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Indigenous protesters camp outside Brazil’s Congress to demand land rights

Almost 1,500 indigenous people from about 200 different tribes have been protesting in Brazil’s capital as part of a National Week of Indigenous Mobilization. These actions coincide with Brazil’s Day of the Indian on April 19.

The protests are aimed mostly at a new bill, known as PEC 215, that would amend the Constitution and give Brazil’s legislative body, the National Congress, the power to decide the borders of indigenous territories. Currently, the mapping out of indigenous territories is handled by the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI, a government agency set up to protect indigenous interests.

“A hundred groups from across the country are here to express their dissatisfaction and denounce attacks against their rights, which are happening in Congress,” Cleber Buzzato, executive secretary of the Indigenous Missionary Council, told AFP.

The current Brazilian government has demarcated much less indigenous land than past governments, and since the Congress works much slower than FUNAI and is also more hostile to indigenous interests, the change threatens to make the indigenous fight to protect their land longer and more difficult.

“From the moment the legislative body decides on the demarcation of indigenous lands, we know there will be no more demarcations,” Lindomar Ferreira, a Terena Indian and coordinator of the Network of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, said in an online statement. “It’s the same as throwing petrol on the fire. The ranchers will get emboldened and we will defend our territory. There will be conflict, violence and death.”

Many in indigenous communities also feel that the Congress will be more willing to give indigenous land to big agribusinesses, a move currently backed by some legislators as well as the new minister of agriculture, Katia Abreu.

Since April 13, protesters have been camped outside the Congress. On April 15, accompanied by songs, dances and rituals, large groups of indigenous people protested on Brasilia’s main road, known as the Monumental Axis. They marched to the Supreme Court and held a vigil in protest of recent anti-indigenous decisions made by the judiciary body.

Tents and bathrooms were also set up outside the Congress as part of what the protesters are calling the Free Land camp. The indigenous protesters have promised to continue camping outside of government buildings until PEC 215 is scrapped.

“This is the most critical moment in our history, because the powers [executive, legislative and judicial branches of government] are working together. It’s a systematic attack against our rights,” Sônia Guajajara, coordinator of APIB, told the World Wildlife Fund in an interview. “We will continue with political mobilization, organization and resistance. That’s our way of assuring our rights.”