Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Brazilian Government Backlash

The government of President Michel Temer of Brazil, in office since May 2016, is behind “an unprecedented setback in the entire system of protection of the environment, native peoples and farm workers,” the non-governmental Social-Environmental Institute (ISA)  and 59 other non-governmental organisations complained in an “open letter”.

The offensive has included a 55 per cent cut in FUNAI’s budget this year, the appointment of an army general, Franklimberg de Freitas, as head of the agency, and legislative measures that seek to revoke the indigenous right to the lands where they have traditionally lived, recognised in Brazil’s constitution. A constitutional amendment, under discussion since 2000, aims to transfer from the executive to the legislative branches the authority to make the final decision regarding the demarcation of indigenous lands. Approval of the amendment would block the process of demarcation of native land promoted by the 1988 constitution, since Congress is traditionally conservative and is currently dominated by the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (APF), vehemently opposed to assigning more land to indigenous people. The multi-party block, also known as the rural caucus, is comprised of 257 lawmakers – half of the lower chamber – and 16 senators – one-fifth of the Senate – according to the Inter-union Department of Parliamentary Advisory.
Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio was legal coordinator of the APF until February, when he was appointed to head the ministry that is currently responsible for indigenous policy, as FUNAI answers to the Justice Ministry.
The president of the APF, lawmaker Nilson Leitão, as rapporteur for the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on FUNAI and Land Reform, is calling for the prosecution of dozens of leaders of non-government organisations (NGO), anthropologists, public prosecutors and government officials for alleged fraud in the demarcation of indigenous lands.
Many native groups are involved in a revival of their identities and are trying to recover their ancestral lands. This is the case of the Gamela people, who occupied estates seeking to demarcate their territory themselves, in the face of the slow pace of the government’s action, as part of an initiative that triggered violent reaction by large local landowners.
Currently, there are 252 native peoples, speaking 150 different languages, of the 1,200 that were spoken when the Portuguese colonialists arrived in 1500, according to ISA. The largest groups are the Guaraní, Tikuna, Terena and Yanomami. The Free Land Camp, an annual demonstration held in Brasilia, drew nearly 4,000 indigenous people Apr. 24-28, to protest against “violence, setbacks, and threats by the Brazilian state,” and defend their rights guaranteed by the constitution and international treaties.
Criticism of the positions taken by the Brazilian government, particularly with respect to indigenous questions, were expressed in the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it subjected the country to the Universal Periodic Review.

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