Lula not doing enough on his pledge to demarcate indigenous territories, say critics

The Brazilian leader’s decision to title two indigenous territories on April 18 has been criticised roundly by critics, who said it undermines Brazil’s position as a climate leader

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Monday 22 April 2024
Photo: Isis Mederios / Amazon Watch

Indigenous leaders in Brazil have criticised President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva for not fulfiling the promises regarding rights of indigenous peoples which he made during the Presidential election in 2022.

The Brazilian leader’s decision to title two indigenous territories on April 18 has been criticised roundly by critics, who said it undermines Brazil’s position as a climate leader.

“The failure to protect Indigenous territories not only violates Brazil’s constitution but also poses significant risks to biodiversity and exacerbates deforestation, contributing to global climate change,” a statement by non-profit Amazon Watch noted on April 19.

According to the statement, the decision to title just two territories meant that only 10 have received critical federal protections during 474 days of Lula’s government.

An additional 26 processes languish in the final stages of government approval. “The move leaves dozens of indigenous communities vulnerable to mounting land invasions, violence, and environmental exploitation,” it added.

Lula had pledged to demarcate 14 Indigenous lands in the first 100 days of his mandate.

“This is revolting for us indigenous peoples to have had so much faith in the government’s commitments to our rights and the demarcation of our territories. The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples has tried to advance our rights, but Congress has blocked these efforts,” said Goldman Prize winner Alessandra Korap Munduruku.

“We hear all of these discussions about environmental and climate protection, but without support for Indigenous peoples on the front lines, suffering serious attacks and threats. Lula cannot speak about fighting climate change without fulfilling his duty to demarcate our lands,” she added.

Lula’s announcement came even as Brazil’s indigenous groups meet in the federal capital of Brasilia this week as part of the Acampamento Terra Livre (Free Land Camp) mobilisation.

Read Brazil polls 2022: DTE’s coverage of a ‘Once in a generation’ election

Free land Camp is a key annual gathering of the country’s Indigenous movement.

The Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) took back the invitation to Lula for the event. It cited mounting criticisms of his government’s handling of indigenous rights.

Besides the April 18 decision, the president also ruffled feathers by proposing to purchase a farm for the Guarani Kaiowa people in Mato Grosso do Sul state recently.

The Guarani Kaiowa have long struggled to reclaim their ancestral lands.

Lula’s move to purchase a farm for the community rather than upholding their right to land demarcation has been seen as undermining the sovereignty of indigenous territories.

Critics say it will also perpetuate a cycle of land commodification that disregards indigenous autonomy and cultural heritage

“Today, there are hundreds of indigenous lands that await formal state recognition. President Lula had announced that his government would conclude the recognition of six of them, a number that was already insufficient given the scale of the problem, but the indigenous movement was supportive of the gesture, given the absolute urgency of advancing demarcations,” said Ana Alfinto, legal advisor at Amazon Watch.

“Yesterday’s announcement buried hopes that Lula’s government has any real strength vis-a-vis agribusiness’ anti-indigenous stance,” she added.

Lula has missed an invaluable opportunity to advance demarcation and leverage support of the indigenous movement, the environmental movement, and progressive sectors of Brazilian and international society, Alfinto observed.

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