Forcible takeover

Published: Friday 31 January 1997

-- persecution of Indian communities in the country took a new turn with the Brazilian minister for justice, Nelson Jobim calling for a reduction of Raposa/Serra do Sol area, a 1.6 million ha region in the state of Roraima. Effectively, this means that ranchers and gold miners who have made several invasions on this land of the Macuxi Indians, will benefit more.

Jobim announced his decision taken jointly with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recently and ordered that Brazil's National Indian Foundation (funai) cut a large area, the size of Rhode Island, from the Macuxi land before demarcating the area. funai is to give 200,000 ha to about 14 ranchers to whom the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform have issued titles in the area since 1982, and for the purpose of reviving five decaying gold boom towns. The sudden decision has its implications in President Cardoso seeking a re-election as the trade-off of Indian land could result in Congressional support for him.

What is worrying those supporting the Indian communities is the fact the Raposa/Serra do Sol case could set a dangerous precedent for other indigenous communities in Brazil. Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution formulated in 1988 clearly states that private land titles on native Indian lands are null and void and that indigenous land rights must be recognised. Jobim's decision is, therefore, an outright mockery of the law. Ironically, the Raposa/Serra do Sol region is one of the best documented indigenous land, in legal and anthropological terms, in Brazil.

The decision not to include the gold boom towns within the indigenous area is an open invitation to violence, feel concerned pro-Indian groups. With economic activity continuing in these towns, right at the border of indigenous reserves where poverty is more often the norm, there is bound to be more conflicts. The new order legitimises the gold mining invasion and could set off such activities in other areas yet to be demarcated.

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