‘We’re Going to Resist’: Brazil’s Indigenous Groups Fight to keep Their Land in Face of New Law

PEC 215, a proposed amendment to Brazil’s constitution, threatens to make worse the already fragile plight of the country’s impoverished indigenous communities

Source: The Guardian

From downtown São Paulo, the Pico do Jaraguá – the crest of a mountain ridge on the city’s north-western horizon – looks like a broken tooth, crowned by a towering TV antenna. Just beyond the rocky peak and down a steep, deeply rutted, unmade road, lies the nascent village of Tekoa Itakupe, one of the newest fronts in Brazil’s indigenous people’s struggle for land to call their own.

Once part of a coffee plantation, the idyllic 72-hectare plot is currently occupied by three families from the Guarani community who moved onto the land in July 2014 after it was recognised as traditional Guarani territory by Funai, the federal agency for Indian affairs.

The group had hoped that would be a first step on the road to its eventual official demarcation as indigenous territory, but they now face eviction after a judge granted a court order to the landowner, Antônio “Tito” Costa, a lawyer and former local politician.

Ari Karai, the 74-year-old chief or cacique of Tekoa Ytu, one of two established Indian villages at the base of the peak, says the group intends to resist. “How can they evict us when this is recognised Indian land?” he asks.

The dispute comes at a crucial time for Brazil’s more than 300 indigenous peoples. Earlier this month, more than a thousand indigenous leaders met in Brasília to protest and organise against PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would shift the power to demarcate indigenous land from the executive to the legislature – that is, from Funai, the Ministry of Justice and the president, by decree, to Congress.

The Indians’ fierce opposition to placing demarcation in the hands of Congress is easy to understand: some 250 members of Congress are linked to the powerful “ruralist” congressional caucus, representing interests including agro-business and the timber, mining and energy industries. In contrast, there has been only one indigenous member of Congress in the entire history of Brazil: Mário Juruna, a Xavante cacique, who served from 1983-87 in Rio de Janeiro.

Fiona Watson, the research director for Survival International – the London-based charity which campaigns for indigenous people – said that if approved, PEC215 would “put the fox in charge of the hen-house”.

“Many Indians consider PEC 215 a move to legalise the theft and invasion of their lands by agri-business. It will cause further delays, wrangling and obstacles to the recognition of their land rights,” she said.