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Brazil: Indigenous Peoples Demand Repeal of 'Anti-Indian' Decree

by October 5, 2012

Indigenous Peoples throughout Brazil are mobilizing to repeal a dangerous new "anti-indian" law that decimates indigenous rights to land as guaranteed by Brazil's Federal Constitution and backed by international agreements such as ILO Convention 169 and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In no uncertain terms, the law known as Decree 303 opens the doors to a full-scale military invasion of Indigenous lands. And that's not even the half of it.

Issued on July 17, 2012 by the Office of the Solicitor-General or AGU, Decree 303/2012:

  1. Permits any indigenous land to be occupied by military units, posts and other interventions, without consulting the indigenous peoples and communities

  2. Permits the construction of roads, hydropower projects and mining projects of a "strategic nature", also without consulting the indigenous peoples and communities;

  3. Prohibits the demarcation of new land (which means indigenous people cannot have any more land, ever. This is a death knell for the Guarani and other Internally Displaced Indigenous Peoples);

  4. Restricts the autonomy of indigenous peoples on their territories;

  5. Limits the establishment of indigenous rights to the exclusive use of natural resources;

  6. Transfers control of indigenous lands presently overlapped by protected areas to the Chico Mendes Institute for biodiversity conservation (ICMBIO).

According to CIMI, the decree--which totally violates Chapter VIII, Article 231 of the Federal Constitution of 1988--also paves the way for the invasion of indigenous lands by illegal loggers and agribusiness (soy, eucalyptus, cattle, sugarcane).

Thanks to a concerted effort by Indigenous Peoples and allies, Brazil was forced to suspend the Ordinance the same day is was issued, on July 17. Unfortunately, the two-month suspension was little more than a stop gap that served to weaken the mobilization and provide the government with more time to strengthen its colonial crusade.

Nevertheless, Indigenous Peoples kept the pressure on, leading wave after wave of protest across the country. Principle among them, on August 10, more than 50 indigenous leaders occupied the headquarters of the AGU to demand the revocation of Decree 303; On August 20, sixteen different Indigenous Nations in the State Mato Grosso came together to show their outrage against the Decree and the recent gutting of the FUNAI, Brazil's Buerau of Indian Affairs; and on September 4, the Guajajara shut down BR-316, a federal highway that connects the cities of Belém in the state of Pará, and Maceió in Alagoas.

During these and many other actions, there was a meeting between the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General. During that meeting, Sonia Guajajara, a member of the national board of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), stated,

"We, all of the peoples are very upset about this... it is illegal...it must not be adopted...we know that this against the law... it is against and overrides the Federal Constitution... we are here to ask that you revoke this Portaria."

She then tore up a copy of the decree.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. On September 17, the government did precisely as it wanted to, without regard for the needs or rights of the country's Indigenous Peoples.

Since then, protests have continued to flood the country. Most recently, on September 24, about 500 Pankararu marched against the "anti-indian" decree; and on September 28, the Tembé set fire to illegal logging machinery and trucks within their territory in the municipality of Nova Esperança do Piriá, Pará, Maranhão border. As well, on October 2, the Guajajara headed out again--this time with the Awa--to occupy the Carajás Railway [pt] which links the municipalities of Mineirinho and Auzilândia in the northern state of Maranhão. The railway is owned by mining giant Vale.

The APIB says that many more mobilizations are on the way in the south, northeast and north of the country.

Thanks to Meg Kidd for the translation assistance.

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