ROME — An Amazon tribal chief told a Rome conference on Saturday that a “dictatorship” of missionary workers teaching liberation theology has sought to prevent development in the region, thus keeping indigenous people in poverty and misery.

Jonas Marcolino Macuxí, the chief of the Macuxi tribe, asserted such promotion of “primitivism” (an ideology that pre-Christian indigenous traditions and mores were largely noble and good and should be conserved) brought conflict to the region from the 1970s on, undoing all that earlier missionaries and indigenous peoples had achieved in terms of positive cultural assimilation for more than a century.

He also expressed concern that many of those advising the Pope on the synod have this same ideology and that the indigenous invited to attend it have been “indoctrinated to remain in their primitive state.”

Marcolino, who was illiterate until he was given the good fortune to be educated and is now a trained lawyer and mathematician, spoke at the conference entitled “Amazon: The Stakes,” hosted by the Plinio Correa de Oliveira Institute, part of the Brazilian-based Tradition, Family and Property movement.

He was baptized Catholic but became Protestant, partly because of the state of the Catholic Church in the region, according to the Plinio Correa de Oliveira Institute, which said he remains “very respectful to traditional and serious Catholicism.”

In this interview with the Register during a break at the conference, Marcolino explains that indigenous Amazonian tribes continue to live very hard lives, largely because they are not permitted to develop from resources found on their own reserves. He explains how infanticide among indigenous tribes that had been ending continues because of the ideology of primitivism.

 

What are your overall views of the Amazon Synod, and do you believe it will be positive for the region?

The topics that have been discussed about the Amazon so far are, in my opinion, more negative than positive, such as the approach to the question of infrastructure. Beginning in 1980, the tendency has been to see any kind of development in the Amazon — roads, big projects, etc. — as part of this idea that progress is bad.

 

Why is that?

Until the 1980s, the military regime had a positive view of development, but as military rule ended, there was specifically an element that said progress is bad, and we have to go back.

 

How much did this have to do with Marxist liberation theology?

The doctrines are the same: For communism, private property is evil, so anything that leads to progress inevitably leads to private property, and that’s seen as bad. The state of Roraima, where I live, the uppermost state next to Venezuela, is the only state in Brazil that has been linked to the electrical grid, so we have lots of hydroelectric power there.

 

You referred in your talk to cannibalism and infanticide as part of tribal religions. Have they come back?

Cannibalism has ended, but not the killing of children.

 

Why has that not ended?

I’ve thought a lot about this. According to the traditional religion, when a child is born with a defect, he’s buried alive, and that continues. Those things were ending; but now, with the idea that you have to go back to primitivism, they remain. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that everybody is born with certain rights, and the right to life obviously applies to a child with defects.

 

The Brazilian Dominican liberation theologian Frei Betto said recently about the Pan-Amazon Synod that “we have before us an opportunity that will allow us to move forward. We must not propose liberation theology. It scares many people. We need to talk about socioenvironmental issues instead.” Are you concerned about this?

Many of the great Indian leaders see such theology as a leveling down. These liberation theologians are promoting the idea that the Indians who still live in a primitive way are very happy, living in paradise, etc., and wanting to promote this idea to everybody else.

But that’s not true. It’s false. We are not living in paradise. It’s a very hard life; people have insects all over their feet, bats in their homes.

 

So do you believe a free-market economy is the way to overcome this?

Yes, exactly; we should be allowed to develop our economy, because the region is very rich. All the natural resources are there. But in the Indian reserves, you cannot touch them, and that’s to the detriment of the people who live there. They [those who wish to keep them primitive] have neutralized reason. It’s obvious those things should be explored, but we’re not allowed to do it. We’re not allowed to use our intelligence to utilize the things that are present where we live.

 

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.