Free Land Camp 2022 launches an open letter against Bill 191/2020

08 abril 2022

Indigenous movement debates the impacts of the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary on their lives and territories

By Clarissa Tavares, from WWF-Brazil

The "Anything Goes in Indigenous Lands Project" (Bill 191/2020) is one of the bills currently being processed in the National Congress and which are part of the "destruction package", in a frontal threat to life and indigenous territories. With an eye on the irreversible impact it can cause, an open letter of repudiation of the proposal was launched last Tuesday (4/5), with more than 600 signatories, including parliamentarians, civil society organizations, social movements, and citizens.

The disclosure, made during the Free Land Camp 2022 (ATL, in Portuguese), in Brasília, was attended by the Parliamentary Front in Defence of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and by organizations that support the initiative, including WWF-Brazil. The goal is to add 1 million signatures from individuals, congressmen, celebrities, institutions, organizations, and social movements in Brazil and abroad.

“I bring with me today people who have played a fundamental role in defending the rights of indigenous peoples in the National Congress. We are few, but we are strong because we unite around a cause that is above the parties and that we have taken, not only to Brazil but to the world. This is the Bill (191/2020) of devastation, of destruction, which brings together everything that is bad and comes precisely to slaughter indigenous peoples”, said federal representative Joênia Wapichana.

The exploitation of indigenous lands (ILs) entered the urgent agenda of Congress with the justification that Russia's war against Ukraine would lead to a shortage of fertilizers used by agribusiness, due to the suspension of potassium imports. In this way, the opening of the ILs for mineral exploration would be justified. However, only 11% of the potassium deposits located in the Brazilian Amazon overlap the ILs, as already demonstrated in a study by the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

Under this false justification, the project tries to open up indigenous lands for the exploitation of mineral and water resources, releasing economic activities even on lands with isolated peoples, intensifying the situation of vulnerability they already find themselves in. Brazil is the country with the highest number of records of isolated peoples in the world and the liberation of these areas puts them at risk of extermination.

The impact of mining on the environment is devastating. Without regulation, illegal gold mining was responsible, between 2017 and 2019, for the destruction of 10,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest in just three ILs: Munduruku, Kayapó, and Yanomami. 

“This mining and prospecting project spoils the land, contaminates the rivers, the fish we eat. We live on game and fish. The mercury that the illegal miners throw into the water contaminates the fish. This Bill 191 that they want to approve within our land is very dangerous and is very bad for the future of our people. How will our grandchildren live? That's why we're fighting for our rights. The Constitution has two articles that ensure indigenous peoples live off their traditional lands. Why don't they make that kind of bill for the farmers' lands?”, said Megaron Txucarramãe, Kayapó leader.

Impact of other state powers

Indigenous peoples warn that the protection of their lands also depends on ongoing actions in the Executive and Judiciary branches. The government's dismantling of environmental and indigenist policy, in an attempt to attack indigenous rights and territories, led peoples to think that the current moment could be called an “indigenous emergency”.

President Jair Bolsonaro's election campaign promise not to demarcate an inch of indigenous land has been fulfilled to the letter. In addition, special social policies related to education and health, which in the case of indigenous peoples are the responsibility of the federal government, and actions for inspection and protection of indigenous lands suffered dismantling that are felt daily.

The government's omission in the face of the pandemic led to the contamination of 70,441 indigenous people by Covid-19, of which 1,298 died, according to data from Apib (Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil). The encouragement to invade public lands meant that from 2019 to 2021, deforestation in ILs jumped 138% compared to the previous three years, according to Inpe (National Institute for Space Research). The state also fails to protect indigenous environmental defenders. 

Episodes of violence in the countryside have never been worse. In 2020, the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT, in Portuguese) counted 7 indigenous victims among the 18 murders that occurred in the context of conflicts in the countryside. Out of the 35 assassination attempts, 12 were against indigenous people.

“We are here to say, once again, to remove the invaders from our territories and to demand: who murdered Ari Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau?”, said activist Txai Suruí during the ATL. Ari was beaten to death in April 2020, aged 33. He was a member of the indigenous monitoring team, working against the action of loggers, land grabbers, and illegal miners in the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau IL.

The indigenous movement also expressed its concern about the actions of the Judiciary. The main action in progress refers to the judgment, by the Federal Supreme Court, of the so-called "time limit trick". A thesis considered unconstitutional in which indigenous peoples would only have the right to claim their lands if they were in possession of them on the day the Constitution was promulgated, on October 5, 1988. On June 23, the Supreme Court plenary will consider the issue.

In addition to the judgment of the "time limit" thesis, indigenous people suffer from the impact of decisions by regional courts, especially those related to requests for repossession of their traditional lands.

“We will not allow this surrender of our territories, we will not allow this division that they try to provoke among us... here is the unity of the indigenous peoples of Brazil. The position of the indigenous peoples of Brazil is to say no to mining companies, no to small-scale illegal mining, no to rampant agribusiness. No to Bill 191, no to Bill 490, which prevents the demarcation of indigenous lands. No to the Land Grabbing Bill, which rewards invaders and grants title deeds to those who invade indigenous lands. And no to the time limit trick”, said Sônia Guajajara, executive coordinator of Apib.

The message given by representatives of indigenous peoples from all states of Brazil gathered at Free Land Camp 2022 (ATL), is unanimous in the fight against any and all setbacks to indigenous rights. To mark the demands and the unification of the indigenous movement around their agendas, the six thousand indigenous people camped carried out, on Wednesday afternoon (June 4), the traditional march along the Ministries Esplanade to the National Congress.