Brazil's Indigenous communities secure historic land rights victory
Brazil's Supreme Court blocks law pushed by agribusinesses to take away lands belonging to Indigenous communities that were not inhabitant by the groups in 1988.
The Brazilian Supreme Court has delivered a landmark victory for Indigenous communities, thwarting attempts to significantly erode their land rights, which activists hailed as a historic triumph for the country's original inhabitants.
Nine out of the Supreme Court's 11 justices voted against what advocacy groups had dubbed the "time limit trick," a move backed by agribusiness interests to prevent Indigenous communities from claiming land they did not physically inhabit in 1988.
In front of the Supreme Court's main office in Brasilia, a surge of powerful emotions was witnessed on Thursday, as most of the justices delivered a verdict in favor of Indigenous rights. Among the activists present, some were moved to tears of happiness, while others marked the occasion with exuberant dancing.
Eloy Terena, an Indigenous attorney holding a senior position within Brazil's recently established Ministry for Indigenous Peoples, shared his elation on X/Twitter, declaring, "Long live Indigenous resistance."
Comparable scenes of celebration and joy resonated throughout the Amazon region, which serves as the residence for approximately half of Brazil's 1.7 million Indigenous inhabitants.
Indigenous congresswoman Celia Xakriaba took to X/Twitter, declaring, "[This is a] victory for struggle, a victory for rights, a victory for our history. [All of] Brazil is Indigenous territory and the future is ancestral."
Carmen Lúcia e Fux acompanham relator! Esse é o placar de sete que queremos: contra o Marco Temporal e a favor dos povos indígenas.— Célia Xakriabá (@celiaxakriaba) September 21, 2023
Vitória da luta, vitória dos direitos, vitória da nossa história. O Brasil é terra indígena e o futuro é ancestral!
Sania Guajajara, Brazil's minister for Indigenous peoples, celebrated the ruling as a significant achievement resulting from years of dedicated struggle and protest.
Bolsonaro-appointed justices supported agrobusiness
In stark contrast, only two Supreme Court justices supported the "marco temporal" (time marker) thesis, which aimed to limit Indigenous land claims. Both of these justices, Kassio Nunes Marques and Andre Mendonca, were appointed by the former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.
Activists accused Bolsonaro of orchestrating a historic assault on Indigenous territories by dismantling protection agencies and promoting anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental rhetoric. Before joining the court, Mendonca served as Bolsonaro's justice minister.
Survival International, an Indigenous rights group, marked the defeat of what they characterized as an attempt “to legalize the theft of huge areas of Indigenous lands.” They warned that the success of such efforts could have led to the eradication of dozens of uncontacted tribes.
Fiona Watson, Survival's research and advocacy director, lauded the court's decision as a momentous historic victory for Brazil's Indigenous peoples and a substantial setback for the agribusiness lobby.
“This is a momentous, historic victory for Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and a massive defeat for the agribusiness lobby,” said Watson, adding that the the time limit trick had been part of a “devastating assault” on Indigenous communities and the Amazon.
“So this rejection of it is hugely important – not only for Indigenous peoples, but for the global fight against climate change too.”
Operation Eraha Tapiro
Earlier this month, the Brazilian government launched its biggest operation to remove thousands of cattle owned by illegal land grabbers from indigenous territory in the rainforest.
"Operation Eraha Tapiro," named after the Assurini Indigenous people's language, aims to restore government authority over the Ituna-Itata Indigenous Territory, which has suffered severe deforestation and incursions during Bolsonaro's tenure.
"The deforestation of Ituna-Itatá was planned and executed by a gang that had great political power. Making this operation successful demonstrates our ability to fight crime in the Amazon, which is increasingly organized," said the operation commander Givanildo Lima, an agent for the government’s main environmental protection agency.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva accused earlier this year Bolsonaro’s far-right administration of committing genocide against the Yanomami people of the Amazon. Lula da Silva also held the former president responsible for abandoning Indigenous communities and encouraging thousands of miners to flood the Yanomami enclave during his 2019-2022 government.
A police investigation into a "genocide" against the Yanomami people was launched after it emerged that nearly a hundred children from the Indigenous group lost their lives. The probe came after a governmental report revealed that 99 Yanomami children living on Brazil's largest Indigenous reservation -- all under the age of five -- died last year from malnutrition, pneumonia, in addition to malaria.
In December, the Yanomami leader Junior Hekurari told The Guardian that Bolsonaro's government was that "of blood".