Brazilian Indians protest government spending
BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) -- Brazilian Indians smeared in black war paint
and wielding clubs on Thursday protested a sweeping government austerity
plan which has deprived their villages of essential medicine and food.
About 150 warriors from the Kaiapo tribe gathered outside the
headquarters of the Indian Foundation (FUNAI) in Brasilia, where all
spending has been frozen as Brazil grapples with its worst financial crisis in
"The government has to understand ... that FUNAI deals with lives, with
people," said Megaron, a Kaiapo chief, after meeting with FUNAI officials.
"If Indians start to die, there will be trouble."
No funds to combat disease outbreaks
FUNAI officials said they had no money to deal with at least 10 outbreaks
of tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia and other diseases affecting Indian
groups across Brazil.
Three members of the Kaxinauwa tribe died this week amid an outbreak of
cholera in the Amazonian state of Acre, newspapers reported Thursday.
"Everything is on hold," said FUNAI spokesman Roberto Lustosa. "There's
not a cent to be spent."
Brazil has announced more than $5 billion in budget cuts, and is preparing
further austerity measures to fend off a crisis that threatens to wreck the
country's four-year economic recovery.
The plan has the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, which is
preparing to offer Brazil an emergency credit line, once the government
comes up with a full belt-tightening program.
The October 4 re-election of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was
widely interpreted as a sign that Brazilians are prepared to swallow austerity
measures to keep the economy alive.
Not even the country's cash-strapped health and education services are
likely to be spared the ax, officials say.
But so far, the most painful cuts appear to have fallen on the country's
320,000 Indians who depend on FUNAI for health and other essential
Indigenous groups to seek emergency aid
"We believe that the government cannot put Brazil's 215 Indian nations
the negotiating table at the IMF," said Marcos Terena, a leader of the
Terena tribe and a FUNAI employee. "We're talking about people who
have nothing to do with the crisis."
He said leaders of several indigenous groups were hoping to meet with
Finance Minister Pedro Malan who, as "the master of the money," might be
persuaded to free up some emergency funds.
As part of a first round of austerity measures announced in September,
government departments that already had spent 80 percent of the 1998
budget were prevented from making any new outlays until October 31. That
measure hit FUNAI.
Officials say that even when the temporary freeze is over, most of their
budget will be eaten up by debts, leaving FUNAI with less than $1 million
until the end of the year.
"We're in absolute chaos," said Alexandre Ramos Cristino, head of
FUNAI's office in western Mato Grosso state, where even telephone lines
have been cut to keep down costs.
"I've got more than 100 Indians in our clinic, and there's no money for
medicine or food. If we don't find some cash, we're going to have to shut
down," Cristino said.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.