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At Tuesday's synod press briefing, Italian journalist Giuseppe Rusconi, who writes at www.rossoporpora.org, asked a pointed question about infanticide practiced among some Amazonian tribes, leading to a defensive retort from Peruvian Cdl. Pedro Barreto, who denied the practice exists. Rusconi discovered documents posted on the Brazilian bishops' website that acknowledged infanticide is practiced among Amazon tribes, and included a statement endorsing permission for tribes to continue this practice, out of "respect" for their culture. The next day, that document was removed from the website.
Rusconi granted Church Militant permission to republish his report below.
In [Tuesday's] synod briefing, Cdl. Pedro Barreto said, answering one of our questions, that he had never heard that about 20 Amazonian tribes still practice infanticide. Never before has a site linked to the Brazilian Bishops' Conference (that of Cimi) hosted a contribution against an indigenous anti-infanticide bill. Here we try to fill in his incomplete knowledge. Meanwhile, in the early hours of today, the aforementioned contribution of the anthropologist Segato against the anti-infanticide law disappeared from the Cimi site, linked to the Brazilian Bishops' Conference.
Who is Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno? Born in Lima in 1944, he is a Peruvian Jesuit who received episcopal consecration in 2001 and was appointed in 2004 (also by John Paul II) metropolitan archbishop of Huancayo. Jorge Mario Bergoglio created him a 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 among the three president-delegates of the current Synod.
In this capacity, Cardinal Barreto appeared yesterday at half past one in 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 the aforementioned REPAM, a fervent trade unionist).
We were lucky enough to be able to ask our question — addressed to the cardinal and the U.N. representative — which sounded more or less like this:
One of the leitmotifs of this Synod is the characterization of the Indian peoples as if they live an earthly paradise without Original Sin. Original purity is boasted of them and their harmonious relationship with nature is exalted. From them we should learn to live with the environment. However, even today, around 20 Amazonian tribes practice infanticide. And on a site of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference a contribution appears justifying this practice. So I ask if human rights have universal value for you or if they are valid for some and not for others ...
The response from Victoria Lucia Tauli Corpuz acknowledged that "it is not that all the indigenous peoples, the original peoples, are perfect." And she added: "Some have practices that are inconsistent with human rights. We have discussed the issue at length. In the U.N. declaration it was shown 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 intervened after her. At first the president-delegate of the Synod also recognized that "it's not all roses and flowers among the indigenous peoples." For which we cannot speak of "original purity, because this would mean disregarding human nature"; and yet "we must recognize their ancestral wisdom, because they have enriched this biome that Europe is using." Then, "with all due respect," the vice president of REPAM continued, "I have never heard that 20 Amazonian populations practice infanticide." And, taking off his headphones, he pointed out that "those who make similar statements must bring documented evidence." To conclude, Cdl. Barreto pointed out that "every human life is sacred. If someone says that such practices are possible, he is disavowing the message of the Gospel. We must always defend life."
To Cardinal Barreto we provide the following information, which is apparently lacking:
1. The Brazilian Parliament is discussing the draft law (PL) 1057/2007 of deputy Henrique Afonso, which aims to ban the practice of infanticide in indigenous areas. The proposal was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Aug. 26, 2015 with [votes of] 361 yes and 84 no. The Senate is discussing it. In the very lively debate, the reasons for the universal rights of the human person (right to life) recognized by the Brazilian Constitution in force and those of the indigenous communities (in particular the most isolated) to be able to preserve their own habits and customs are contrasted with each other (as can be seen in the Brazilian Constitution itself). Opposition to the bill is mainly made up of anthropologists who are extreme experts on Indian identity.
2. Among the most famous anthropologists, opponents of the PL 1057/2007, we highlight Rita Laura Segato of the University of Brazil, whose intervention before the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber can still be read today on the site of the Indigenous Missionary Conselho (Cimi), "an organization linked to the CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil) that for 45 years has been defending the rights of the indigenous peoples of Brazil" (search for "Rita Segato" at Cimi). The title of Segato's statement is "That Every People Weaves the Threads of Its History," and in the text we read, among other things: "What State is it today that claims to legislate on how indigenous peoples must preserve their children? What authority does this State have?"
