Too Much Monkey Business? The Monkey Man and the Indian Agent
Roosmalen the monkey man, controversially accused misappropriator of public funds and smuggling facilitator (r.)
. His son (not shown) is president of ACT.

Biopiracy is a negative term for the appropriation, generally by means of patents, of legal rights over indigenous biomedical knowledge without compensation to the indigenous groups who originally developed such knowledge.[1] A classic case is that of the Rosy Periwinkle (Madagascar Periwinkle).[2] Research into the plant was prompted by the plant’s traditional medicinal role and resulted in the discovery of a large number of biologically active chemicals, including vincristine, a lucrative agent useful during chemotherapy. Vincristine was initially patented and marketed by Eli Lilly. It is widely reported that the country of origin did not receive any payment.[3] Biopiracy allegedly contributes to inequality between developing countries rich in biodiversity, and developed countries served by pharmaceutical industry exploiting those resources.

Are the Brazilians paranoid about biopiracy and bioprospecting in the Amazon?

And even if they are, to one degree or another, does the NMM Maxim still apply?

Just because you are paranoid does not mean that They are not out to get you.

The recent media-blitzkrieg defense of the Monkeyman — primatologist Marcus van Roosmalen, a former government researcher fired on suspicion of biopiracy and later convicted of (railroaded on, he says) embezzlement and smuggling charges — strongly suggests this.

Reality-testing the press release, meanwhile — since its “Rio militias are honest vigilantes” fairy tale, I do not trust the Associated Press not to bullshit me about life in general south of the Equator — I have been going through a 2005 congressional commission report to see what Brazilian lawmakers and other authorities think they have on New Age environmental NGOs, whom they accuse of working for pharmaceutical and cosmetics concerns through fronts, cut-outs, Abramoff-laundries, whatever you want to call it.

The most garish case they deal with: Selling blood samples from indigenes to U.S. laboratories for product development purposes.

If you read the Brazilian crime blotters carefully, I think there is one thing you can provisionally conclude: The notion that some crooked Indian agents are selling biodiversity off the back of the truck is not without foundation in public and notorious cases at law. The case of the pregnant Yanamami girls with syphillis and kids who looked like the Brazilian soldiers posted to protect them is a particularly nasty one.


In this installment of minutes from those congressional hearings in May 2005, the president of FUNAI, the federal indigenous affairs bureau. A notable point:

He also said that FUNAI had an idea that biopiracy was going on, especially after a Japanese firm made a film, with ACT as a broker between the production company and the Kamaiurá. At the time, FUNAI’s legal office opened a proceeding and, then, the production company donated a sum of money from the royalties of the scenes they filmed, which was distributed among the Indians as compensation. Currently, ACT is forbidden by FUNAI to enter indigenous areas. However, it has a headquarters in the city of Canarana, the central town where Xingu Indians are to be encountered, and besieges them with various offers. … As to donations of lumber seized by IBAMA, he confirmed that it is possible to legalize [illegal] hardwood using donation, competitive sealed bidding and open auctions in which the very firm that was fined for poeaching winds up with the material.

Van Roosmalen was accused of helping a documentary production firm launder the importation of production equipment (scaffolding) through a supposed charitable donation to the agency he worked for.

The scaffolding was allegedly then sold to a woman who googles up as associated with National Geographic’s documentary production company. Which, if true, makes the man a martyr to the high and holy church of primatology how, exactly? Most scientists write and publish their papers without being on TV doing it. If a paper on monkeys appears in The Annals of Monkey Science and not on National Geographic Explorer, is it still a contribution to science?

MÉRCIO PEREIRA GOMES, Presidente da Fundação Nacional do Índio – FUNAI: abriu sua fala explicando o orçamento destinado às questões indígenas, em diferentes órgãos do Governo Federal, detalhando a utilização dos recursos na FUNAI, que dispõe, este ano, de 107 milhões de reais, sendo que de 25 a 35 milhões são destinados às atividades administrativas do órgão, na manutenção da sede em Brasília, das 45 administrações e dos 370 postos indígenas.

