Brazil's Land Claims Rejected for Now


Brazil's Indian Foundation Rejects Indigenous Land Claims


Rainforest Action Network continues coverage of the efforts by certain sectors of the Brazilian government and business communities to restrict and roll back demarcation of indigenous lands. RAN reports that the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) rejected all of the 531 claims filed under Decree 1775. They make appeals for emails to Brazilian government officials to accept the recommendations of their Indian policy making body.

Funai Rejects Indigenous Land Challenges Amazon Program Update July, 1996

By Beto Borges
RAN's Amazon Program

The Brazilian National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) rejected all of the 531 claims against indigenous land rights filed under Decree 1775 by states, counties and private parties which sought to revoke indigenous territorial rights. Decree 1775, (See Action Alert 118) signed into law by Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on January 8, installed the right of interested parties to appeal against the demarcation of indigenous areas based on land tenure rights. FUNAI maintains that all of the claims lacked the necessary documentation to prove that the lands in question were not ancestral indigenous territories. Therefore, the agency's recommendation to the Minister of Justice, Nelson Jobim, who will make the final decision on July 9, is deny the 531 claims presented against indigenous territories.

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, Amapa, Amazonas, Para, Mato Grosso, Maranhao, Rondonia, Roraima, and Tocantins. It is estimated that 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 formally under indigenous control. However, 125 million acres of this land still await demarcation as indigenous territory.

The political climate generated by the signing of Decree 1775 led to a wave of conflicts on indigenous lands throughout the country. Recently, the Alto Rio Guama indigenous reserve was invaded by land squatters, who took 70 Tembe Indians and 3 FUNAI agents hostage. Reportedly, 3,000 - 4,000 gold-miners have re-invaded the Yanomami territory. The reason for the miners return is mostly a result of the federal government's suspension of helicopter surveillance, known as operation jungle. But some indigenous rights advocates believe the mining cartel have encouraged a massive invasion, banking on the anti-indigenous rights momentum rooted by right wing extremists.

While Minister Nelson Jobim considers his final decision on the contested lands, the international community and indigenous rights advocates in Brazil demand the immediate demarcation of all the 73 territories that were not contested under Decree 1775. Now that the demarcation process is regulated by Decree 1775 and funds are available through the World Bank's Pilot Program for the Amazon, Brazil's government has no reason not to conclude the demarcation process of those indigenous territories.

The Minister should follow the technical recommendation by the federal agency, FUNAI, and turn down all contestations, once and for all. In weighing his decision, Nelson Jobim should honor Article 231 of Brazil's constitution, which guarantees indigenous people control of their traditional lands, and rights to secure their cultural identity.

Please write or e-mail to their excellencies, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Minister Nelson Jobim, to maintain the integral limits of the challenged lands and to expedite the demarcation process for all indigenous lands in Brazil.


Exmo. Sr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Presidente da Republica
Palacio do Planalto, 3o andar
Brasilia DF 70150, BRASIL
Fax: (+5561) 226-7566

Exmo. Sr. Nelson Jobim
Ministro da Justica,
Esplanada dos Ministerios - Bloco T
Brasilia DF 70.064-900, BRASIL
Fax: (+5561) 224-2448

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