Shady deal

Land rights of Brazil's local people being usurped

Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

a proposed constitutional amendment and the shifting allegiances of the governor of the state of Roraima threaten to deprive Brazil's indigenous Macuxi people of nearly 1.6 million hectares of contiguous land in the state.

The change in statute, scheduled to be voted on soon, decrees that no more than 50 per cent of each state in the country can be protected as forest and community lands. The plan is specifically aimed at preventing the ratification of the indigenous area of Raposa -- an archipelago inhabited by local communities including the Macuxi.

Reports allege that Roraima governor Flamarion Portela secured membership of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva's Workers Party by promising not to ratify Raposa. He officially joined the ruling party in March. Significantly, Brazilian minister for justice, Mrcio Thomaz Bastos, had promised to grant legal recognition to Raposa in his current term.

The campaign to grant it validity has been on since 1917 and is currently the main focus of the indigenous movement. The local people would like Raposa to be accepted as a contiguous area and not a series of islands. Around 15,000 Macuxi, Wapishana, Ingarik, Taurepang and Patamona Indians who live in the area are awaiting ratification. The local people feel betrayed by the dilution in the assurance made to them.

On his part, Portela justifies the proposed amendment by claiming that indigenous areas in the state are already in "excess", which makes local economic development unviable.

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