MÉRCIO PEREIRA GOMES, President of the National Foundation for the Indian (FUNAI) opened his opening statement explaining the budget allocated to indigenous affairs in different agencies of the federal government, detailing the funds allocated to FUNAI, which [in 2005] had R$107 million at its disposal, with $R25 million to $35 million going to administrative activities, maintaining its Brasília headquarters, its 45 divisions and its 370 outposts.

O restante do recurso é utilizado nos dois principais programas da FUNAI, que são: a proteção e etnodesenvolvimento. Relatou o processo de crescimento da população indígena e de democratização da política indigenista, no bojo da Constituição de 1988, processo que deixou a FUNAI com as seguintes atribuições: demarcação de terras indígenas; estruturação dos postos indígenas; proteção das terras indígenas e questões de projetos comunitários, sobre os quais ficou de encaminhar detalhes à CPI. Nesse contexto, expôs o andamento da questão no atual governo, com a criação de um grupo interministerial que resultou em uma portaria atribuindo ao Ministério da Justiça a coordenação da política indigenista, com a função de reunir todos os ministérios que atuam com esses povos e coordenar os esforços dispendidos por eles.

The rest of the funds are used for FUNAI’s two main programs, which are: protection and ethnodevelopment. He recounted the growth of the indigenous population and the democratization of indigenous affairs police, within the framework of the 1988 Constitution, a process that left FUNAI with the following attributions: demarcation of indigenous territory; organization of outposts on indigenous land; protection of indigenous lands; and questions of community projects, details of which he will forward to the commission. In this context, he explained developments in this area under the current government, with the creation of an inter-Ministry group that produced a decree from the Ministry of Justice on the coordination of indigenous affairs policy, for the purpose of getting all the ministries who work with indigenous peoples [singing from the same hymnal, as it were.]

Falou, também, da existência de um grupo de trabalho coordenado pela Casa Civil, que iniciou em janeiro de 2004 e concluiu um relatório em julho de 2004; e da solicitação das organizações indígenas de se criar um conselho nacional dos povos indígenas, que teria um papel fundamental na coordenação da política indigenista. Acerca da exploração madeireira em terra indígena, disse que, nas áreas onde há madeira e onde há possibilidade de comercialização, os madeireiros acossam os índios e, muitas vezes, conseguem o que querem.

He also spoke of the existence of a working group in the Casa Civil [a strategically influential executive-legislative liaison ministry, I think you could say], founded in January 2004 and ending with a report issued in July 2004; and the request by indigenous organizations to create a national council of indigenous peoples, which would play a key role in coordinating indigenous affairs policies. As to the exploitation of logging on indigenous lands, he said that in the areas where hardwood is to be found and a market is available, the loggers assail the Indians and often get what they want.

Ao ser questionado sobre possíveis denúncias feitas à FUNAI sobre biopirataria, falou da Amazon Conservation Team – ACT, que trabalhou com os índios do parque indígena Tumucumaque, na fronteira com o Suriname, e depois no Alto Xingu. Essa organização não governamental, segundo ele, é dirigida por um senhor cujo pai já foi pesquisador do INPA e de lá foi expulso por acusações de biopirataria. No convênio assinado entre eles e os índios Kamaiurá, do Alto Xingu, os índios receberiam alguns recursos e benefícios em troca da utilização do conhecimento de um pajé muito importante do Alto Xingu sobre plantas, raízes e utilização de chás que são feitos a partir dessas plantas. No relatório do convênio havia um estudo etnoecológico que demonstrava, num mapa, onde se encontravam as plantas utilizadas.

Questioned about possible charges against FUNAI for biopiracy, he spoke of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), which worked with Indians in the Tumucumaque reservation on the border with Suriname, and later in High Xingu. This NGO, he said, is headed by a man whose father was an INPA researcher expelled over alleged biopiracy. In the deal signed between ACT and the Kaiamurá Indians of High Xingu, the Indians received some funds and other benefits in exchange for offering the knowledge of a very important medicine man in the High Xingu about plants, roots, and the use of teas made from them. In the report on the agreement there was an ethnoecological report that showed, on a map, where the plants used were to be found.

