BRASILIA (Reuters) - A deadly clash between isolated Brazilian Indians
and wildcat gold miners this week showed how little control the government
has over illegal mining in the dense jungle near Suriname, officials said
Indians from an unknown tribe killed 11 miners in the distant region Tuesday
in retaliation for a fire in which an Indian woman and baby died, the
government's Indian Foundation (FUNAI) said.
It was the first known clash between illegal miners, known as "garimpeiros,"
and indigenous people in the Tumucumaque reservation straddling the
northern Brazilian states of Para and Amapa, according to FUNAI.
Its efforts to investigate the killings were hampered by a spending freeze
announced as part of a fiscal austerity plan to save Brazil's economy.
FUNAI's non-essential activities have been paralyzed.
The local governments of Para and Amapa eventually provided a plane and
fuel to fly federal police investigators and FUNAI officials into the
reservation, which stretches over 3 million hectares, an area the size of
It is home to some 2,700 Indians of the Wayana, Aparai, Tiriyo, Kaxuyana
and Hixkaryana tribes and an unknown number who have never made
contact with the outside world.
The region forms part of the so-called green stone belt, potentially rich
minerals such as gold, iron, cobalt and copper, said Jose Armindo Pinto,
head of the Amapa state branch of the National Department of Mineral
"Illegal mining has been known in the region of Amapa for at least a century,"
Pinto told Reuters by telephone from the state capital Macapa. "It's crawling
with garimpeiros who travel through the jungle, mainly between Suriname
and French Guyana."
Seven mining companies have applied to the department for authorization
start prospecting for minerals close to the Tumucumaque reservation, he
said. Initial approval depends on FUNAI and the federal Strategic Affairs
The government's difficulty in sending investigators to the remote region,
which is only accessible by boat and plane, suggested it had no way of
controlling illegal mining, a RomanCatholic mission group said Friday.
"This fact reveals that the federal police does not have the tools to monitor
indigenous areas and that (FUNAI) is in no condition whatsoever to control
the flux of invaders who enter the indigenous territory looking for gold," the
Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) said in a statement.
Indigenous peoples total 330,000 of Brazil's population of 160 million.
Some, like the famous Yanomami, have been driven to the verge of
extinction by the invasions of miners who bringpollution and disease.
FUNAI is running a skeleton operation to provide essential food and
medicine to Indian villages through emergency funds of $1.6 million released
by the government last month.
Even if money were available, the lack of physical borders between Brazil,
Suriname and French Guyana -- a region covered in thick jungle -- made it
almost impossible to detect the movements of garimpeiros, said Pinto.
The lack of a clear border around the Tumucumaque reservation meant they
could have strayed there by mistake, he said.
"You have a primitive culture confronting a culture of poverty in the middle
of the forest. That's when the lupus homini, the darker side of man,
emerges," Pinto said.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.