This is a political setback for the Brazilian president. MPs on Tuesday voted on a bill limiting the demarcation of indigenous lands. The bill, approved by 283 votes to 155, establishes that indigenous people have the right only to the lands they occupied at the time of the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution. A thesis rejected by the natives, who argue that they did not occupy certain lands in 1988 because they had been driven out over the centuries, especially during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).
A setback for Lula
The bill, which still needs to be submitted to the Senate before coming into force, was promoted by pro-agribusiness MPs and other opposition groups. Its approval by the lower house is a setback for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Returning to power at the beginning of the year, the leftist president has pledged to make environmental preservation a priority, after four years marked by a sharp increase in deforestation under his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022).
The approval of the project "puts an end to hope for the future," Brazilian Indigenous Peoples Minister Sonia Guajajara said Tuesday. "This is genocide against indigenous peoples, but also an attack on the environment," she added. According to scientists, the demarcation of indigenous lands is a key barrier against deforestation in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest.
Brazil has a total of 764 indigenous peoples' territories, but about a third of them have not yet been demarcated, according to figures from the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI). In April, Lula's government recognized six new territories, the first in five years.
The MPs' vote sparked protests in Brazil, and drew the attention of environmental organizations and international activists, including American actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. "There is a war against indigenous peoples and forests. Our planet is in danger. Lula, be the hero your people elected, stop [the project] from moving forward," Ruffalo tweeted on the eve of the debate.
Before the vote, about a hundred indigenous people momentarily blocked a road on the outskirts of Sao Paulo early Tuesday morning, before police dispersed them with tear gas, according to footage broadcast by local television. "The Chamber of Deputies has sent a message to the country and the world: Bolsonaro is gone, but the extermination continues... The Senate has an obligation to reverse the approved nonsense," the environmental organization Observatorio do Clima said in a statement.