Brazil law restricting Indigenous rights now into effect

A controversial law restricting Indigenous rights in Brazil has taken effect, signaling a triumph for the influential agribusiness caucus in the country’s congress. The legislation, grounded in the “time marker” theory (marco temporal), asserts that Indigenous peoples can only claim land they physically occupied as of October 1988 when the current constitution was enacted.

Critics argue that this approach ignores the displacement of many Indigenous groups before that date, particularly during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, and will invalidate numerous legitimate claims for Indigenous land demarcation.

While Brazil’s supreme court had ruled the time marker thesis unconstitutional with a 9-2 vote in September, the senate swiftly passed the theory into law less than a week later.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vetoed certain parts of the bill, but the conservative-dominated congress subsequently overrode his veto in December.

The law, referred to as the “Indigenous genocide law” by the Climate Observatory environmental watchdog, facilitates activities such as road-building, mining, dam construction, and agricultural projects on Indigenous lands. These territories play a crucial role in preventing deforestation.

Despite Lula’s vetoes being maintained for some aspects, the law has been widely condemned as an assault on Indigenous rights and a potential catalyst for increased violence against Native Brazilians.

Critics argue that the law jeopardizes environmental conservation, the fight against climate change, and the well-being of future generations. Indigenous congresswoman Célia Xakriabá described the law’s promulgation as an attack on Indigenous communities and the environment.

While Indigenous organizations and leftist political parties plan to challenge the law in the supreme court, Minister for Indigenous Peoples Sônia Guajajara emphasized the government’s appeal against legislation that contradicts international climate agreements and endangers the rights and protection of Indigenous peoples and territories.

Guajajara remains optimistic, citing the supreme court’s previous declaration of the thesis as unconstitutional, expressing hope for a consistent stance in the future. The ongoing struggle underscores the complex interplay between Indigenous rights, environmental conservation, and legislative decisions in Brazil.

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