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3. Appeals and News from Endangered Communities

Developments in a Kuna community in Alto Bayano (eastern PanamĚ)

Date: Tue, 3 Sep 1996 15:20:19 +0200 (MET DST)
From: Marta Lucia de Gerdes

Dear Colleagues:

I'd like to bring to your attention a situation that has notbeen covered by international media regarding the Kuna people of PanamĚ.On August 6th members of a Kuna community in Alto Bayano (eastern PanamĚ),clashed with units from the National Guard. Several people were injured, and Kuna leaders were arrested on charges of attempted murder. The coreof the conflict was the sale of Reservation land by non-Kuna, and alleged government participation in the expansion of non-indigenous farms in the Reservation of Madungandi.

On August 12th, Nobel Peace Prize Rigoberta Menchu arrived in PanamĚ to be condecorated by national authorities. Local indigenous leaders boycotted official events as a sign of protest and requested a separate meeting with Menchu. They boycott--and how it was portrayed bysome local media--lead to further misunderstanding of the problem by the national society. The Governor of the Province of PanamĚ finally intervened to settle the immediate conflict, but tensions continue to run high.

The events of Mandungandi are only part of the list of serious issues threatening the autonomy and viability of the Kuna people. There are high risk conflicts such as the potential exploitation of mines in the Reservation of Kuna Yala (Comarca de San Blas), and the intensification of tourism in the Kuna homeland. There is also the thorny problem of obtaining protection from the national authorities against the constant threat of marauders and drug traffickers, while holding back a possible militarization of the region.

In order to make it into the next century as a distinct people, the Kuna may need immediate and widespread support. The Kuna themselves are aware of what lies ahead, and among other things, they have repeatedly requested the support of the higher education of their young people in areas of study such as Law, Engineering, Medince, language studies, etc. It is important that the public opinion becomes aware of the situation of the Kuna, and of the fact that the breakdown of this community would result in the tragic loss of ancestral knowledge and a unique way of life.

M. de Gerdes, Ph.D.
Schuergistrasse 56
CH 8051 - ZŞrich

To the editor's request for more information on how outsiders might help, Marta replied (6 September):

Thanks for your concern about the Kuna situation. At the moment I am waiting for a reply from them as to what they expect in terms of concrete immediate support. There is always the long term goal of helping with the education of young Kuna, and if that sounds appealing to you let me know. I do have a sad update: Timoteo G█mez, a speaker and traditional medicine specialist of the Madugandi Reservation was shot and killed on August 25, presumably by non-Kuna hunters and landholders who were allowed illegal entrance into the reservation by local government employees. G█mez was alone and unarmed when he was killed. The early death of G█mez represents a loss for the cultural patrimony of the Kuna people -- traditional medicine specialists are holders of a rich verbal art tradition which, along with their botanical expertise, are the basis of their healing powers. Í Marta

Attacks on Indians in Rondonia, Brazil

NEWS FROM BRAZIL supplied by SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz).Number 247, October 03, 1996. If you wish to contact them or receive NEWS FROM BRAZIL free of charge by e-mail send a message to sejup(at)

According to a report from the Indigenous Work Center (CTI) and the Socio-environmental Institute (Instituto Socioambiental) rancher Hercules Gouveia Dalafini owner of the Modelo ranch in the municipality of Chupinguaia, in the south of the State of Rondonia expelled un-contacted Indians from the area. The Indians had a village within the ranch area. According to the report, the Indians were attacked by gunmen and their village was subsequently destroyed. The rancher is also accused of making difficult the entry of FUNAI (the government indigenous agency) functionaries on to the ranch and of completely destroying the forest area where the village is said to have been located as well destroying crops which the Indians had planted.

Aggression on the part of ranchers and lumber merchants against Indians has been frequent for over 10 year in this region of Rondonia especially in the municipalities of Corumbiara and Chupinguaia. There are strong indications that a massacre of un- contacted Indians took place in Chupinguaia. FUNAI functionaries estimated that the massacred group could have contained up to 25 members - no official inquiry was ever carried out. Initial contacts with a group of 7 Tupari Indians provided information which indicated that 10 Indians of this group had been killed in a gun-attack. This violence against the Indians on the part of the ranchers is to ensure that documentation to their lands will not be contested; by law deeds are not given for areas where Indian groups are found.

Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and their Environment
1511 K St. NW, suite 627, Washington DC 20005
tel: (202) 637-9718 fax: (202) 637-9719

Andrew Woodfield comments on behalf of FEL:

The Two Groups of Indians Contacted in Rondonia in 1995

In Iatiku 2 we reprinted the appeal made by Nilson Gabas Jr. on behalf of the two isolated groups discovered in 1995 in the Igarapi Omeri region of Corumbiara in Rondonia, Brazil. One group of four individuals speaks Kanoe (a language spoken by only a handful of others, hardly studied), the other group of seven people speaks a Tupari language which has not yet been definitively classified. Nilson Gabas Jr. is a graduate student in linguistics who was appointed by FUNAI to carry out linguistic research in the area. (FUNAI is the Brazilian Government's Indian Affairs Bureau.)

The discovery of these groups is of prime interest to FEL. Here is a situation where two highly endangered languages, one of which has never previously been known about, need to be documented. FEL aims to give practical and moral support to the people who are trying to do this. In the future, FEL will directly sponsor linguistic fieldwork in situations of this type.

According to information provided by FUNAI, the area has a history of confrontations. Since 1976, peripatetic groups of uncontacted Indians have occasionally entered tracts of land that ranchers claim to own. Such groups are vulnerable to attacks by ranch-owners and their hired gunmen. On October 4th 1995, the Federal Public Ministry was empowered by the courts to send FUNAI employees to control access to the area where the two newly discovered groups were living. In the same month FUNAI appointed an anthropologist (Virginia Marcos Valadco) to carry out 'ethnic recognition_ of the groups, and it designated Nilson Gabas Jr. to return to the area to conduct linguistic studies. In a letter to FEL dated 10th June 1996, FUNAI encouraged us to 'motivate linguists to study these languages, as soon as the Indians are definitively placed in a defined territory'.

Despite FUNAI's good intentions, there must inevitably be worries about whether the protection currently being offered is adequate, given that FUNAI staff have in the past been threatened and ordered off land that they were supposed to be guarding. A disturbing report was received recently (see below) of a violent incident in this very area. We have not been able to discover whether either of the two putatively 'protected' groups was involved. If the Indians in question belong to a distinct group, it is possible that their language is yet another previously unknown language. Either way, the fact that such incidents continue to occur can only provoke outrage.

FEL will continue to press the authorities for precise information about the current wherabouts and welfare of the Kanoe and Tupari Indians, and we hope to provide reports on the progress of the anthropological and linguistic investigations. Clearly, such investigations can hardly get started until basic preconditions are met. The Indians, and the researchers and functionaries, must have their survival and safety guaranteed. Responsibility for this surely lies with the Brazilian Government.

Members may wish to make their own contacts with agencies involved. Here is a selection of relevant email addresses:
Nilson Gabas Jr, currently at UC Santa Barbara (gabas(at), will move to Museo Goeldi in Belem in December (gabas(at) Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz runs a news service (details above). Indianist Missionary Council (CIMI) (cimi(at) Amazon Coalition (amazoncoal(at)

Amazon Rancher Carries Out "Ethnic Cleansing" of Indians to Get Land in Rondonia

A few days later, Nelson Gabas sent this further report:

Genocide in the Amazon

Film-maker Vincent Carelli, of the Indigenist Work Center (CTI) in Sao Paulo and Marcelo Santos of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) documented today that a rancher in Xupinaguaia county in Rondonia state in the Brazilian Amazon bulldozed the remains of a village of uncontacted Indians, to erase evidence of the Indians'presence. Before and after areal photographs of the village site reveal the destruction. The cattle rancher had already clearcut the forest in the area. This is the most recent peice of evidence in a pattern of killings, terrorism, forced removal and destruction of the traces of uncontacted Indians over the last decade in Rondonia that the NGO and Santos, a government Indian agent, have brought to light. Indians in Brazil in theory are guaranteed rights to the land they traditionally occupy by the Constitution, and the government is obligated to protect them. This pattern of genocide of uncontacted Indians in Rondonia has yet to be investigated by the police and has gone entirely unpunished by the courts.

In mid-September, FUNAI agents in Rondonia delivered a report to Federal Prosecutor Francisco Marinho, in Porto Velho, Rondonia documenting the expulsion by gunfire of uncontacted Indians from their village. Witnesses attest that the rancher Hercules Golviea Dalafini, of the Modelo ranch in Xupinaguaia county ordered his men to open fire on the surviving members of an uncontacted Indian group to drive them off of land that he claims.

