Brazil's New Indigenous Land Decree Takes Its Toll


Brazil's New Indigenous Land Decree Takes Its Toll


The Rainforest Action Network reports on the impact of continued implementation of plans to review Brazilian indigenous land demarcations. This item was posted in econet's rainfor.general conference. An appeal is made for letters to the Brazilian Justice Minister asking for him to order the immediate demarcation of all indigenous territories, and to make sure the human rights of Brazilian indigenous populations are respected.

By Beto Borges
RAN's Amazon Program


The controversial Decree #1775, signed into law by Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on January 8, has already dealt a severe blow to Brazil's indigenous rights. The Decree allowed private interests, and state and local governments to challenge the demarcation of indigenous reserves. By the April 8 deadline, Brazil's National Foundation for Indian Affairs (FUNAI), which is in charge of processing the appeals, received 531 claims from miners, loggers, ranchers, and government officials, targeting 83 different Indian areas.

About 250,000 indigenous people live in Brazil, representing 215 ethnic groups and 170 different languages. They live in 526 territories nationwide, which together comprise an area of 190 million acres... twice the size of California. About 188 million acres of this land is inside the Brazilian Amazon, in the states of Acre, Amap , Amazonas, Par , Mato Grosso, Maranh_o, Rondnia, Roraima, and Tocantins. There may also be 50 or more indigenous groups still living in the depths of the rainforest that have never had contact with the outside world.

Since about 65% of the Amazon Basin is in Brazil, and 188 million acres of that land is the ancestral homeland of Brazil's indigenous peoples, it is a crucial strategy for both rainforest preservation and human rights to make sure this land is put formally into indigenous control. However, 125 million acres of this land has not been demarcated as indigenous territory, and much of it is jeopardized by appeals under Decree #1775.

FUNAI tossed some of these appeals aside immediately because the government already recognized the challenged land as securely demarcated. Such was the case with challenges to the hotly contested Yanomami territory, where strong mining interests had promoted taking the land away from the Indians by force.

Besides challenges by the usual suspects; miners, loggers, and ranchers several appeals were filed by state governments. The Amazonian states of Rondnia and Par challenged all indigenous territories within their borders whose demarcation was incomplete. This is ironic, since Rondnia received $167 million from the World Bank earmarked for Indian land protection and use-zoning.

Challenges to indigenous land must include anthropological proof that the land in question is not ancestral Indian land. According to M rcio Santilli_former President of FUNAI, and executive secretary for the Socioenvironmental Institute_not a single filed challenge includes the necessary studies.

FUNAI has 60 days to evaluate all challenges and make recommendations to the Minister of Justice, Nelson Jobim, who then will take 30-120 days to make final decisions.

Jobim, author of Decree #1775, argued that the Decree's challenge mechanism will expedite the demarcation of Indian land by formally addressing objections to the process. This is twisted logic, but we will see if he lives up to his good intentions.

The international community, and environmental and human rights groups in Brazil, want to see the immediate demarcation of the uncontested 73 territories which still need official recognition as indigenous terrritory. There are no longer any constitutional obstructions to the process, and the needed funds are available through the World Banks' Pilot Program for the Amazon.

Article 231 of Brazil's constitution guarantees indigenous people control of their traditional lands, and rights to secure their cultural identity. Jobim should honor this promise when weighing his decisions on the Decree #1775 challenges.

Please write to his excellency, Minister of Justice, Dr. Nelson Jobim, and ask him to order the immediate demarcation of all indigenous territories, and to make sure the human rights of Brazilian indigenous populations are respected.

Dr. Nelson Jobim
Ministro da Justia
Esplanada dos Ministrios, Bl. T
Bras!lia, DF - CEP: 70.064-900


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