Brazil: Indigenous lands in danger due to capitalist exploitation

October 4, 2021
Indigenous women protesting the weakening of land rights. Photo: @edgarkanayko/Twitter

Brazil’s Supreme Court reserved its judgment on a historic case winding back Indigenous land rights, known as marco temporal (timeframe), on September 15. The case, which was supported by the country’s agribusiness sector, would negatively impact First Nations communities, particularly in the south of the country.

Under marco temporal, Indigenous peoples could claim rights over their ancestral lands only if they were occupying them from 1988 onwards, the year the country’s constitution was enacted.

Brazilian writer and Indigenous leader Ailton Krenac told CNN Brazil that if marco temporal is approved, it would mean a “greater land privatisation” and could generate another social and environmental crisis, as local Indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their land rights. It would also give greedy agribusiness and mining interests opportunities to open up spaces for industrial agriculture, cattle farming and mineral exploration, a situation similar to what has been happening in the Amazon rainforest with its man-made fires.

From an economic point of view, the commercialisation of these lands also corresponds to international interests, since large parts are located above the Guarani aquifer, the largest in the world. Multinational corporations would certainly be interested in accessing the huge amounts of underground drinking water in the region.

The discussion puts commercial landowners and First Nations peoples on opposite sides.

President Jair Bolsonaro's government is in favour of marco temporal, as it claims that if the Congress recognises Indigenous land rights prior to 1988, agriculture in Brazil would become economically unfeasible.

In addition to the ethical, cultural and social problems of the proposition, there is also the issue of climate change. According to Joência Wapishana, who is the only Indigenous representative in the Congress: “Indigenous lands are a strategy for conservation and combating climate change.”

Wapishana told Carta Capital on September 25 that it is in Brazil's interest that there is protection, not only for Indigenous peoples, but for their lands. Krenac said: “The interest of indigenous communities should be the common interest of the Brazilian people, as well as worldwide. It should not be a specific interest, as it concerns the planet's climate, the country's economy and the union's heritage.”

If a decision is handed down, it could set the course for more than 300 processes of demarcation of Indigenous lands in the country.

Indigenous people from all over the country camped on the Ministerial Esplanade, in the capital Brasilia, in September, in protest against the possible change to the constitution. Demonstrations were held in the streets.

Indigenous leader Eliseu Lopes told “What the Brazilian Supreme Court needs to state is that we do not exist only after the Constitution [was enacted]. We didn't arrive here in 1988 — we were already on this land before Brazil became Brazil.”

It is just a matter of time until the final decision is handed down.

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