Brazil Indians release UN representative after authorities agree to study demands

Bu Tales Azzoni
Sao Paulo, Brazil (AP) 12-07

A captive U.N. official and four other hostages were released unharmed during mid December from a diamond-rich Indian reservation after Brazilian authorities agreed to some of the Indians’ demands.

David Martins Castro, a representative of the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights, was blocked from leaving the reservation after meeting with Cinta Larga Indians to discuss their battle to protect diamond resources. A federal prosecutor and three other people also were held.

The Brazilian government agreed to create a task force to look into the Cinta Larga’s needs and guaranteed a meeting with Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro in the capital of Brasilia next year, said Marcio Meira, president of Brazil’s Federal Indian Bureau. The government also will work closely with the Indians for better health care, education and jobs, Meira said.

“The Indians released everybody after they realized that the government will take the necessary measures to try to solve their problems,” he said.

Castro and the other hostages were treated well and even received souvenirs from the Indians before being released, said Meira, who arrived at the reservation to negotiate.

Amazon Indian groups often take hostages for brief periods to force attention to their demands.

The Cinta Larga also wanted prosecutors to drop charges against 28 members of the tribe accused of killing 29 trespassing diamond miners in 2004 – a massacre that largely halted a rush by outside miners lured by diamond reserves believed to be the largest in South America.

But Meira said that charges in the massacre were up to the justice system.

“These problems (over diamonds) are structural, long-term problems. The only long-term solution will come when mining on Indian reservation is regulated,” Meira said.

Brazilian law bans mining of any kind on Indian reservations, but in recent years, federal authorities made exceptions for Cinta Larga to sell their diamonds.

Brazilian legislators are considering changing the law to allow mining by Indians on reservations. But the move is opposed by some Indian rights group that fear the easy money will destroy indigenous culture.

The Brazilian Mines and Energy Ministry estimates some $2 billion worth of diamonds have been smuggled off the reservation in the past few years.