The Brazilian Congress is currently considering a change to its constitution that would be a major blow for the recognition of indigenous rights in the country.
Proposal of Constitutional Amendment 215 (PEC 215) would transfer the power to demarcate indigenous peoples’ land, conservation units, and Quilombola territories from FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, to Congress.
There’s a petition against the proposal here (in Portuguese), and Survival International has set up an email action, urging the President of the Federal Senate, Senator Renan Calheiros and the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Deputy Eduardo Cunha to reject PEC 215:
PEC 215 was proposed in 2012, as the 215th amendment to Brazil’s 1988 Constitution. The Constitution came after the end of 20 years of military dictatorship in Brazil. It was known as the “social constitution”.
In December 2014, indigenous peoples won an important victory, when PEC 2015 was shelved, after months of protests. But there was always a danger that the proposal would be revived.
Brazil’s minister of agriculture says Indigenous Peoples are “obstacles”
Brazil’s Congress has a large block of anti-indigenous politicians, the ruralistas, with close ties to the agri-business sector. In December 2014, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s President, appointed Kátia Abreu as minster of agriculture. Abreu’s nickname is the “Chainsaw Queen”. She’s a leading figure in the ruralista lobby, that campaigned for the weakening of Brazil’s forest code.
In a recent interview with the Guardian she explains her anti-environmentalist views:
“Criticism from radical environmentalists is the best form of endorsement. It gives me satisfaction. It shows I am on the right track and playing the right role.”
She attacks any group that attempts to slow the expansion of Brazil’s agriculture sector. She claims that environmentalists, indigenous groups and landless peasants are working for foreign interests. Of course she provides no evidence for this, but says that she gets “a very strong impression that this is the case”.
“For many years, environmentalism reached an extreme pitch and we in the agribusiness sector were treated like criminals. [But now] our agribusiness sector can influence the choice of kings and queens in Brazil. In the past, we only exercised economic influence. Now we also have political power.”
For Abreu, environmental issues and indigenous peoples are “obstacles”:
“There are many things holding back progress – the environmental issue, the Indian issue and more. But even with these problems we keep producing high levels of productivity. Imagine how high it might be without those obstacles.”
“This is the capitalistic world”
Anthropologist Antonio Carlos De Souza Lima is president of the Brazilian Anthropological Association. In an interview with the Real News last year, Lima said,
“We have to consider that we live in a country of rights, that the Brazilian Constitution established a set of rights that took into consideration the ethnic differences of this country. Those rights cannot be trapped by an argument of a development model visibly committed to profit at the expense of the welfare of the majority, not just indigenous, but the welfare of all of us.
“This is the capitalistic world, the triumph of the interests of a small group.”
Resistance against PEC 215 continues. In April 2015, more than 1,500 indigenous people travelled to Brasilia and camped outside Congress for four days and three nights in a protest camp against PEC 215 organised by Coordinating Body of Brazil’s indigenous people (APIB).
Francisco da Silva, an indigenous Kapinawá leader from the state of Pernambuco, told Truth Out that,
“During her presidential campaign, she [Dilma Rousseff] committed to demarcating indigenous territory in Brazil. Today, we see that indigenous people are moving toward complete disappearance. If she herself does not honor her own words and the constitution, the only thing left for us to do is for us to demarcate our own territories and to defend our ancestral lands ourselves, because if we do nothing, this law will leave us in the hands of the multinational corporations.”
In May 2015, 48 senators signed a statement against PEC 215, which describes the proposed amendment as “inapplicable”. The statement adds that the proposal “brings to the sphere of the Congress a political and legal error” and represents an “attack on the rights of Indigenous Peoples”.
The fact that more than half of all senators signed the statement suggests that if the proposal to amend the constitution reached the Senate, there is a good chance that it would be rejected.
In June 2015, Indigenous Peoples, parliamentarians, organisations and social movements delivered a manifesto opposing PEC 215 to Congress. The manifesto states that,
PEC 215 and its appended action are intended to paralyze the demarcation of indigenous lands, the titration of Quilombola Territories and the creation of Units of Conservation, as well as to permit the approval of large-scale projects within these protected areas, such as: hydroelectric dams, mining, extensive agribusiness, the building of highways, waterways for industrial transport, ports and railways.
PHOTO credit: Instituto Humanitas Unisinos