Declarou, ainda, que a própria FUNAI tinha uma idéia de que estava havendo biopirataria, principalmente quando uma empresa japonesa fez um filme, tendo a ACT como intermediária no contato com os Kamaiurá. Na ocasião, a Procuradoria Jurídica da FUNAI abriu um processo e, então, a empresa doou uma quantia em dinheiro, como parte dos royalties por ter filmado as cenas, que foi redistribuída para os índios como parte dessa compensação. Atualmente, a ACT está proibida de entrar em área indígena pela FUNAI. No entanto, ela fez uma sede na cidade de Canarana, que é a cidade central onde os índios Xingu se encontram, e os assedia com várias propostas.

He also said that FUNAI had an idea that biopiracy was going on, especially after a Japanese firm made a film, with ACT as a broker between the production company and the Kamaiurá. At the time, FUNAI’s legal office opened a proceeding and, then, the production company donated a sum of money from the royalties of the scenes they filmed, which was distributed among the Indians as compensation. Currently, ACT is forbidden by FUNAI to enter indigenous areas. However, it has a headquarters in the city of Canarana, the central town where Xingu Indians are to be encountered, and besieges them with various offers.

Ainda sobre a ACT, assegurou conhecer o convênio desta com a USAID, relatando, inclusive, uma reunião que ocorreu em Canarana em que um representante da USAID perguntou a ele se a ACT tinha licença da FUNAI para entrar em área indígena, a que respondeu peremptoriamente: “não existe, não há licenciamento da FUNAI para a ACT (…) entrar em área indígena”. Informou desconhecer a nota técnica do analista pericial em Antropologia do Ministério Público, Sr. Marco Paulo Schettino, em que este dizia haver fortes indícios quanto ao interesse da ACT em desenvolver atividades relacionadas à bioprospecção voltada para o desenvolvimento de novos medicamentos, inclusive com a associação de indústrias farmacêuticas, no caso a Shaman e a Aveda.

Further regarding ACT, he said he knew of an agreement between them and USAID, even reporting on a meeting in Canarana in which a USAID representative asked him if ACT had a FUNAI license to enter indigenous territory, to which he responded bluntly, “No, it is does not, ACT is not licensed by FUNAI … to enter indigenous territory.” He said he was unaware of the technical report by the federal prosecutor’s anthropology expert, Paul Schettino, which says there were strong indications of ACT’s interest in bioprospecting activities in the interest of development new medicines, including an association with the pharma companies like Shaman and Aveda. 

Ainda acerca da associação da ACT com a Shaman e a Aveda, disse desconhecer a ida de uma comissão de assessores americanos ao Xingu em 26 de dezembro de 2003, bem como o desentendimento ocorrido entre as etnias Yawanawa e Katukina, em função do plantio de urucum realizado por meio do projeto desenvolvido em conjunto com a Aveda Cosméticos, mas comprometeu-se a encaminhar toda a documentação pertinente existente na FUNAI, os acordos anteriores, os convênios, as respostas que a FUNAI tem dado ao Gabinete de Segurança Institucional, as averiguações feitas etc.

Regarding ACT’s association with Shaman and Aveda, he said he was unaware of the arrival of a committee of American advisers to Xingu on December 26, 2003, or of the falling out among the Yawanawa and Katukina tribes over the planting of urucum done as part of a joint project with Aveda Cosmetics, but promised to forward any and all FUNAI documentation on that point, such as past accords and agreements, FUNAI’s responses to the Institutional Security Cabinet, the investigations carried out, and so on.

Sobre a ocorrência de bioprospecção em área indígena, afirmou não saber dizer, visto que algumas organizações, como a Conservation International – CI e a The Nature Conservancy – TNC, têm interesses difusos em meio ambiente e o espírito ambientalista prevalece entre elas; no entanto, não dá para dar testemunho de confiança nelas. Atestou que a FUNAI acompanha e monitora quando há acordo dessas ONGs com os índios. Quando a FUNAI é interveniente, o controle é maior. Em geral, quando se faz acordo direto com a associação indígena, envolve uma série de recursos que são dados para a compra de objetos, de instrumentos etc, que os índios necessitam. Então, a FUNAI vê qual é a atuação da ONG em relação aos índios. Falou da dificuldade de controlar a entrada de missionários religiosos nas áreas indígenas, em função da representatividade que detêm no próprio Congresso. Já quanto aos pesquisadores, acredita que a legislação tem salvaguardas suficientes, basta que o pesquisador seja idôneo e a cumpra.

