more than a minute. Rage needs time. Alas, the cameras are already turned off. The pretty pictures of colorful Indios, successful politicians and good peoples have already been shot. Once again, a cry dies away in the cement desert of Brasília.

Part II: Backstage

Oh, how much this government loves its pretty peoples of the forests. A picture here with a feather-adorned Yanomami, a snap shot there with Dona Raimunda dos Cocos; handicraft and jewelry from jungle material are bestsellers in the capital. The mobilization of the forest population to bring them all to Brasília, was left for the National Council of Rubber Tappers (CNS) and the National Indigenous Organization (COIAB). Mind you, they were not given the money to organize the trips from all over Amazonia. That was kept tight in the hands of the ministries and funders. Which in turn had contracted agencies to organize the logistics. To nobody’s surprise the result was oh-so-funny chaos. Why in the world should the responsible for board and lodging communicate with the one making reservations for airfares and busses? No need, we are all professionals. Apart from that it is boring to think about such details as how are folks going to get to the state capitals from where the trips were paid for. See how you manage.

When you do not have 40 cents for the local bus, however, you do not manage. When the first busses left to Brasília, they took with them men and women who had not eaten in two days. And who did not know yet that food would not be so easy to get in Brasília. After all, airfare and busses were scheduled to keep people in the capital for a week, board and lodging, however, was provided only for three days. At least the hotels were fancy. So fancy that they would use magnet cards to open the doors. Whose correct use nobody cared to explain to a crowd that live in wooden huts in many cases does not even have doors to open or close. Hence you had confused and intimidated fishermen, rubber tappers and coco breakers lost in magnificent corridors, trying desperately to enter their rooms. Trying to find water. Amazonia has a humidity of about 95%, in Brasília it was around 15% at the time. Nose bleeding was included. Water was not. US$ 1.00 (R$ 2,50) was the price for one bottle, unattainable for most.

Double and triple rooms had been reserved for the oh-so-beloved peoples. Boy and girl in separate rooms, of course, we all know what the mob is up to when you do not watch out. A little group of two men and one woman, all from the same reserve and far away from their community for the first time, beg the hotel management to put them into one room together. Folks get lost in those big hotels and even in a group it is not always easy to deal with their fear of the big city and its challenges. An indigenous family is shocked as well: they are about to be separated as well. You cannot separate an indigenous family, they always sleep together. Alas, the ministry’s order is clear: Man to man and woman to woman. No exceptions! Now hush to your rooms (if you manage to open the doors).*

On the return trip two buses need to stop in the middle of nowhere. All passengers run into the fields–there is no toilet in the world that can deal with 100 travelers with diarrhea and nausea. Food had got to be cheap, you know, cannot ask for much quality. Some end up in hospital, but the cameras are long turned off and gone.

Three days Meeting of the Alliance of the Forest People. With friendly support of the Brazilian government, the World Bank and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras. Which are all so proud of the guardians of the forests or whatever they left of it.

Respect? Next time maybe.

*The Indigenous finally slept in one room, most of them on the floors, but at least together. Long live the revolution!

JULIA KENDLBACHER works with the Brazilian National Council of Rubber Tappers (CNS). She can be reached at: juliacns@paz-colombia.org

 

 

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