Indigenous Rights at Stake in Brazilian Land Claims Ruling

Indigenous Rights at Stake in Brazilian Land Claims Ruling

Indigenous people take part in the “Free Land Camp” to decide protest strategies, Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2017 | Photo: EFE

All of the 748 demarcation cases currently pending could be halted.

2,000 ethnic leaders have gathered in Brasilia on the eve of a Supreme Court verdict which could deal the greatest blow against Indigenous peoples’ territorial rights since the evictions carried out during Brazil’s military dictatorship.

In July, President Michel Temer’s administration, following a recommendation from the Attorney General’s office, urged all government departments to accept a specified ‘marco temporal’ or time frame for land claims.

If the Court rules in favor of the recommendation on Wednesday, only the Indigenous peoples who have continuously occupied their territories since the most recent Constitution was approved on October 5 1988 will be entitled to make claims.

This means anyone who was forced off their land prior to this date would not be entitled to do so.

That excludes all of those who lost their territories during the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

There’s also great concern over the future of Guarani in the Mato Grosso do Sul region.

The Indigenous people were forcibly evicted from their territories after the state government sold their land to farmers.

For years they’ve struggled to regain their territories and many still squat at roadsides, barred by fences from moving back onto their land.

But because they were evicted before 1988, the new recommendation would negate all claims.

Opponents say the date favors land thieves, cattle ranchers, soy farmers, mining companies, and other interests among wealthy elite ruralists who have long coveted Indigenous lands.

The rights group Amazon Watch says “While potentially halting 748 pending cases to demarcate tribal lands, the measure also illegally attempts to strip indigenous peoples of their constitutional rights to permanent and exclusive use of their territories, claiming these rights cannot overrule national interests such as military operations, road construction, communications infrastructure, and hydroelectric dams. Such projects would be authorized in native territories without respecting the indigenous right to consultation.”

While others place the blame on President Temer himself and his falling popularity in the opinon polls. He currently has a rating of just 5 percent.

“Michel Temer is cutting indigenous rights to remain in power by attending to ruralista interests,” said Luiz Henrique Eloy, a lawyer for Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples. “The Temer government wants to remain at all costs, which requires the votes of the ruralista bloc.”

The country’s National Indigenous Movement and their allies are also organizing resistance. They’re calling for support from social movements and society in general to impede any ruling.

Juliana de Paula Batista, lawyer of the Socio-environmental Institute (ISA). “This is a very serious and limiting interpretation of the rights, because it does not consider a series of variables. Some (Indigenous people) were not on their land because they have a nomadic tradition, or because they were expelled by military government policy before 1988.”

According to the latest census of 2010, 896,900 Indigenous people belonging to 305 ethnic groups live in Brazil.

They representing 0.4 percent of the nation’s 202 million inhabitants.

Their territory occupies 12 percent of the country’s land mass and the great majority of their areas are located in the Amazon.

The Supreme Court is also expected to rule on measures adopted by the former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva to protect the land rights of the Quilombolas, the descendants of Afro-Indigenous Brazilians who escaped from slavery to hinterland settlements known as Quilombos.


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