On the incidence of bioprospecting in indigenous territories, he said he did not know what to say, given that some organizations, such as Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy have broad interests in the environment and that the environmentalist spirit prevails among them; however, he was unable to vouch for them. He testified that FUNAI follows and oversees all deals between these NGOs and the Indians. When FUNAI is the broker, it exercises greater control. In general, when an accord is made directly with an indigenous association, it involves valuable consideration that is applied to the purchase of objects, tools, etc., that the Indians need. Then, FUNAI looks to see how the NGO behaves with the Indians. He spoke of the difficulty of controlling the entry of religious missionaries into indigenous lands, because of the representation they have in the Brazilian congress. As to researchers, he believes that current law provides sufficient safeguards, if only the researcher complies with them honestly.

Defendeu o convênio da Body Shop com os índios Kayapó, que, segundo ele, conta com a benéfica e honesta interveniência de uma ONG dirigida por um funcionário da FUNAI, o que não prejudica suas ações como administrador da Fundação. O Dep. Fernando Gabeira ponderou ser mais proveitoso à Comissão apresentar proposta de criação de um sistema de bioproteção, ao invés de denunciar fatos pontuais vinculados à biopirataria. Acerca da comercialização de sangue de índios Karitiana e Suruí pela empresa americana Coriel Cell Repositories, informou ter encaminhado um pedido de providências à Polícia Federal e ainda não ter recebido resposta. Na ocasião, foi solicitado pela Comissão que enviasse cópia do ofício para que se requeresse resposta da Polícia Federal. Em relação ao ingresso de pessoas em terras indígenas, entende que os índios têm a legitimidade para entrar em negociação com quaisquer pessoas, cabendo à FUNAI ser responsável apenas quando é interveniente no processo; no entanto, quando há prejuízo para os indígenas, é obrigação do órgão intervir.

He defended the deal between the Body Shop and the Kayapó Indians, which, he says, counts on the honest and beneficent brokerage of an NGO directed by a FUNAI employee, which does not, however, undermine his role as a FUNAI administrator.

Say what?

Lawmaker Fernando Gabeira [of the Green Party] wondered whether it might not be more effective for the Commission to create a bioprotection system rather than denouncing isolated cases of alleged biopiracy. As to the marketing of blood from Kariatana and Suruí Indians by the U.S. firm Coriel Cell Repositories, he said he had formally asked the federal police to take steps and had yet to hear back. At that time, he was asked by the  Commission to send a copy of the formal  request so that it might ask the federal police about it. As to persons trespassing on indigenous territory, he understands that the Indians have a legitimate right to negotiate with anyone, with FUNAI taking a role only when it brokers said negotiation. However, when harm is done to the indigenous community, it is its duty to intervene.

Concluiu este comentário dizendo ser possível estar ocorrendo pesquisa em terra indígena sem o conhecimento da FUNAI, tendo assinado, neste um ano e sete meses de seu mandato, 80 a 100 pedidos de pesquisa, que ficou de encaminhar para a CPI. Quanto à utilização de partes de animais em extinção para a confecção de artesanato, garantiu já estar proibida há quase um ano e haver um processo contra funcionários que foram acusados de vender diretamente para os Estados Unidos esse tipo de artesanato. Ademais, ficou de encaminhar sugestões para aprimorar a legislação sobre o assunto. Acerca das doações de madeira apreendida pelo IBAMA, confirmou que existe possibilidade de se legalizar a madeira através de doações, licitações e leilões, em que a própria empresa que foi autuada adquire o material.

He concluded his testimony saying it is possible that research may be going on in indigenous territory without FUNAI’s knowledge, having signed, during the one year and 7 months he has headed the agency, 80 to 100 research requests, which he will forward to the Commission. As to the use of endangered species in the manufacture of handicrafts, he assured lawmakers that it has been outlawed for almost a year and that there was a case being made against FUNAI employees accused of directly selling such merchandise in the United States. He also made suggestions for updating and improving the legislation in this area. As to donations of lumber seized by IBAMA, he confirmed that it is possible to legalize [illegal] hardwood using donation, competitive sealed bidding and open auctions in which the very firm that was fined for poeaching winds up with the material.


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