20 Years Late, Brazil Still Can’t Follow the Constitution and Give Indians Their Land

Brazilian Indians In order to reconcile the interests of Brazilian Indians with those of farmers in the dispute over land is one of the challenges to be faced by the next government, to be inaugurated January 1st. The country will have to find a way to fulfill what the Brazilian Constitution laid down in 1988. 

The Constitution imposed the recognition and demarcation of the traditional territories claimed by the indigenous population. Many of them have been taken over by agribusiness, a sector that accounts for 23 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and 44 percent of all exports.

“This will probably be the next government’s greatest challenge, as it requires a stand regarding two different views on the world and on development,” argues anthropologist Oiara Bonilla.

In an interview, Bonilla mentioned that the dispute between those who defend sectors like agriculture and those who advocate different models for sustainable production raises other urgent issues, such as weather changes and new sources of energy.

“The answer to all of this requires a clear position from the government. For this reason, being really realistic, I think the trend is that, regardless of who wins the elections, the indigenous issue will remain left aside, at the mercy of momentary interests,” she said.

“The problem is, if there’s no political interest to try to solve this problem quickly, it’ll become more and more complicated.”

Brazil’s 1988 Constitution acknowledges the rights of the indigenous peoples to the territories necessary for the preservation of the natural resources that ensure the general well-being and the survival of these peoples after their own customs and traditions.

Although assigned for the Indians’ permanent ownership and use, these territories belong to the Union, which should have concluded the demarcation process by 1993, meeting the five-year deadline set in 1988.

“The great challenge of the upcoming government is to implement what has been stipulated by the Constitution concerning the rights of the indigenous peoples and the demarcation of their territories,” declares Executive Secretary from the Indigenous Missionary Council (“CIMI”) Cléber Buzatto.

In his view, the delay observed in the proceedings aggravate the conflicts between Indians and agriculturalists.

In the case of the Indians, for whom the land is a collective good, the lack of an area where they are able to preserve and develop their culture is coupled with the lack of appropriate assistance, high child mortality and suicide rates, threats from large businesses, and deaths. In 2013 alone, at least 53 Indians were murdered as a result of conflicts over land, CIMI reports.

On the farmers’ side, the outcome of the disagreement is a feeling of insecurity as to the ownership of their property. “On demarcating the indigenous territories, the future government should recognize the rights of non-indigenous occupants living in these areas today, compensating […] and resettling them, which can be done by expropriating the large properties outside the indigenous areas,” Buzatto added.

“I believe the conflicts will be reduced considerably if the government demarcates the indigenous territories,” says indigenous leader Lindomar Terena, a representative from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

“We find ourselves in a difficult situation. Whoever takes up office as the president next year will also need a reformed Congress. If most of the congressmen there today remain there, no president will be able to do what he/she should.”

In the 2010 population census, 896.9 thousand Brazilians identify themselves as indigenous – and 63.8 percent of them live in rural regions and 36.2 percent in urban areas. The results, however, might have been undervalued, as a large number of people do not identify themselves as indigenous for several reasons, and official registers are not reliable.

According to the same census, 68 percent of the indigenous population held an official birth certificate, 26 percent an informal one (like a baptism certificate), which makes their access to civil rights significantly more difficult, and 6 percent had had no sort of certification whatsoever.

In the census, 305 different ethnic groups were identified, along with 505 indigenous areas, which total nearly 106.7 million hectares, 12.5 percent of Brazil’s territory.

The indigenous reserve with the highest population, at the time when the survey was carried out, was Yanomami, located in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, with 25.7 thousand Indians.

Transparency

In a document entitled “What We Expect From the Next President”, handed to the presidential candidates, the Agriculture and Livestock Confederation of Brazil (CNA) calls for measures that ensure the exercise of the right to property and provide legal security to agriculturalists.

“In spite of its importance to the economy, the agricultural sector is the main victim of this scenario of legal insecurity, due to predominantly political or ideological issues,” says Can, which argues for more transparency in the process of land demarcation, which currently rests under the responsibility of the Executive Branch.

In the judgment of farmers, “predominantly political and ideological issues” provide the basis for the “indiscriminate invasions” of the productive areas. According to the Agriculture and Livestock Federation of Mato Grosso do Sul, at least 80 rural properties throughout the state are occupied by Indians today.

The Agriculture and Livestock Federation of Bahia estimates that at least 100 farms have been taken by indigenous occupants in the state’s southern region.

The Confederation also calls for plans that prevent Indians from invading the land and ensure the execution of the court sentences for land ownership restoration.

Finally, CNA advocates the creation of new agencies which would carry out some the tasks exclusively assigned to FUNAI (Brazil’s National Indian Foundation), like the appointment of areas to be demarcated.

ABr

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