Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The View From the Latifundista

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Much has been written about Brazil's colonial practices and treatments of indigenous peoples. One article, written in the 1980s by Suzanne Williams, (“ Land Rights and the Manipulation of Identity: Official Indian Policy in Brazil,” published in the Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 May, 1983, pp. 137-161) is particularly interesting, since the discussion she presents about land rights and indigenous identity are still relevant today. I recommend that those interested in an overview of the history of Brazil's relations and treatment of indigenous peoples read this article. The following incident reflects Williams' historical review on the treatment of Brazil's indigenous peoples within the nation-state.

Interestingly, after spending time with Cacique Marcos and other members of the Xukuru, I had the opportunity to have an in-depth talk with a disenfranchised latifundiário (used-to-be owner of a large fazenda /farm). My opportunity came when my computer suddenly stopped working, and I was put in touch with Mr. X via my current landlady.

While working on my computer over the next two days, I had the opportunity to listen to the perspective of an X-latifundiário (X-farmer who inherited large tracts of land that had been in his family since the era of slavery). Mr. X offered his opinions after I asked him what he thought about the situation of the Xukuru in Peisquiera. I was somewhat taken back at first by his strong and determined perspectives of the Xukuru, but I also welcomed his perspectives. It was like watching an edited and polished film, with a well thought out script, completely logical and defensible. Here's a summary of what I heard.

Mr. X confided in me that the situation with the Xukuru was very difficult, and very sad. He told me his family land holdings went all the way back to the great latifúndio period, and that the land they owned was extensive. His land, lost to the indigenous Xukuru through government land re-demarcation due to extensive activism through a process of retornando (retaking of land by indigenous peoples who camp on and refuse to leave lands they identify as traditional tribal territories), was productive and well cared for. Cattle were raised for beef and milk production, and when the Xukuru emerged in the early 1980s, declaring themselves to be an indigenous tribe, the problems began to mount up for him. He said that Xicão Xukuru, the assassinated Xukuru chief and father of Cacique Marcos Xukuru, was not an Indian. He had green eyes, like a snake, and he was dark skinned like most of the men from the sertão (dry back-country). According to Mr. X and his fellow land owners (and politicians), it was Xicão Xukuru who fabricated the Xukuru tribe, and hired a well known lawyer to legally create their indigenous status. Once the tribe was designated as real and living by the Brazilian government, then the processes of land re-demarcation could begin. Xicão Xukuru, according to Mr. X was a handsome man with a lot of charisma, but he was not an Indian.
According to Mr. X, the Xukuru, like all indigenous peoples, are corrupt and live in groups that are constantly engaged in in-fighting amongst themselves. I was told to not trust any of them, and to be very careful, because it was dangerous business being in close contact with them. Here's why – according to Mr. X, the Xukuru were responsible for creating the riot that occurred in 2003 when the attempted assassination of Cacique Marcos occurred. In fact, the attempt on Marcos' life was not by a hired assassin, but by one of his own people, and the attempted murder was based on a long-standing dispute between relatives. Indeed, according to Mr. X, the Xukuru people are divided about their leader. According to Mr. X, the majority of the Xukuru do not have confidence in their Cacique. Again, accdording to Mr. X, Marcos has the protection of hired thugs (Military Police) who accompany him everywhere, and he flaunts his assumed power whenever he comes into town. Apparently, the Xukuru were instigated, by Marcos, to create the riot in the city of Pesquiera after the "false" assassination attempt on his life, braking windows, burning buildings, and trashing a large section of the city. According to Mr. X, it was Marcos who was responsible for this violence. In many ways, Mr. X’s account is very similar to the Federal Police report about the events occurring on the day and evening of the attempted assassination of Cacique Marcos Xukuru. Many NGOs and human rights organizations are lobbying for the district courts to re-investigate his case and listen to witnesses that were not permitted to testify during his trial (see petition on this web page to stop the legal criminalization of the Xukuru).

According to Mr. X, many claims for land re-demarcation by Indians are false, and the lands are left undeveloped and unproductive when they have legal custody of their land. Hey, he said, the Xukuru didn't even know they were Indians until Xicã0 Xukuru told them they were! Many indigenous tribes in Brazil speak about having to re-learn their indigenousness since they were forbidden for centuries from practicing their traditional cultures.

What is interesting about Mr. X’s account, is that his account of events that night are reflected in his views of indigenous peoples in general. His perspectives are informed by his social position and class inheritance. His story follows the well researched history of the nation-states position on indigenous peoples in Brazil, that is, the perspective of wealthy land-owners and their political affiliations. The article mentioned above by Suzanne Williams perfectly unfolds, layer by layer, the constructed social reality of Mr. X.

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