On September 13, a National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) team discovered a clearcut in the forest on the site of an indigenous garden, where a bulldozer had attempted to extinguish the traces of a wrecked Indian house, and holes dug by the Indians around it. The remains of a garden of corn and papaya were still clear at the site, as were 14 holes and signs of an older house.

Various reports confirm that in January of 1996 the rancher hired a contractor to clearcut the area in month of January. The contractor entered the village shooting, pulled down and burned the longhouse, and destroyed the garden of corn and squash. On this occasion, three Indians, with long hair and without clothing, fled and were pursued through the forests on the ranch. Later, a bulldozer opened an acess road for the deforestation and attempted to cover up the vestiges of the village. That the deforestation was done in January, the height of the rainy season, indicates that the rancher's intent was to destroy evidence of the Indians' presence, since deforestation for cattle pasture or agriculture is done in the dry season.

This type of action by cattle ranchers against isolated Indians in Corumbiara and Xupinaguaia counties has been repeated over the last ten years. In 1984, loggers' trucks were shot with arrows by Indians in vicinity of the Igarape Umere (Umere Creek). In 1985, Marcelo Santos reported evidence of a possible massacre of Indians on Mr. Junqueira Vilela's Yvupita ranch. He found the same scenario as last September: houses and gardens destroyed, a bulldozer to finish the job, and bullet shells.

No judicial inquiry was ever opened to establish what had happened. In April 1986, FUNAI interdicted a 60 thousand hectare area for nine months, during which time the cattle ranchers continued clearcutting freely, interfering with FUNAI's attemtps to contact the Indians. On confirming that the Indians were not at the moment on the Yvupita ranch, FUNAI suspended the interdiction of the area, turning it over to the ranches. Indigenist Marcelo Santos, meanwhile, continued his investigations, visiting the region repeatedly, and collecting references to the Indians from local workers. Starting in 1994, as head of the FUNAI department for Isolated Indians in Rondonia, Santos put the search on a more systematic basis.

On September 3, 1995, FUNAI finally located the first two Canoe Indians on the Umere Creek, on the boundaries of Antenor Duarte's Sao Sebastiao ranch, and Alceu Feldman's Olga ranch.

The Federal Court in Porto Velho, at the request of the attorney general's office, had already guaranteed a safe conduct on the ranches for the FUNAI team, to allow the search to go forward, and then issued several court orders interdicting a 50 thousand hectare area in order to protect these Indians. By the end of October, contact was consolidated with the Canoe, and another 7 Indians of the Tupari language family. The judicial interdiction was subsequently ratified by FUNAI.

In May 1996, filmaker Vincent Carelli, who has documented case since 1986, collected from the Tupari a statement that confirms the ocurrence of an armed attack against these Indians ten years ago, in which about ten were killed. The members of both groups show visible signs of psychological disturbance from the violence they have suffered. Anthropological reports attest that the Canoe have been driven away at least twice from the left bank of the Umere Creek (on Mr. Almir Lando's ranch).



The vestiges discovered last week on the Modelo and Bagatolli ranches suggest that the group in question is a third group, with different characteristics from the others: they dig deep holes in the middle of their longhouses and mark the trees around their villages.

The discovery of the first two groups in 1995, and the interdiction of parts of some the ranches in the area appear to have moved rancher Dalfini to a desperate attempt to wipe out the vestiges of indigenous presence on his ranch. The three Indians who lived in the area have fled into forest. The FUNAI team sighted one man last month, while he was collecting wild honey.

The World Bank has financed development projects in the region over the last decade that include indigneous protection components. The most recent of these, Planafloro, finances the FUNAI contact teams. World Bank involvment, and the government's contractual obligations to carry out Indian protection, have been insufficient to prevent the extermination of the the Indians of the Umere Creek. In September of 1995, days before Santos made the first contact with the survivors, a UNDP consultant to the Bank project vigorously attempted to convince the new President of FUNAI to cancel the isolated Indians subcomponent of the project, arguing that there were no more uncontacted Indians in the state.

Frightened and famished, these small isolated indigenous groups have been submitted over the last decade to a process of ethnic cleansing by the cattle ranchers. The pattern of tedicial impunity for the perpetrators, indicates that the genocide of these Indians is commonplace and accepted in the region.

