FIGHTING FOR THE LITTLE PEOPLE

Wherever you look at the world today there seems to be strife, internal instability or cause for dissatisfaction threatening the very fabric of organised societies. Nowhere is ideally safe. We live day by day hoping that matters will improve globally but alas optimistic views are often as unpredictable as clouds in the sky during the rainy season.

Take Brazil as an example these days. The economy is suffering, the country is in total upheaval and the political scene is so dour that civil war is no longer a remote possibility.

However, individuals with a mission can achieve a measure of success in saving a tribe from extinction. Mark Rylance is best known in Britain for his portrayal as Thomas Cromwell in the hit TV drama series Wolf Hall. In the US he’s famous for his Oscar-winning performance in Bridge of Spies. In Brazil, he’s renowned for helping to save a tribe of Amazon Indians from extinction at the hands of illegal loggers and aggressive cattle ranchers.

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Last October, Rylance, 56, led a campaign by Survivors International which lobbies to save indigenous tribes to prevent the annihilation of the Kawahiva, a small group whose lifestyle on the Southern fringes of the Amazon Rainforest was under threat. He narrated a video that showed the destruction of virgin forest in which the Kawahiva survived by hunting, fishing and gathering fruits. ‘Armed loggers and aggressive ranchers are illegally razing the trees to the ground,’ Rylance says, describing the Kawahiva as ‘living on the run to escape violence from outsiders, attacks and diseases have killed their relatives.’ The film shows a chance encounter in a thatched shelter in the forest between members of the tribe and agents from the National Indian Foundation of Brazil (FUNAI), a government body responsible for policies related to indigenous peoples.

The Kawahiva who are known to have lived in the area since 1750 make nets from tree bark. The campaign prompted 14,000 people to send emails to the Justice Ministry demanding that the Kawahiva’s ancestral territory be officially defined and protected. Recently, in the middle of political meltdown that could allow the agribusiness lobby to gain even more power, the Justice Minister finally signed the decree after decades of prevarication. Rylance said: ‘This is great news – helping to protect a unique vulnerable people who are part of our human diversity however small. Now they are in with a chance of survival.’

Fiona Watson of Survival International said: ‘What it means is the territory cannot be challenged now that the minister has signed it. It’s been highly contested by lots of people lobbying around the area. While the law is a victory for the Kawahiva, FUNAI is facing an uncertain future. It’s funding has been cut as a result of Brazil’s economic crisis.’

The looming impeachment of President Rousseff is likely to usher in a new government whose minsters will have close links with their ranching and logging lobby, many of whom are under investigation for corruption. Ms Watson says; ‘It’s hugely worrying. Delma Rousseff hasn’t done nearly as much as she could have for the indigenous peoples but the prospects on the horizon are even worse.’

The political scene all over the world has changed dramatically over the past three decades. Corruption is rampant and the old type of honest politician is rarely to be found and those few left with any principles have become powerless to make the least difference. Woe to the world we live in.

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