In yesterday’s synod briefing (Tuesday, October 8, 2019), Cardinal Pedro Barreto said, answering one of our questions, that he had never heard that about twenty Amazonian indigenous peoples still practice infanticide. Never before was a site linked to the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference known to have hosted an article attacking a projected bill forbidding indigenous infanticide. Here we try to fill this information gap. Meanwhile, in the early hours of today, the aforementioned article by anthropologist Segato against the anti-infanticide law disappeared from the site of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), linked to the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference.
Who is Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno? Born in Lima in 1944, he is a Peruvian Jesuit who was consecrated bishop in 2001 and appointed by John Paul II as metropolitan archbishop of Huancayo in 2004. Jorge Mario Bergoglio created him cardinal on June 28, 2018. He is vice-president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference but above all vice-president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM). No wonder he was named one of the three president-delegates of the current Synod.
In this capacity, Cardinal Barreto appeared yesterday at 1:30pm at the Holy See Press Office for the usual synod briefing together with the Filipina Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz (UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples) and the Brazilian Moema Maria Marques de Miranda (councilor of REPAM and fervent trade unionist).
We were lucky enough to be able to ask the cardinal and the UN representative a question that sounded more or less like this: One of the leitmotifs of this Synod is a representation of indigenous peoples as if they lived in the earthly Paradise before sin original. One exalts their original purity and harmonious relationship with nature. We must learn from them how to live with the environment. However, even today, around twenty Amazonian tribes practice infanticide – and an article justifying this practice has appeared on a site of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. So I ask whether human rights have a universal value or are valid only for some and not for others.
In her answer, Victoria Lucia Tauli Corpuz acknowledged that “it is not that all the indigenous peoples, original peoples, are perfect.” She added, “Some have practices that are inconsistent with human rights. We have discussed the issue at length. The UN statement highlighted that if states must respect the rights of indigenous peoples, indigenous people must ensure that their traditions conform to international human rights law. The natives said they will try to change some of their traditions.”
Cardinal Barreto spoke after her. At first, the president-delegate of the Synod also recognized that “all are not roses and flowers among indigenous peoples.” Hence, one cannot speak of “original purity, because that would mean disregarding human nature,” and yet “we must recognize their ancestral wisdom because they have enriched this biome that Europe is using.” The REPAM vice-president then continued, “with all due respect, I have never heard that twenty Amazonian groups practice infanticide.” Taking off his headphones, he pointed out that “those who make similar statements must bring documentary evidence.” To conclude, Cardinal Barreto said, “every human life is sacred. If someone says that such practices are possible he is ignoring the message of the Gospel. We must always defend life.” In any case, “I have been evangelized by the Indians and they continue to evangelize me.”
At this point, since traditionally one is allowed to reply in the Vatican Press Room, we do so on our blog, www.rossoporpora.org, hereby offering Cardinal Barreto the information he is apparently lacking:
1. The Brazilian Congress is discussing the draft law (PL) 1057/2007 by Congressman Henrique Afonso that aims to ban the practice of infanticide in indigenous areas. The proposal was approved by the House on August 26, 2015 with 361 for and 84 against. The Senate is now dealing with it. A very lively debate opposed the universal rights of the human person (right to life), recognized by the Brazilian Constitution in force, to the rights of Indian communities (particularly the most isolated) to preserve their own uses and customs (as guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution). Opposition to the bill is mainly by anthropologists who are experts on Indian identity.
2. Among the most famous anthropologists who oppose PL 1057/2007 we highlight Rita Laura Segato, of the University of Brasilia, whose speech before the House Human Rights Commission can still be read on the site of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), an “organ linked to the CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil), which has worked for 45 years in defense of the rights of Brazil’s indigenous peoples” (cf. cimi.org.br:, click on Rita Segato) The title of Segato’s speech is: “Let Every People Weave the Threads of their History.” Among other things, the text reads: “What State today claims to legislate on how indigenous peoples must preserve their children? What authority does that State have?” CIMI is an organ linked to the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, and yet its site defends the practice of infanticide still in use among some indigenous peoples. We therefore recommend that Cardinal Barreto ask his confrere Cardinal Humes for information on this matter. As a Brazilian and general rapporteur for the Synod, Cardinal Hummes should know something about this serious issue.
3. Rome’s La Repubblica, a liberal daily, confirms that infanticide is a practice still in use among some indigenous peoples (some say at least 13, others 20). In an article of November 16, 2010, the sociologist and anthropologist Giuseppe Bonazzi interviews Consolata Missionaries living with the Yanomami people. The interviewee says, “These people reject and kill the weakest babies or those whose mother cannot care for them because they are busy with children born earlier.” This, is, to say the least, a sobering statement. The equally liberal Lettera 43 publishes in its magazine Rivista studio an article titled, “Will Brazil Change Law Allowing Natives to Kill Children?” It begins thus: “Some native tribes in Brazil practice infanticide. And, strange as it may seem, Brazilian law allows them to do so. But now the South American country is discussing a bill that, if approved, could outlaw this practice. The debate is very heated. … The journalist Cleuci de Oliveira wrote an interesting study about it for Foreign Policy. Note, however, that the issue concerns only a minority of Brazilian tribes. According to Foreign Policy estimates, only 20 of the 300 groups practice it, including the Yanomami and Suruwaha.”
The topic is thoroughly examined in all its aspects also on the Brazilian website www.jus.com.br (October 2017) under the title Indigenous Infanticide. Its introduction reads: “The traditional practice of ‘indigenous infanticide’ consists in the murder of creatures unwanted by the group, and is common to several Brazilian tribes.” The conclusion clearly states, “The right to cultural diversity cannot legitimize in any way the violation of the right to life. Therefore, any attempt to justify the practice of infanticide cannot find support in any international legislation.” The Brazilian daily O Globo (as liberal as La Repubblica and Lettera 43) published on December 7, 2014 the results of a survey by a journalistic team of its Fantastico TV program (belonging to the newspaper) on the Yanomami. The survey confirms that when a child is born, the mother goes with him into the forest, examines him and if he has a disability, normally returns home alone. If twins are born the mother picks only one by symbolically breastfeeding the child, whom the community then considers as a living being.
Yesterday, Cardinal Barreto observed: “I have never heard that twenty Amazonian peoples practice infanticide.” And he strongly refused to believe (even on the sidelines of the briefing), that a site of the Brazilian Church had published an article opposing the abolition of infanticide among the Indians. We just gave him some information on the subject. Now he can only change his mind.
P.S. We posted this article on www.rossoporpora.org shortly after midnight. In the morning, my colleague Sandro Magister told me that the contribution of anthropologist Rita Segato opposing the Brazilian bill forbidding indigenous infanticide (mentioned in the article) had disappeared from the website of CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council linked to the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference). We checked it out and it is not there. In a few hours, Rita Segato’s five published contributions, still online until last night were reduced to four. Obviously, some Vatican hand intervened in the night or at the very first light of dawn to have Brazil delete Segato’s speech before the House Commission on Human Rights, perhaps hoping that no trace of it remains. Unfortunately for the clumsy censors, yesterday we posted both the page with the search on Rita Segato and her speech. We naturally scanned both this morning and sent them to Magister, who spoke about it in his article, “Infanticide in the Amazon. Even in the Church There Are Those Who Defend It.” (see http://magister.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2019/10/09/infanticidio-in-amazzonia-c%e2%80%99e-chi-lo-difende-anche-nella-chiesa/).
Translated by the staff of Pan-Amazon Synod Watch
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