Ilmo. Sr. Nelson Jobim, Ministro da Justica, Esplanada dos Ministerios Bl. T , Brasilia DF 70064-900 Brasil
fax 55-61-2242448
email: njobim(at)

Request that the Minister ensure a thorough police investigation of the events and that the responsible parties be held judically accountable for their actions. Also request that the Minister instruct FUNAI to fully protect the land of the Indians of Igarape Umere immediately.

Please Write:
Ilmo. Dr. Julier Sebastiao da Silva Av. Presidente Dutra 2203 Justica Federal Centro 78.900-970 Porto Velho, Rondonia Brasil

Request that in light of the urgent situtation, the judge approve the judicial interdiction of the territory of the Indians of Igarape Umere, and that he open an investigation and ensure its conclusion.

For further information contact:
Stephan Schwartzman
Vincent Carelli
Environmental Defense Fund
Indigenous Work Center (CTI)
Tel. +1-202-387-3500
+55 11 813 3450
Fax +1-202-234-6049
+55 11 813 0747

Another disturbing report from Rondonia

And on 9 November, Hein van der Voort sent the following complementary information to the Endangered_languages_l list.

Dear subscribers to the Endangered Languages List,

Herewith I would like to support Mr. Nilson Gabas' call of 5 November for support to the un- and recently contacted Indians of Rondonia.

I myself am a descriptive linguist from Holland conducting fieldwork among the Koaia, or Kwaza, speakers in an Indigenous reserve in the South of Rondonia, Brazil, more or less in between the Omere and the Chupinguaia Indians. My promotor is Prof. Adelaar of Leiden University. I am visiting researcher of the Museu Goeldi in Belem, Brazil. I was in the field for a period of around one year, and hope to return there in 1997 again, to do final checks and to complete my data. (I have been a subscriber to the list for some time already, and apologize for not having introduced myself before)

The Koaia language seems to be a genetically isolated language. In the case of the south of Rondonia this means that it has been spoken there for over 7000 years at least, just like other Rondonian 'isolates' like Kanoe and Aikana. It appears that their traditional cultures used to be very similar. The Indians in S.Rondonia shared in fact a cultural complex, across linguistic boundaries, including the Tupari family languages.

Rondonia is one of the linguistically most diverse areas of south America, and is considered as one of the starting points of important south American migration routes and subsequent populations.

Of many of the S. Rondonian languages and cultures, practically nothing is known, described or documented. Meanwhile, since the first contacts in the early 1940s (Levi-Strauss was there in the late 1930s) these Indian nations have been decimated and acculturated and the majority of the remaining Indians now lives in reserves (In Rondonia live less than 5000 Indians). We are really only so lucky to still have some speakers of the languages, and some old people who remember how they used to live before contact. Regretfully, there has been practically no substantial scientific research, and today even within the reserves there is great risk everything will disappear before documentation.

With my Koaia consultant I visited the Indians of Omere in May 1996. We tried to establish whether the languages were related in any way to Koaia or Aikana. My consultant was absolutely fascinated by the Omere Indians. Even though he is relatively acculturated himself (note the fact that many acculturated and evangelized Indians in our reserve think that 'primitive naked Indians' should become modern), he studied all the traditional things the Omere Indians wore, their arrows, their plantation, their shamanism, and he was impressed. Here he saw, and recognized, for the first time with his own eyes, the way of life of his own ancestors, which he only knew from stories told by his old parents. (and which was by the missionaries and most other westerners usually treated and spoken of only with contempt.)

Had Antenor Duarte and his colleague farmers succeeded in their mission to discreetly kill these Indians, the Indians in my reserve would never have had the chance to encounter and witness a living example of their beautiful past anymore. And science would never had a chance to document anything of that bygone cultural complex at all.

The characteristics of the uncontacted Indians around Xupinguaia are very remarkable in this context: they seem to diverge considerably from the cultural complex.

The concerned FUNAI department does a very good job in protecting the Omere Indians. And there are many sensible people in Rondonia and in Brazil. The biggest problem is formed by the ruthless cattle ranchers. Their only aim is to increase their personal wealth and they are politically very powerful, especially in Rondonia. Remember that 50% of Brazil is in the hands of 1% of the total population. The Omere Indians are still in great danger despite the fact that a judge managed to declare the Omere region as a (provisionally and temporarily) prohibited area. How much more threatened, then, are the uncontacted and unidentified Indians? (those of the Xupinguaia region representing just one case among several others).

