Author Still Senses Ghost Of Amazon Massacres

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[The Literary Journey]

Jerry Colby looked around the Vietnamese restaurant located in the Union Square area, turned right with a sly grin and staked his ground.

He took off his coat, sat and then asked me to look around – in view was the door entrance, the cash register, the kitchen and the hallway to the bathroom. We could see who was coming and going.

"Best seats in the house," Colby said and adjusted himself in his chair and then patted his wife on her shoulder.

Colby, a former congressional press secretary and president of the National Writers Union, is author of "Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain," " Du Pont Dynasty," and, "Thy Will Be Done, The Conquest of the Amazon, Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil;" the third was co-authored with his wife, Charlotte Dennett.

Dennett is an investigative journalist; former reporter for two newspapers in the Middle East; author; and a self-taught lawyer who studied for the bar exam in Vermont where she lives and passed the exam without attending a law institution.

The book they wrote together may explain Colby’s jockeying for strategic positioning at the restaurant this afternoon.

In 1976, the investigative team traveled to the Amazon to find out more about allegations in the Latin America press that members of the Wycliffe Bible Translator (known abroad as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), American corporations and the Central Intelligence Agency participated in the destruction of life and culture of indigenous people in the Amazon.

Later, the pair conducted 170 interviews in eight countries for the project. They changed agents twice while scuttling for research through presidential libraries, archives, museums, newspaper morgues, and universities across the United States, Latin America, Europe and Southern Africa.

Eighteen years later, it doesn’t pay to criticize Colby as paranoid.

"I’m not paranoid enough," Colby said.

"Thy Will Be Done" was published in 1994 and got rave reviews from scholars and among their peers, but failed to catch the attention of mainstream audiences, not surprisingly. Colby and Dennett’s opus is a stunningly well-written and researched book that takes the reader along the journey through America’s long and bloody course of imperialism. The book shows the connection between the powerful and power seekers; free-market fundamentalists and the aggressive militarists of the United States; religious righteousness and faith bending practices that trampled the culture and land rights of the indigenous people of Latin America.

It’s one thing to read a good book, but it’s another to sit and eat an excellent Vietnamese meal with the authors of that good book.

"We were four years into our investigation before we realized that it was Rockefeller," Colby said about the incipient stages of research. "He wasn’t even on our list. It was William Townsend Cameron and the Wycliffe people that we were investigating."

Townsend, a missionary founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), a non-profit organization that described, analyzed and translated languages of the indigenous people of Latin America and other ethnic minorities across the globe. He also founded the Wycliffe Bible Translators which translated the bible in minority languages, which soon found their services in high demands throughout Latin America; they were hired by military dictatorships and civilian governments linked to Rockefeller’s enterprises.

But Cameron and his organization were in conflict with itself. Some teachers had a problem with where the funding was coming from and quit; others thought it was a blessing to do God’s work and help empower the indigenous people. While this visionary fundamentalist group was gathering information, part of its mission was pinpointing of potentially hostile Indians.

The first chapter of "Thy Will Be Done" tells the tale of the Cintas Largas, a small Indian nation in the Brazilian Amazon, whose members were massacred in 1963. Brazilian and foreign companies wanted their land.

An overseer of a local rubber company, Francisco de Brito had a reputation of murdering Indians and systematically wiped the Cintas Largas from the face of existence. This information probably wouldn’t have been known if Attaide Pereira and Father Edgar Smith hadn’t met in a confessional at a church in Brazil, according to Colby and Dennett.

Pereira confessed that he took part in mass murder but that he wasn’t paid the $15 agreed upon. Francisco de Brito found out from a source when the people of Cintas Largas were celebrating their holiest day of the year.

That was the day when de Brito hired a plane to drop sugar on the ground of the festival; and on the second day, bombs. Pereira and five others were hired to hack through the jungle to search for the 400 survivors. They were found and slaughtered.

The book also reported that the Institute for Cross Cultural Research was a division of Operations and Policy Research, a private group which was reported by the New York Times in 1967 as having received money from the CIA; it became a public relations fiasco for Cameron and his organization.

In the 1960s, Brazil went through two military coups d’etate - the first was in 1964 and the other in 1968. During the interim, witnesses of the Cintas Largas massacre died off or went "missing." No charges were brought against de Brito.

"There’s an era of neglect from American imperial policies towards Latin America and its indigenous people," Colby recalled and shook his head.

How ironic that years later, some of the most prominent leaders there today are very critical of the United States. "They are too tied down in the Middle East to do anything about it and the people that are running the governments would say that as well," Colby continued. "That’s what President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela would say. That’s what President Rafael Correa of Ecuador would say. That’s what the president of Bolivia would say too."

Rockefeller is also known for signing into law the notorious Drug laws in New York State, which mandated long sentences even for minor drug-related crimes. It was responsible for the disproportionate incarceration for decades of tens of thousands of young black men; the law is only now being repealed by New York legislators. Rockefeller also presided over the decision to storm the Attica prison in 1973 after an uprising leading to the massacre of inmates.

His legacy far extends to the drug laws and the uprising at Attica.

"People on the level of Rockefeller, the most wealthy; the most powerful; they’re often invisible to people," noted Dennett. "They’re the one percent that will never be talked about; the ones who owns the vast majority of wealth in this country."

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