Despite Lula’s positive efforts, the Bolsonarist assault on Indigenous rights continues.
Even as Brazil’s Supreme Court was taking a stand on Indigenous rights, the climate and constitutional order, Brazil’s hard-right legislative body was showing that these are issues about which they do not care.
For years under far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s mighty agricultural lobby has been seeking to claw back territories reserved for Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples – including by passing a law that sends constitutional protections of Indigenous lands back to their first timid steps by enshrining the ‘marco temporal’ (time frame), 1988 boundaries that turn a blind eye to the forced expulsions and violence that preceded 1988.
As challenges to the constitutionality of the marco temporal as applied in practice, and to a host of similar measures that must be tackled individually, work their way through Brazil’s judicial system, Indigenous Peoples have again been subjected to violence, encroachments and invasions of their territories - more than two dozen defenders have been murdered since 2019 (FW 267). Under Bolsonaro, deforestation soared to an intolerable high.
Since Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s autumn 2022 election, he has shown willingness to undo some of the harm caused by Bolsonaro’s tolerance of lawlessness in the Amazon, and to rein in the rampant deforestation; by summer 2023, deforestation had dropped more than 60 per cent as compared to the previous summer. But Lula must contend with a hard-right Congress (FW 279) who moved to flout the Supreme Court decision: on the day of the Court decision, the Federal Senate urgently approved Bill 2903/2023, nicknamed ‘the Genocide Bill’, undoing any progress that the Supreme Court had made.
The Genocide Bill undermines the purpose of demarcating Indigenous reserves in several ways, including by supporting the marco temporal that the Supreme Court has just ruled unconstitutional. The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), Brazil’s largest grassroots Indigenous rights organisation, indicates that the Bill also permits the construction of large infrastructure on Indigenous lands; allows mining, agricultural cultivation and cattle on these lands; recognises the ‘legitimacy’ of those who have already encroached; re-jigs relevant constitutional concepts, such as traditionality of occupation, and exclusive use by Indigenous Peoples; it even reworks the criteria for being considered Indigenous. Ominously, the rules also relax the no-contact policy for peoples in voluntary isolation.
Undoubtedly more judicial and political challenges will be forthcoming, including an urgent appeal recently sent to the United Nations. Such challenges will take years, which means that Brazil’s ruralist lobby, and the politicians who receive their funding or have interests in lands pending demarcation, have plenty of time for destruction.
With Indigenous Peoples under threat, and the Amazon on the threshold of the dieback tipping point, a significant hope remains: The presidential office is reviewing the Genocide Bill, and Lula could veto it entirely. There is hope as President Lula has shown willingness to take action against landgrabs – he has until 18 October to act.
This development comes as Brazil and other countries from the South Cone of Latin America (Mercosur) are attempting to finalise a trade agreement with the EU. The agreement does not foresee any guarantee for respect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. It would however increase the trade of agricultural commodities, intensifying the pressure on Indigenous lands.