Amazon activists protest neo-liberalism

By Dada Maheshvarananda Zapatistas with black masks and a message of armed resistance organized the first conference in Chiapas, Mexico two years ago. Now Workers' Party (PT) Mayor Edmilson Rodrigues of Belém on the on the mouth of the Amazon River in the far north of Brazil was sponsoring the Second Encounter of the Americas for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism. More than 3,000 delegates officially registered, and several thousand more attended from 6-11 December, 1999. I caught a ride with two busloads of activists from Salvador, Bahia in Brazil’s Northeast. Many brought flags and banners. There were members of the Communist Party, the landless people’s movement, union militants, some students and teachers, and a group of anarchists. Many Bahians love to drink beer or homemade whiskey and sing and dance, so half of our group held a great sing-along on the bus! The mayor and his party had planned well for the crowds. Hundreds of organizers supervised the registration, free accommodations and regular bus services to the Federal University of Para where the event was held. A huge sports hall was the site for the main sessions each morning, with seating for several thousand, and radios were available for simultaneous professional translation in Spanish and English. I counted 86 banners and flags hung around the hall by all the different groups. Some of the popular slogans displayed were “Down with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso!”, “No to the International Monetary Fund!”, “End the Cuban Embargo!”, “Down with Racism!”.

Empassioned voices for justice
Danielle Mitterand, widow of the former President of France, said, “It is fundamental to know the enemy very well, to perceive that capitalism is racist and that it destroys the environment, human beings and their projects to transform society.” She is the President of a Non-Government Organization, France Libertes, which has been active for ten years in the Bico do Papagaio region of Goias state in Brazil, hiring lawyers to defend landless people’s disputes with the huge landowners. Indigenous leaders from nine different states of Brazil attended the program, as well as many Indian representatives from the rainforest around Belem. They pointed out that there are 556 Indian tribes in Brazil with different cultures and languages, but 85% of their lands are not legally demarcated, despite the government’s promise ten years ago to complete this. This means that loggers, miners and landowners are encroaching on their lands and paying corrupt officials to issue them permits and land titles. Silence descended on the hall when representatives of the largest landless people’s movement (MST) entered holding aloft 19 crosses that represented those who were killed last year by the military police at Eldorado dos Carajas in the southern state of Para; the courts have just acquitted the three top officers who ordered their troops to fire on the unarmed protesters. The MST representatives in the hall explained their action and ended by leading all the participants in one of MST’s popular songs: “America, America, I am your child/And I say that one day I want to be free with you.”

One of the MST representatives from Sao Paulo state told me that when they occupied the unutilized plantation of a large landholder, the police evicted them. They returned, and the police evicted them again. Twenty-one times they were evicted, but 22 times they returned, and now their settlement lives in peace because of their conviction and persistence. Manoel da Conceição, a national leader of the second largest landless people’s organizations, the “Movimento de Libertação dos Sem Terra” (MLST), complained bitterly that 30 million Brazilians are living below the poverty line, and of them, 4.5 million are rural workers. After 40 years of struggling for agrarian reform, they have achieved almost nothing from the government. Hired gunmen of the big landowners are their greatest danger, as they often attack the camps to try to scare the people into leaving. Editor José Arbex Jr. of the progressive and popular magazine, “Caros Amigos”, pointed out how Neo-liberalism makes the media banal. He said that 77% of TV programs are imported from the US. Only 25 Brazilian companies have sizeable markets, but just six giants dominate the television industry, and all journalists know that the news stories that are broadcast are those approved by the oligarchy. The United Negro Movement protested that on the eve of the national celebration of the discovery of Brazil 500 years ago, racism continues to exploit the descendents of 110 million Africans who were kidnapped and brought to Brazil as slaves. The UN Index of Human Development statistics place white Brazilians in 63rd place in the world countries, but black Brazilians occupy 121st position. Like the Indians, the residents of 401 “quilombos”, rural villages formed by runaway slaves, also cannot get titles from the government for the land that their ancestors settled. Comandantes Luzia e Abraham, Zapatistas wearing black masks from Mexico, presented their revolutionary message with passion and dignity. They described the solidarity and community services in the liberated villages of Chiapas, and the congress that was held a few months ago to plan their strategy collectively. Luzia told how 50% of the representatives of that congress were women. Abraham emphasized that the Mexican and US media portray them wrongly as terrorists. Instead they are fighting for peace, justice and dignity and they are struggling to end divisions amongst the people. He said that they have unitedly decided to vote for the main opposition party (PRD) in the coming Mexican national elections.

A lack of consciousness
Unfortunately, this encounter was organized like a political congress. Everyone was expected to passively listen to the speakers at the microphones. Only three or four workshops were held each afternoon, and the topics were all political. There was nothing about alternative lifestyles or cooperatives, and very little about ecology. Worst of all, there seemed to be no space for dialog, for sharing of experiences and visions, nor was there space for other groups to participate. And, of course, there was a lot of smoking and no vegetarian food was available. Perhaps inspired by the news broadcasts from Seattle, the anarchists decided to take matters into their own hands. They completely disrupted the second morning program until the facilitator finally allowed each interested person to speak for three minutes to an open microphone. As one could expect, the line of people waiting to

speak was endless, and most were angry and had little if anything to contribute. A team of working class activists provided security for the rest of the programs until the closing night when the angry anarchists nearly caused a riot. The attempt to reach a consensus on certain resolutions collapsed in bedlam, and the hip hop concert immediately started on the stage beside the hall to assuage everyone’s emotions.

Dada Nirvedananda (from Cameroons) works in Belém, so two orange-clad monks with turbans, one black-skinned and the other white-skinned (me), also sat in the crowd. Many individuals approached us to ask what group we represent, and many others took our photo. During the six days of networking, we gave three media interviews and collected the names and addresses of 20 residents of Belém who were sincerely interested to learn yoga and meditation with Dada, and 40 others from different states of Brazil. Unfortunately we do not yet have active Margiis in Belém who were willing and available to set up a stand with our books and leaflets. Finally on the last morning I was permitted to speak to the crowd at the microphone for just two minutes. I invited the “comrades” to learn meditation with us on the grass under the trees, because in the struggle for social justice, inner peace is also important. Forty-five came in two groups that long afternoon. We explained about Prout and the need for universal spiritual values, and we taught Baba Nam Kevalam meditation. They clearly loved it. I caught a ride back to Belo Horizonte with the bus of activists from there – a 49hour trip. The conflict of the encounter was repeated on the bus in a heated war of words that took place between the 8 young anarchist/punks and some of the PT and trade union representatives. When the bus stopped for dinner, everyone went into the restaurant to eat – except the 8 punks who were clearly too poor to buy a regular meal. So I sat down beside them. I pulled out the two big loaves of wholewheat bread I had baked before leaving, a half kilo of cheese and some raw carrots I had bought, and I started to share sandwiches with them. We talked for nearly an hour, and as everyone else came out of the restaurant, they observed that we had became best friends! (There were no more arguments for the rest of the journey.) Dada Maheshvarananda Proutista Universal Rua Buarque de Macedo, 35 Floresta Belo Horizonte - MG CEP:31015-350 Brazil Tel/Fax: (+55-31) 444-1574 Copyright Proutist Universal 1999