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The Counter-Anthropology of Katia Abreu

Source: Folha de S.Paulo

By: Katia Abreu 

Katia Abreu is a Brazilian Senator for the remote state of  Tocantins, leader of the “ruralist” contingent in Congress as well as the president of the CNA — the Confederation of Agriculture and Animal Breeding.

This, along with a regular Saturday column in the Folha de S. Paulo, makes her one of the most influential and high-profile legislators in Brazil. It always strikes  me as peculiar Ms. Abreu is perfectly positioned to lobby the most important ruralist legislator in the Senate: herself.

Here is a rough translation of her column from today.

It is unlikely that there is any cause on the Brazilian social agenda more holy than that of the Indian. There are more than 100,000 NGOs, the majority of them of foreign origin, associated with two agencies with ties to the Catholic church: CIMI and CPT — the Pastoral Commission on Land Reform.

I thought I would find that estimate hyperinflated, but other estimates indicate the presence of 220,000 NGOs of all types.

The activities and objectives of these entities have nothing to do with religion, however. They are notorious for their political engagement and their ideological tendency, based on the theology of liberation and its Marxist tenets.

These NGOs act as associates to FUNAI — the National Foundation of the Indian — which for its part is staffed by anthropologists who share the same ideology.

This scenario presents us with a significant paradox: With so many powerful defenders, the Indians must be the citizens most cared for in the Republlic. This, unfortunately, they are not.

What you see in the news programming propagated by the NGOs, are Indians with problems of nutrition, alcoholism, teen pregnancy,  lack of schooling, or living in isolation. These are legitimate issues, but they are related not to land ownership but to social assistance.

Along with the NGOs and institutions such as Cimi and the CPT, there are two government agencies charged with defending the Indians: Funai and Funasa, the latter responsible for health and sanitation among the tribes. No other citizen has access to such an apparatus, which, by the way, does not work properly. It is odd that Cimi, CPT and the NGOs are so lavishly financed by international organizations..

All these financial donations are destined to improve the life of the Indians, but this improvement never comes. It is shocking that financiers do not conduct audits to oversee the fruits of their labor. Unless, of course, the benefits are measured by the number of hectares invaded by protests, putting at risk one of the most competitive agricultural sectors in the world, a pillar for decades of the Brazilian economy.

If that is the way things are, as it seems to be, then the service is being magnificently  performed. In the first seven months of this year, there wre 105 invasions of productive properties, duly entitled, some as long as a century ago. There are 190 land conflicts underway. In Mato Grosso do Sul and Bahia, 147 properties are already occupied by Indians. Funai and the federal attorney-general, according to the newspapers, are refusing to obey court-ordered return of ownership.

The benefactors of the Indians, regally financed, has fought for years against an ideal scapegoat: Brazil’s rural producers, most of them quite small. Are lands used for agriculture the cause of suffering among the Indians? Draw your own conclusions: Brazilian Indians occupy an extension of land that would be the envy of many nation-states.

Indian lands, with their 500,000 inhabitants, occupy 109.6 million hectares (13% of Brazilian territory). In the U.S., this ratio is 5.72%; in Austrália, 4.72%; in Canada, 0.26%. The problem, then is not a matter of available land. It is a problem of management and bad faith.

In the last 18 anos, the average demarcation of lands for occupation by Indians — productive in large part and mostly held by small producers — was 3.2 million hectares per year. Maintaining the same tempo, the area set aside for agricuture will be deeply compromised in a few more years.

In response to the advance of these invasions, I have presented a bill in the Senate that suspends demarcation proceedings on lands produced by Indian invasions for two years following the reintegration of ownership.

What underlies all this is somethig quite simple: cutthroat commercial competition. The financiers are countries that compete with Brazilian agriculture and covet our mineral and vegetable wealth. It is these organizations that continually defend that this or that part of the national territory should be ceded to the Indians, which the U.N. has transformed into independent nations.

