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#PL490Nao, Indigenous life and territories under threat in Brazil

Image from APIB Archive

By Thiago Cardoso

Images shared worldwide, but mostly ignored by main stream media: Tear gas bombs and rubber bullets, children and elderly people among the protesters. That was how the police in the federal capital received more than 800 indigenous people from 48 different ethnic groups who peacefully protested against a blitzkrieg of legislative changes proposed by politicians and lobbyists linked to agribusiness and mining companies. We are talking about Brazil, June 2021: scenes of an ongoing genocide.

The police violence was a reaction to the movement against the anti-indigenous agenda of the Bolsonaro government (with support from National Congress) organized during by Acampamento Levante pela Terra (ALT),

Brasília. With the motto “Life is Fight![1], the focus of the movement was to prevent the approval of Proposed Law #490/2007, now under discussion in the Brazilian Congress. On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, this law passed a procedural hurdle within the Committee on the Constitution, Justice, and Citizenship; it now will be considered by the entire Chamber of Deputies (Brazil's lower house of Congress) and, if passed, will be heard by the Senate.

It is important for the reader to understand what Proposed Law #490/2007 is and why it is seen as a threat to indigenous peoples in Brazil. Strongly supported by the agro-industrial and mining sector, Law #490 provides for several changes in the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples as guaranteed by Brazil's Constitution. The project applies the “time limit thesis” to the process of demarcating Indigenous territories. This is a legal theory that holds that Brazil's Indigenous People have the right only to land they occupy at the time of the promulgation of the Brazilian Constitution (October 1988). If adopted by the congress, the standard timeframe would paralyze the demarcation of Indigenous Lands in Brazil, with disastrous effects for indigenous peoples. This will encourage further land invasions, accompanied by greater violence and racism against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil.

The project will also have a severe impact on the indigenous people living in voluntary isolation by imposing an “invited contact” on highly vulnerable Indigenous communities by third parties such as missionary and public services in the name of the “public good.

At the same time, project #490/2007 opens indigenous territories to predatory neo-extractive exploration in the various Brazilian biomes, including mining, commercial agribusiness, and dam construction. If the bill is passed, it could increase the risk of deforestation, contamination of rivers, and increase in the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. This goes against all local and global efforts to protect cultural and biological diversity and build other bio-economic alternatives.

According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil – APIB says[2],

“The PL 490 is a flag of Jair Bolsonaro and of the bench that claims to represent agribusiness. If approved and in practice, it will make demarcations unfeasible, allow the annulment of Indigenous Lands, and open them up to predatory undertakings, such as mining, roads and large hydroelectric plants. The proposal is unconstitutional, in the assessment of the indigenous movement and jurists.

Let us not forget what is at stake: the interest in inserting indigenous lands into the land market and their resources as commodities. However, such capitalist and colonial logic clashes with the indigenous way of life and sense of territory, where the land is perceived as alive and the forest is fundamental for everyday relationships and for maintaining a good life.

The traditional ways of occupying and living on land by indigenous peoples in Brazil are guaranteed by consolidated territorial rights and by self-determination, which are not only clearly guaranteed by Brazil's constitution, but are also underpinned by numerous international treaties to which Brazil is a signatory (eg ILO Convention 169, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). The Brazilian Constitution further guarantees the right of Indigenous People to be consulted, to make decisions, and to have these decisions respected by the state.

It is precisely these rights that are under threat again and there will certainly be many struggles ahead. Indigenous peoples in their words “fight with their prayers and chants” and “wielding their maracas[3] and ancestry like shields”, and with love and wisdom for life and the land are creating a movement that is certainly at the center of contemporary struggles to resist to barbarism and to build another world possible.

"We decided to fight to the end to ensure not only the future of indigenous peoples, but also the future of humanity[4].

[1] [2] [3] Instrument of chants and rituals. [4]

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