The text, which was passed by 283 votes to 155, stipulates that the indigenous people have only the right to own the lands on which they resided when the 1988 constitution was promulgated.
Brazilian deputies on Tuesday approved a bill limiting the demarcation of indigenous lands, a setback for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has revived a policy to protect this group and the Amazon.
The text, which was approved by 283 votes against 155, stipulates that the indigenous people are entitled to own only the lands on which they resided when the 1988 constitution was promulgated.
The indigenous people reject this, stressing that they were not present in some lands in 1988 because they were expelled over the centuries, especially during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).
The bill, which is also supposed to be presented to the Senate before it goes into effect, was promoted by pro-food parliamentarians and other opposition groups.
The passage of the text in the House of Representatives constitutes a setback for Lula, who promised upon his return to power to make environmental protection a priority after four years of sharp rise in deforestation under his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro (2019-2022).
Brazilian Minister for Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajara said Tuesday that approving the project “kills any hope for the future”. “This is genocide against indigenous people and an attack on the environment as well,” she added.
Scientists see the demarcation of indigenous lands as a major barrier to deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest.
Brazil has 764 indigenous territories, but a third of them have not yet been demarcated, according to figures from the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples.
In April, Lula’s government recognized six new provinces, in a move that was the first of its kind in five years.
“war against the peoples”
The deputies’ vote sparked protests in Brazil and drew the attention of environmental groups and international activists, including US movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo.
“There is a war against indigenous peoples and forests. Our planet is in danger. Had it not been for the hero your people elected and preventing (the project) from progressing,” Ruffalo wrote in a tweet on the eve of the debate in Parliament.
Before the vote, about 100 indigenous people blocked a road in the suburbs of Sao Paulo early Tuesday morning, before police dispersed them with tear gas, as shown in footage broadcast on local television.
“The House of Representatives sent a message to the country and to the world that Bolsonaro is gone, but the genocide continues,” the environmental defense organization Observatorio do Clima said in a statement.
She added, “The Senate is obligated to reconsider this absurdity that has been approved.”
Representatives passed the bill under an emergency procedure that allows it to be voted on directly in a plenary session without going through committees first.
The Brazilian parliament could inflict a new defeat on Lula later this week if it approves a project to amend the powers of a number of ministries, at the expense of the environment and indigenous peoples in particular.
In particular, the text provides for the withdrawal of the powers of the cadastral survey of rural lands and the management of water resources from the Ministry of Environment.
As for the Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Sonia Guajarara, whose portfolio Lula created, she will lose her responsibility for the delineation of new reserves for indigenous peoples, which will be transferred to the Minister of Justice.