by Timothy Elphick INTERNATIONAL aid organisations demanding urgent action to save the threatened Yanomami Indians in Brazil spoke of the disregard for human life by regional authorities during a visit to London last week by the Brazilian president-elect, Fernando Collor de Mello.
The agencies, which included the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development and Christian Aid, urged the incoming president to take the plight of the Yanomami on board, and protect their territories in the Amazonian region of Roraima. The outgoing government of President Jose Sarney had done nothing to prevent the invasion of the area by the goldminers, ignoring court orders for their eviction, the agencies said.
"The situation is urgent," the organisations stressed in an open letter delivered to Collor. "The destruction of the Yanomami as an independent people has already begun, and can only be stopped by immediate action." The prospectors must be removed from all the 9.4 million hectares of Yanomami land, they said.
But an accusation made this week by the Brazilian Minister of Justice, Saulo Ramos, that British missionaries had become involved in gold smuggling in the Amazon region has done little to allay fears of official stone-walling over the threat to the Yanomami. "I was told by witnesses that priests are involved in gold-smuggling and are being financed by large mining concerns," the minister alleged.
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The minister's claims were roundly condemned by the Brazilian bishops' conference, which said that no British priests were in the area. These were old allegations against Italian missionaries which had been investigated and disproved several years ago. An agency of the bishops' conference, the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), believes that the accusations are a thinly disguised ploy to distract public opinion away from the government's failure to remove the goldminers from Yanomami land.
CIMI has also reported that federal police are producing exaggerated accounts of the miners being moved from the disputed areas. And in Brazilia on February 9 a doctor working in Roraima told CIMI of up to 2000 Yanomami deaths during the gold rush of the last two years.
• Bishop Irwin Krautler of Saitamira in the east of Brazil's Amazon region was attacked in his home on January 27, it was revealed this week. The bishop's attacker threatened to kill him on account of his work for the indigenous peoples of Brazil.
The incident should be seen in the context of other recent attacks by landowners on diocesan workers, Bishop Krautler said. The church had supported the cause of the small farmers and local Arara Indians, angering the Democratic Rural Union, a landowners' association opposed to agrarian reform.