Cimi is an organization linked to the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. And on its site it defends the practice of infanticide, still practiced today by some indigenous peoples. We therefore recommend that Cdl. Barreto find out information on the matter from his confrere Cdl. [Claudio] Hummes, who — as a Brazilian and as a general rapporteur of the Synod — must know something about the serious question ...
3. That infanticide is a practice still in use in our times among some indigenous peoples (some say at least 13, others speak of 20) is confirmed by Repubblica, a wickedly reactionary newspaper: See the article from Nov. 16, 2010, in which the sociologist and anthropologist Giuseppe Bonazzi interviews the Consolata missionaries among the Yanomami people. You hear the interviewee say: "With these people the weakest babies, or those whose mother could not pay attention because they are still busy with the brothers born before, are not accepted and die." A chilling statement, to say the least. But also the equally wickedly reactionary Lettera 43 has in its Rivista Studio magazine an article with the following title: "Will Brazil change the law that allows natives to kill children?"
The opening paragraph is worth mentioning:
Some tribes of natives 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 in Foreign Policy. It must be said, however, that the issue concerns only a minority of Brazilian tribes: According to Foreign Policy estimates, only 20 of the 300 groups practice it: Among these are the Yanomami and the Suruwaha.
The subject is thoroughly researched also on the Brazilian website www.jus.com.br (Oct. 2017), under the title "Indigenous Infanticide." The introduction reads: "The traditional practice of 'indigenous infanticide' consists in the murder of unwanted creatures by the group and is common to several Brazilian tribes." In the conclusion the statement is clear: "In no way can the right to cultural diversity legitimize the violation of the right to life. Therefore any attempt to justify the practice of infanticide cannot find support in any international legislation."
Also the Brazilian daily O Globo (as wickedly reactionary as Repubblica and Lettera 43) published on Dec. 7, 2014 the results of a survey by a journalistic team called Fantastico (belonging to the newspaper) on the Yanomami. The survey confirms that when a child is born, the mother goes with the child to the forest, examines the child and, if he has a disability, she normally returns home alone. Or, if there are twins, the mother recognizes only one. The act of recognition is symbolized by breastfeeding and the child is then considered a living being by the community.
He observed Cdl. Barreto yesterday: "I have never heard that 20 Amazonian populations practice infanticide." And he refused to believe (forcefully, even after the briefing) that an article opposing the abolition of infanticide among the Indians had been published on a site of the Brazilian Catholic Church. We gave him some information on the subject. And he can only change his mind.
Postscript 1: We included the article in www.rossoporpora.org shortly after midnight. In the morning, colleague Sandro Magister told us that the anthropologist's contribution, Rita Segato — opposed to the Brazilian bill against indigenous infanticide — mentioned in the article had disappeared from the site of Cimi, the indigenous missionary council linked to the Bishops' Episcopal Conference.
We checked: That was it. If there were five published contributions by Rita Segato until last night, they have been reduced to four in a few hours. Evidently some hand from Rome was stretched out toward Brazil in the night or at the very first light of dawn to censor Segato's intervention before the Commission on Human Rights of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies on the Church's site, hoping perhaps that no trace of this publication remain.
Unfortunately for the clumsy censors yesterday, we printed both the page of the research on Rita Segato and the intervention of the same anthropologist. Naturally we scanned them this morning, sending them to Magister, who spoke about it in his article "Infanticide in the Amazon: There Are Those Who Defend It, Even in the Church." ...
Postscript 2: The intervention of the anthropologist Segato (hearing at the Chamber of Deputies against the anti-infanticide bill) has again materialized this morning on the Cimi website. Ecclesiastical Carioca mysteries (perhaps Roman) in continuous delirium: the work of Amazonian beverages, shamanic rituals or is everything now disconnected?
Translation by Church Militant.