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Amazon indigenous leaders imprisoned

By People's Weekly World,
7 October 1995

Two internationally respected leaders of Amazon rubber tappers were arrested Sept. 22 and are being imprisoned, without trial or bail, according to reports received from Acre, a northwestern Brazilian state.

In response, Amanaka'a Amazon Network, a New York City-based support organization for Amazon leaders, is coordinating an international effort to free the two men.

Antonio Macedo, one of the leaders, was invited into town by state Judge Facundes and promptly thrown into jail. Damion Goncalves da Silva was arrested at his forest home.

In 1992, the two leaders were accused of inciting rubber tappers to resist eviction by rubber barons. Although sentenced to two years in prison, without an investigation or trial, the case was shelved following international pressure during Brazil's Earth Summit. Last week, the case was reopened as the state's new governor, Orleir Cameli, appointed Judge Facundes, who ordered the arrests.

In a handwritten letter smuggled out of prison and faxed to Amanaka'a offices, Macedo states that he had never visited the village where the actions took place and was in New York City when the alleged crime occurred. It was a non-violent action, [and] a just cause, Macedo wrote. The rubber tappers never went to school. But they knew they had lived in those villages from the cradle, just as their ancestors had before them.

The rubber barons who ordered the evictions were latecomers to the region and held no title to the land, according to local and international historians and legal experts.

We fear that these arrests could be the beginning of a new and widespread witchhunt against Amazon leaders who have been working diligently to protect the rainforest and its peoples, said Zeze Weiss, executive director of Amanaka'a.

Macedo is president of Txai Indian Rubber Tapper Foundation, dedicated to finding ecologically viable economic alternatives in the rainforest. Goncalves da Silva is president of the Rubber Tapper's Association of Riozinho do Cruzeiro do Vale. Both leaders were close associates of the late Chico Mendes, who was assassinated in 1988 by gunmen hired by the rubber barons.

The international community must speak out against the campaign of repression that is cruelly being waged against the rubber tappers and indigenous peoples in Brazil, commented human rights advocate Bianca Jagger. Let's make sure Chico Mendes didn't die in vain.

Protests should be faxed to Judge Jair Araujo Facundes at 011-55-68-322-4185 or to Governor Orleir Cameli at 011-55- 68-223-1210.