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Meanwhile, down on the Xingu.

The Chinantecs are not the only ones on the receiving end of such "developmental" madness. The same disordered system of priorities is being exercised-though still at a preliminary stage-on a far grander scale farther south, in Brazil, a country which has been the object of much stately congratulation in the U.S. press for its progress toward democracy, as signaled by a new Constitution.

In mid-October in Belem, soggy gateway to the Amazon, more than fifty-four groups, including persons of science, the Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores) and voodoo priests, protested the trial of two Kayap6 Indian chiefs who, under a rather bizarre application of law, are being prosecuted with North American anthropologist Darrell Posey for contravening the Brazilian Foreign Sedition Act. As the name implies, this law forbids foreigners from interfering in the internal affairs of the Brazilian Republic. The Indians are not technically foreigners but suffer under the designation "wards of the state," in which status the two chiefs, Paiakan and Kuben-i, now raise with some urgency questions about the role of local populations in determining the policies that affect them and about the dynamics of the political economy of rural development in the American tropics.

Last February these two chiefs were invited to a confab in Florida on tropical deforestation. No strangers to such scientific parlays, the chiefs have in the past lectured on the techniques evolved by native people for managing and recuperating tropical ecosystems, currently being destroyed all over the world at the rate of 25 million acres a year They argue that the exoticism considered in the North to be their essential attribute obscures who they are. In association with Posey, who has studied the ethnoscience of the Kayap6 for more than eleven years, they propose the view that indigenous peoples are sophisticated scientists on anyone's terms and, in effect, embody the libraries and laboratories of a rich tropical science encoded in culture and landscape rather than paper and ink.

At the Florida meeting members of the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation asked the chiefs (along with Posey as translator, neither Portuguese nor the Ge language being widely used in Washington) to speak to members of the World Bank, as well as the Treasury and Congress, about the Xingu Dam Complex.

This developers' dream rivals its First World equivalent, the Nawapa project of imperishable memory, in which water from the western slope of the Canadian Rockies was to be drawn to flood the Colorado basin. The Xingu Dam Complex will dwarf any existing dam project in the world. Some forty-seven sites are under consideration on the Xingu River and its tributaries. More than 9,000 Amazonians will require resettlement, while as many as twelve indigenous groups will be affected by road building, power lines and the flooding of reserve lands.

Indians are not the only victims. Tens of thousands of peasants who make their living from fishing and forest products will find their economic base vanishing beneath the water. The government estimates that 20 million acres will be involved after two of the dams are built, and if five are completed, 18,000 square kilometers of forest will be flooded, creating the world's largest man-made body of water.

This construction is part of the larger megalomania of the Brazilian energy industry, which is now seeking from multilateral banks $500 million in loans for its plans. As the banks dragged their feet on the loans, Brazil's government became convinced that the depositions made by the Kayap6 chiefs were instrumental in the delay. The World Bank countered that the inefficiency and poor management that characterized Electrobras, the national power company, were to blame. Meanwhile, just as Brazil is being toasted for its strides to democracy, the government's behavior toward Posey and the Kayap6 chiefs has demonstrated an authoritarianism as shameless as ever The case is the first in which the Nova Republica is actively seeking deportation of foreigners for sedition, a practice widely used under the dictatorship to muzzle Catholic priests.
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Title Annotation:Beat the Devil; development in Brazil
Author:Cockburn, Alexander
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Nov 7, 1988
Words:668
Previous Article:History is banks: the end of the Chinantecs.
Next Article:First shoot the developers.
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