They believe that in this way it will be easier to take possession of our riches — by giving Indian chiefs, not the mirrors used by the Portuguese to dazzle the natives, but Lear jets, laptops, and automobiles. They use the abject misery of other Indians as the banner of an outrageous lobby than denigrates the image of Brazil outside its borders.

It is in the highest national interest — and above all, in the inerst of the Indians themselves — to know how much, from what source, and on what are spent the millions that sustain the hostile action of these organizations, which turn the Indians into human shields of a cause that dare not speak its name.

The Senator returns here to a recurrent theme: “paranoia” over the use of NGOs to funnel land into the hands of foreigners. As Reuters reported, Mar 10, 2009 11:24am EDT

Brazil is preparing to oust scores of foreign aid groups it considers a threat to national security and will restrict foreign ownership in the Amazon, a senior government official told Reuters.

Foreign non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, had until early February to provide detailed accounts of their operations and register with half a dozen authorities, including federal police. Only 90 of several hundred foreign NGOs complied.

Some refer to the major NGOs as BINGOs — big international NGOs, like Greenpeace.

TV Globo in Bahia produces some remarkable pro-ruralist propaganda for the nightly Jornal Nacional from time to time — ruggedly independent claim-holders exhibiting XIXth Century legal papers on which their claim is based.

“All others are now clandestine and will be shut down. Those responsible will be deported,” Secretary of Justice Romeu Tuma Jr. said in an interview late on Monday.

The government accuses some groups of industrial spying, undermining the culture of native Indians and biopiracy — stealing medicinal plants for pharmaceutical purposes.

Tuma says the federal police has proof of foreign NGOs breaking the law but he could not give any examples. In the past, many were expelled without a proper trial, he said.

Nationalists, especially in military and intelligence circles, have long harbored conspiracy theories that foreigners are scheming to take the Amazon forest’s vast resources.

The more recent crackdown on foreigners, critics say, may be a reaction to growing international pressure for Brazil to reduce deforestation.

“We want partners but not people who question the ownership of that land. The Amazon is ours,” said Tuma.

Last year the army chief for the Amazon warned that Brazil’s borders were vulnerable to incursions through tribal Indian territories harboring foreign aid workers.


The government is pushing ahead with a law to restrict foreign ownership of land in the Amazon, Tuma said.

Farmers in some areas have complained that foreign acquisitions have driven up the price of land. Nationalist legislators were up in arms because foreign conservationists sold Amazon land on the Internet.

India apparently has a similar political current.


Wikipedia summarizes some of the controversies in which Senator Abreu has been involved.

Her conduct in defense of agriculturists has generated animosity between some ecologistsand the Environment Ministry. Environmental activists have dubbed her “Mis Deforestation.”

She is also criticized for opposing the current policy on agrarian reform, as well as for supposedly own two unproductive tracts of land totaling 2,500 hectares  –6177.63 acres, or 9,65 square miles.

Recently, as president of the CNA, Kátia Abreu hired the organization Contas Abertas to discover the cost and provenance of a TV and radio campaign called “Carne legal” — the campaign consisted of three inserts titled “Barbecue of Desforestation,” “Hamburger of Slave Labor” and “Money Laundering Steak.” The campaign was paid for by the federal prosecutor’s office  (MPF).

Kátia also defends the use of genetically altered seeds patented by major biotech corporations likeMonsanto. The use of these seeds is highly controversial because it is unclear how much of a negative effect it will have on consumers.

Many nations prohibit or limit the use of such seeds because of studies that show they can cause various problems in the middle to long term, including: health problems for producers and consumers, an increase in the use of toxins and harmful additives, the exclusive dependency of the producer on biotech companies, the extinction of natural seeds, and a monopoly of Big Biotech.

Kátia declared during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Agrarian Reform that she would prefer that this type of seed be cultivated and help to feed the Brazilian people than to run the risk of hunger. This statement was used by Silvio Tendler in the documentary  O Veneno Está na Mesa. — The Poison is on the Table.