Brazil, once at the forefront of indigenous rights protection, is now trying to undermine its native groups’ constitutional rights. This past spring, President Dilma Rousseff’s government evicted a group living in a building in Rio de Janeiro to make way for an Olympic Museum. Now Congress wants to pass hundreds of amendments that will divest the indigenous inhabitants of the rights they had been assured of precisely 25 years ago when Brazil’s constitution was redacted. Last week, on the anniversary of this groundbreaking document, hundreds of indigenous peoples staged a protest that spread throughout the South American country, to assert their rights and voice their objections to the government’s encroaching upon their liberties and territories. Amazon Watch writes about the movement:

Brazil’s Articulation of Indigenous People’s (APIB) called the mobilizations – staged simultaneously in various cities across the country such as São Paulo, Belém, Rio Branco – to protest the attack against territorial rights of native peoples. Emanating from the Brazilian government and backed by a powerful congressional bloc representing agribusiness known as the bancada ruralista as well as large mining and energy interests, a series of new proposed laws seek to undermine Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution, which assures the indigenous right to an exclusive and permanent usufruct to resources on their ancestral territories.

“We are here because Congress wants to take our rights and extinguish our people,” said Chief Raoni Metuktire, a legendary Kayapó leader from the Amazon. “This assembly is important because it aims to unite our peoples against this threat.”

…Among the proposed changes [to the Constitution] are Proposed Complementary Law (PLP) 227 which would modify Article 231, eliminating the indigenous right to resources in cases of “relevant public interest,” clearing the way for industrial farming, dam-building, mining, road building and settlement construction on indigenous lands. Proposed Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 215 would roll back the demarcation of new indigenous territories by passing the authority to demarcate lands from the Executive to a Legislative branch that is increasingly hostile to indigenous rights.

“These amendments and new laws that the government wants to pass will destroy indigenous rights enshrined in the Brazilian Constitution and the international treaties of which Brazil is a signatory,” said Maíra Irigaray Castro of Amazon Watch. …

“We’re not going to stand by and watch our territories being stolen, our houses being invaded and our rivers being destroyed,” said Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of APIB. “Rather than calling Congress the house of the people it should be called the house of agribusiness.”

In addition to presiding over this unprecedented assault on indigenous rights, the Rousseff government has demonstrated the worst record of indigenous territorial demarcation since the nation’s dictatorship era. Further undermining the integrity of these territories, the office of her Attorney General proposes Ordinance 303 in order to veto any expansion of demarcated lands while authorizing the construction of roads, energy transmission lines, and military installations within their borders when such projects are deemed relevant to “national security.”

But Castro explains this is not just Brazil’s problem since, by rescinding these populations’ rights, the government may force these “guardians of the rain forests for the benefit of all humanity” into extinction. And that is “something the world cannot afford.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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