Apoena Meireles and history that repeats itself – 05/04/2021 – Opinion

The devastation of the Amazon rainforest, brutally emphasized in the current government through the action of unscrupulous loggers, a premeditated absence of inspection and a rapid advance of the prospectors, is leaving the indigenous peoples that inhabit the region increasingly vulnerable. A threat dramatically emphasized by the pandemic, which has already claimed victims among different ethnicities.

This situation sends us fatally to the time of the military government, which wished to transform the Amazon into an immense pasture. The Transamazônica was also the natural way for the flu, measles and other diseases to serve to decimate hundreds of Indians while the cattle of investors, like the TV presenter Silvio Santos, took the place of trees and people. It was the so-called “pioneer front”, in which the military hoped to materialize the great project of colonizing the region under the false premise that it was “integrating it” with the rest of the nation.

In the early 1970s, the sertanista Apoena Meireles, together with the Villas Bôas brothers, warned of the danger that the process would bring to the Amazonian indigenous nations.

The situation culminated in the resignation of the Funai sertanista (Fundação Nacional do Índio), on February 7, 1972, in a letter sent to General Ismarth de Araújo Oliveira, then general coordinator of operations at Transamazônica. The road, identified as BR-230 and today with 4,260 km, half of the predicted, “delirious” connecting the Brazilian Northeast to Peru and Ecuador. It was the government of President Emílio Garrastazu Médici, and the order was to tear up the forest at any cost – including lives (which at that time were of little importance). They were the burden of the “big Brazil”, the country that, they sang, “goes forward”, and left Regina Duarte homesick.

To protect the ethnic groups in the region, a handful of sertanistas were mobilizing through the forests in a frustrating attempt to avoid the root cause of influenza, measles and other diseases typical of the “white man”.

One of the most relevant names of this small group of sertanistas was Apoena Meireles, direct heir of the brothers Leonardo, Claudio and Orlando Villas Bôas, by whose hands the Xingu National Park was consolidated.

Apoena, son of the countryman also Chico Meireles, brought the indigenous question into the DNA. Born in the Xavante reserve Pimentel Barbosa, in Mato Grosso, he was named after a chieftain of the ethnic group contacted by his father’s team.

In 1972, at the age of 23, he called on the military who demanded the quick release of neighboring lands to the road layout and asked for his departure from Funai. In the letter in which he formalized the request, Apoena already criticized the blind bureaucracy. He said he was leaving because he did not want to agree with the “depletion, exploitation, misery” that military action imposed on the Cinta Larga and the Surui. And he regretted “having contributed to such a situation” in the approximation actions necessary to clear the road.

He also affirmed that both Funai and Incra (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) “did not take any concrete steps to solve the problem of the Indians and the colonists”. Almost half a century later, the accusation still holds.

In the same tone of proud Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro insists on the approval of projects that allow mineral and water exploration in indigenous lands (PL 191/2020) and legalization of illegal lands until December 2018. The argument is that this will lead to development in the tribes that, in theory, would benefit from the deal.

It is more than known that it will not be so. The big mining companies are not going to negotiate with the Indians, but rather to expel them from the lands already invaded and registered by the land grabbers. One thing comes with the other, and the balance cannot be positive.

At the age of 55, Apoena was murdered on October 9, 2004, at the door of a bank in Porto Velho (RO), already back at Funai and once again taking care of conflicts between garimpeiros and cinta-largas. The police concluded it was a simple assault. Indigenous leaders never believed in this version. On second thought, why should they believe?


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