Note that the government of Rondonia wants to be internationally respected, and has visited Europe to talk to presidents and other politicians, trying to raise subsidies for the 'modern development' of Rondonia (I recall that governor Valdir Raupp was received in Germany and Italia in early 1996). The same government systematically bows to the ranchers and timber companies, by whom it can be actually considered to be owned.

Therefore the ongoing violence against the sparse defenseless remnants of the aboriginal Rondonian peoples must be internationally criticized. Hein

Hein van der Voort
Instituut voor Algemene Taalwetenschap
Universiteit van Amsterdam
Spuistraat 210
1012 VT, Amsterdam
Violence in Chiapas, Mexico

tel.: +31-20-6934541/5253859
fax.: +31-20-5253052
email: hein.van.der.voort(at)

Steven Abbott sabbott(at) wrote to the list on 11 November 1996:

Subject: AP: Police Killed Three People in Chiapas Protests, Peasant Leader Says (fwd)

Copyright (c) 1996 The Associated Press

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (Nov 9, 1996 5:06 p.m. EST) -- Police shot and killed three peasant protesters Saturday during a clash over corn prices in the southeastern state of Chiapas, a peasant leader said.

Peasant leader Juan Carlos Aguilar said police opened fire on the protesters as helicopters whirled overhead and dropped tear gas canisters during the predawn clash at Laja Tendida, near Venustiano Carranza.

At least one other man was hospitalized with serious injuries in the city of Comitan, Aguilar said. He said federal army troops were also involved in the clash.

Chiapas state government spokesman Fermin Rodriguez could not immediately confirm the report of the deaths. He said state police had planned to break up roadblocks by peasant protesters throughout the state, but said army troops did not take part.

Peasants throughout the state have been protesting for several days in the capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez and other regions, demanding a doubling in the base price for corn to roughly $315 a ton.

Farmers say the government-guaranteed price of about $160 a ton is not enough to cover the producers' costs.

Aguilar said the three men were from Venustiano Carranza, about 30 miles south of here.

Nearly 200 police and federal troops continued to guard the area Saturday afternoon, inspecting the vehicles for weapons. Burned debris littered the area.

Venustiano Carranza, a region populated by Tzeltal Indians, has a long history of violent peasant protests over land and farm-related issues.

The following text is a translation by Susana Saravia (Anibarro),Certified Legal and Court Interpreter by the State of Washington,USA, registered with the Office of the Administration of the Courts for the State of Washington.USA. Translation for: Nuevo Amanecer Press.

M╚xico,DF, November 9,1996.

The Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights, affiliated with the International Federation of Human Roghts, organization with consultative status before the United Nations (resolution 1296) and affiliated with the World Organization against Torture (OMCT?SOS), expresses it's concern and protests for the violent agression by members of the mexican army and public security of the state of Chiapas, against marchers belonging to the Peasant Organization Emiliano Zapata (OCEZ).

According to denounciations by the Peasant Organization Emiliano Zapata, after they had a protest journey since November 6, demanding a just price for corn. And not having received a response from the authorities, they decided to protest once again on the monring of November 9 , with the participation of several of the communities of the state of Chiapas.

But when they where in the community of Laja Tendida in the municipality of Venustiano Carranza, they where violently evicted, by a joint operative of the police and members of the mexican army, with the support of helicopters, tear gas, and firing weapons, causing deaths amongst the protesters. The dead are: JOSE LUIS RAMIREZ MAGADALENO of the community Plan de los Angeles, JOSE TAMAYO GOMEZ, of the community MIguel Hidalgo, JOSE ANGEL RAMIRES COELLO, of Laja Tendida and others who have not been identified yet. An undetermined number of people were hurt by bullet wounds and hundreds have been arrested.

In the same way, they denounce that this community is surrounded by the army and they continue to be attacked.

We request that the national and international organizations, send protests to Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, President of the Mexican United States, to fax: (525) 2 77 23 76 . Asking for an investigation and punishemente to those responsible of the deaths of these people and for the appropiate sanctions to be applied according to the law, and that the right to free speech and organization be respected in these peasant comunities. For the respect of the rights and due process of those detained , for medical attention to the wounded and reparation of damage to those who have that right.


Adrina Ramirez Lopez - President
Ismael Lopez Garces - Vice President

Please send copies of your actions to:

LIMEDDHH-FIDH. Av. Azcapotzalco, 275, Col.Claveria, 02090, Mexico,DF fax: (52 5) 3 991336 e-mail: limeddh(at)