Brazil: Indigenous land rights victories are a win for the planet

Recent decisions for Native communities’ land rights mark historic defeats for agribusiness, mining giants, illegal settlers, and the far-right politicians who support them.

The 2nd Indigenous Women’s March, themed “Reforesting minds for land’s cure,” brought 5,000 women to Brasília in September 2021. PHOTO: @giulinanemartins
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Just this last May, capitalism’s insatiable agribusinesses and mining companies, backed by their far-right bloc in Brazil’s congress, passed a bill to thwart the country’s 1.6 million Indigenous peoples from reclaiming long-lost lands.

The new legislation rejected Indian reclamation of ancestral lands they had not lived on before 1988. Since most natives had been forced out many decades before 1988, this “time limit trick” was designed to legalize the theft of large areas of the Amazon basin.

A dirty trick defeated

Brazil’s Supreme Court, operating under the leftish leadership of recently elected President Lula de Silva, determined that the thieving bill was largely unconstitutional. And on October 20, 2023, the president vetoed most of it.

The court and Lula maintained that tens of thousands of acres had already been illegally cleared by settler colonists and timber pirates to clear the way for mining companies like Vale and Anglo American, and agribusinesses like Cargill.

This historic victory was won by years of struggle and protests led by Indigenous women. Protecting ancestral ecosystems is dangerous around the world, but especially in South America.

In 2021 Brazil was named the world’s deadliest country for land defenders by Global Witness. As murders, evictions, forest burnings and forced, non-tribal settlements increased in the Amazon basin, massive national protests by Indigenous women began with a huge march in 2018 — part of the wave that toppled the right-wing Bolsonaro regime. Tens of thousands of women in Indigenous garb came from all corners of the country to rally for land rights in the capital city of Brasília. They were joined by Native women in support from New Zealand, Uganda, Finland, the United States and other countries.

As a result, government forces have already started to remove non-Indigenous settlers from land where they had wiped out forests, launched illegal gold mining and farming, built roads and dams, and set up whole towns.

Carry on!

Agribusiness Cargill, mining giants Vale and Anglo American, and their right-wing legislators vow to keep fighting, but the longtime protectors of this valuable ecosystem are not backing down. More triumphs are paramount for their own survival and that of isolated, uncontacted tribes. The World Wildlife Foundation reports a new species of animal or plant is discovered almost every other day.

Brazil contains almost 60% of the Amazon rainforest, where trees release 20 billion tons of moisture each day, playing a pivotal role in global temperature and rainfall. The Amazon area keeps over 150 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere and contributes to the earth’s oxygen supply. The region is a treasure trove of diverse plants and animals. This ecosystem stands as one of the last bulwarks against the worst of climate change.

Long live Indigenous resistance!

“We are not defenders of nature; we are nature defending itself.” — Yoko Kopacã, Indigenous leader in southern Brazil

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