And there are practical reasons for a policy of noncontact.
It's much cheaper for the government to fund the expedition and demarcate the land than to make contact just for the sake of it. This is one reason. The other reason is that they have no resistance against our germs. The third thing is that they lose their autonomy and become fully dependent on the state. We bring them manufactured good that they can't make and can't earn by themselves. They are not structured beings, whoo work from nine to five as we do. The guy is there working, soon a friend of his comes by and asks him if he wants to go fishing. He looks out, sees that it's a beautiful day out there and does go fishing. They are not inserted in our economic standards or submitted to the giants of our science. They live in another world, another time. That's why our economic projects don't seem to suit them.
You were fired last year from FUNAI. Famed sertanista Orlando Villas Bôas, your mentor, had also been fired shortly before his death, in 2002. Is there anything wrong with the old sertanistas?
Of course I side with the sertanistas here. Rondon was sued and prosecuted--as an Army general and as a sertanista too, but mostly as a sertanista. Apoena's father [Francisco Meirelles, the father of sertanista Apoena Meirelles, who was killed in a robbery in 2004] was arrested, charged with corruption. Then you had Orlando, who was just thrown away by the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Brazil's president from 1995 to 2003]. Then you have me. They just opened the window and "zup!"—tossed me away. I have always been very vocal. In 34 years of public service I have never been one of those nice workers who agree with everything the government does.
Orlando was not so stringent, but he sided with the Indians as much as I do. Rondon is much above us all. He was one of those very few national heroes, in a country that lacks them.
Your dismissal was caused by your reaction to a statement by FUNAI's then president Mércio Gomes
which was awful! Mércio was the only president of FUNAI—therefore the lawful protector of the indigenous peoples—to say that the indigenous peoples have enough land already. This is absolutely vital to them. I wasn't in the city, I was in the bush with the Zo'é Indians, and they got me on the radio. They asked me if I could comment, since no one wanted to comment. I said, "This is absurd! Everybody should comment. This is something you hear from loggers, from rubber tappers, not from the president of FUNAI."
So now you have a nongovernmental organization dedicated to helping the indigenous peoples. How did that get started?
In November 2005, I managed to organize the first international meeting on the isolated peoples of Amazonia and Gran Chaco. Among the meeting's several goals was to create an institution, a network, that got people together who dedicate themselves to the protection of those peoples in the seven South American countries that still have isolated Indians, meaning indigenous peoples whose language you don't know, whose numbers you don't know and who live naked in the jungle, just like they used to before the discovery of America. Of course there have been some changes—territorial restrictions and so forth—but they are basically unprotected and rely on the environment for everything.
Which seven countries have indigenous Amazonians?
Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. Ecuador has a big Amazonian territory. Last year awful things happened there. Other indigenous groups killed isolated Indians and showed off their severed heads. Many of those peoples, particularly in Brazil, live in frontier areas. So it's no use for a country to protect them if the country across the border doesn't. I sensed there was the need for an agreement among those countries to make life easier for those folks, so that they can roam free across borders.