Brazilian Government Makes Critical Decision About Indigenous Lands

Brazilian Government puts protection of indigenous lands into the hands of the Ministry of Justice.

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The Amazon rainforest is facing increased threat as the Brazilian government has now decided to re-establish protective measures of sacred indigenous land, risking years of progress in environmental and climate protection. Until recently, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) has managed the policies that conserve approximately 690 recognized indigenous territories, totaling 13% of Brazil’s landmass. Brazil currently holds the position of world’s top exporter of soy, coffee, sugar and tobacco. Out of economic interest, the Brazilian government has placed decisions of demarcation of Indigenous lands into the hands of the Ministry of Justice.

Since the 1990’s, FUNAI has allowed demarcation of lands based on technical and anthropological analyses. Brazil’s justice minister, Alexandre de Morates announced that decisions over demarcating indigenous land will now be taken over by the ministry of justice. As reported by Folha de S. Paulo, “the measure created a work group in the ministry with the power to reassess and change the ongoing demarcation processes to be submitted to the minister’s approval”. This verdict met the outrage of countless environmental protection groups, who suspect the ministry will be largely influenced by major farming lobby groups. “We feared the government would take this brazen step to deeply undermine indigenous land rights,” said Christian Poirier of the campaign group Amazon Watch. Critically, the rate of deforestation in Brazil increased by 29% in 2016.

Massive plantation projects in the Amazon have turned thousands of indigenous people into conservation refugees. Among them, the largest tribe today, the Guarani, with over 50,000 members, has been pushed out by cattle ranches, sugar cane plantations, and soybean fields and are now crowded into very small reservations. There are also at least 100 uncontacted tribes who have been invaded and displaced by land developers. Displacement threatens groups with exposure to many modern diseases that could be deadly for those without developed immunities. Additionally, it is of dire global interest to preserve their lives and practices— proven by a new study from the World Bank, which suggests indigenous people are the key to forest preservation, as they protect biodiversity and mitigate CO2 output. Brazil is home to an estimated 900,000 indigenous people.

The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), a group with scope and force, has continuously criticized Michel Temer’s government for habitually cutting funds and support for environmental protection agencies. In an open letter posted Dec. 2nd 2016 by IBAMA, “We remember that we chose to defend the environment for the sake of the cause and aware of the importance for the present and future generations of Brazil and the world. However, we will not win this fight without instruments, infrastructure, and valorization. We will continue our struggle within our capabilities”. Under the growing threat of illegal logging and massive agricultural projects by international investors, tribes need governmental protection more now than ever.

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