Indigenous groups protest Brazil bill limiting recognition of tribal lands
BRASILIA/SAO PAULO – Indigenous groups in Brazil on Tuesday, May 30, blocked a highway and burned tires to protest a proposed law that would limit their ability to win protected status for ancestral lands.
Outside Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, demonstrators blocked a major motorway with flaming tires and used bows and arrows to confront police, who dispersed them with tear gas.
Indigenous groups from across the country planned a week of protests outside Congress in the capital Brasilia. The lower house prepared to vote on legislation allowing Indigenous reservations only on land that was occupied by native communities when Brazil passed its Constitution in 1988.
Bill 490 would not affect currently recognized reservations, but may impact hundreds of territories under evaluation. The lower house fast-tracked the bill after pressure from Brazil’s powerful agricultural lobby, which aims to end land conflicts between Indigenous communities and farmers and ranchers.
Establishing a reservation gives Indigenous communities legal protections that can deter illegal loggers and wildcat gold miners from land invasions. Those surged under far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who called for commercial agriculture and mining even on recognized reservations.
Indigenous leaders want President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro in last year’s election, to protect some 300 territories that were mapped out years ago but have not been formally recognized. It was not clear how many of those were occupied in 1988.
Lula legally recognized six Indigenous territories last month, fulfilling a campaign promise to reverse his predecessor’s policy.
Some 300 different ethnic groups live on 730 territories that they consider ancestral lands, mainly in the Amazon rainforest.
If it passes the lower house, the bill would still need approval in the Senate and signing by Lula. He could veto it but there might be enough support in Congress to override that. The measure is also being examined by the Supreme Court.