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Brazil Accused of Railroading Indigenous Rights in Proposed Land Bill

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

The Brazilian government has brought a bill that would void the rights of indigenous people over part of their lands to an emergency vote before the full senate, alarming indigenous groups and supporters.

When an emergency bill is filed, it goes directly to the full senate for a vote without being debated by other committees. Complementary Bill (PLP) 227/2012 would in practice allow the state to exploit indigenous lands to suit various economic interests.

The urgency vote on PLP 227 is expected to take place at the end of August, though the President of the Parliamentary Front in Defense of Indigenous Rights, Padre Ton, promises to prevent it until then.

In an article written by Márcio Santilli, the coordinator of the Socio-environmental Institute (Instituto Socioambiental) and ex-president of the National Indian Foundation, the Brazilian governmental agency for indigenous affairs, he says the government will ”legalize large landholdings, deploy land reform settlements, open roads, construct dams and cities and conduct mineral and other natural resource exploitation on indigenous lands”.

The specialist accuses the government of political maneuvering and damaging the Brazilian Constitution in relation to indigenous people:

Mas, se é que é possível, a aberração no processo legislativo em curso é ainda mais grave que o conteúdo de verdadeiro estupro aos direitos constitucionais dos índios.

However, if it is possible, the aberration in the ongoing legislative process is even more severe than the content of the real assault on the constitutional rights of the indigenous people.

In a letter delivered to the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff through the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil), the indigenous people answer:

Somos totalmente contrários a quaisquer tentativas de modificação nos procedimentos de demarcação das terras indígenas atualmente patrocinados por setores de seu governo, principalmente a Casa Civil e Advocacia Geral da União (AGU), visando atender a pressão e interesses dos inimigos históricos dos nossos povos, invasores dos nossos territórios; hoje expressivamente representados pelo agronegócio, a bancada ruralista, as mineradoras, madeireiras, empreiteiras, entre outros.

We are totally opposed to any attempts to modify the procedures for demarcation of indigenous lands currently sponsored by sectors of your government, mainly the Chief of Staff and the Office of the Solicitor-General of the Union (AGU) [the authority in charge of the legal advising of the Executive Branch and the judicial and extradicial representation of the State of Brazil, according to Wikipedia], aiming to give in to the pressure and interests of the historical enemies of our people, invaders of our territories; today significantly represented by agribusiness, the rural caucus, mining companies, logging companies and construction companies, among others.

In the document, the indigenous people reject the government's plan for a model of unsustainable development that disrespects the original and fundamental rights of peoples and nature, “guaranteed by the Magna Carta, Convention 169 and UN declarations”.

Many people protested on social networks using the hashtag #GolpePLP227Não (No to the Complementary Bill 227 Coup). Ex-senator Marina Silva (@silva_marina) tweeted on July 16:

Underway in Congress, a major assault on indigenous rights #GolpePLP227Nao Understand here: http://t.co/g6kZwfjaio

Environmental organization Greenpeace (@GreenpeaceBR) and Xingu Vivo (@xinguvivo) also commented:

PLP 227 seeks to repeal, without any debate, the chapter “On the Indians” of the Brazilian Constitution. #GolpePLP227NÃO

This is what lawmakers are trying to bring down:the strength of the indigenous movement and signed accords http://t.co/c4nxviC6qo #GolpePLP227NÃO

Opposite the defenders of indigenous rights, federal representative Moreira Mendes, one of the main representatives of the rural caucus, criticized the social media protests on his Facebook: 

Os comentários feitos nas redes sociais estão completamente desprovidos de conteúdo. Esses ongueiros, essa quadrilha de antropólogos, como já foram denunciados inúmeras vezes por aí, não têm interesse nenhum em regularizar a terra indígena. Querem, na verdade, usar o índio como massa de manobra para os seus interesses escusos.

The comments made on social networks are completely devoid of content. These NGO-ers, this gang of anthropologists, as they have already been reported to be numerous times, have no interest in regularizing indigenous land. In reality, they want to use the Indian as a pawn for their vested interests.

Belo Monte dam licensing 

"Workers and the plaque that marks the construction site of Belo Monte Dam, in the Xingu region, in Pará state - the Pimental site." Photo by Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento [Growth Acceleration Program] on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Workers next to a sign that marks the construction site of the Belo Monte dam in the Xingu region of Pará state – the Pimental site.” Photo by Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento [Growth Acceleration Program] on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

While the spotlight was focused on the bill that would hurt the constitution and indigenous rights, another defeat for the indigenous community came on July 16: The federal court authorized the licensing of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon region.

Claiming an attack against public order and the economy, the court dismissed the claim brought by the Indigenous Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário), which demanded work cease on the dam until the elaboration of a law specific to the regulation of the exploitation of energy potential in indigenous areas. The organization underlined the existence of environmental impacts for indigenous communities surrounding the project (see illustration).

Article 176 of the Brazilian constitution outlines that potential hydraulic energy resources belong to the federal government of Brazil, legally known as Union, and exploitation by Brazilian corporations must set specific conditions when they are in the border zone or on indigenous lands. The Solicitor-General of the Union argued that the project and the resulting environmental impact is outside indigenous territory, but the legal arm of the Indigenous Missionary Council should appeal the decision.

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