Brazil Agrobusiness Lobby Set to Appropriate Native Land and Timber

Indigenous organizations protest in Brasilia, against the proposed Constitutional Reform PEC 215 to put the fate of Amazonian Forests in the hands of Congress; this motion was promoted by “Bancada Ruralista”, the Agribusiness’ lobby many years ago and it is being discussed now.

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Story Transcript

OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: In Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, last week, indigenous groups expressed their dissatisfaction with the PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that they believe endangers their lands and their way of living.

In the Brazilian Congress, there is a parliamentary group, consisting of 160 deputies and 29 senators, known as “rural workbench”–in Portuguese, bancada ruralista. On 2012, the group proposed the 215th constitutional amendment, the PEC 215, which intends to delegate exclusively to Congress the duty of demarcation of indigenous territories, as well as the ratification of land already approved. Currently the motion is being discussed.

In October 1988, Brazil promulgated its federal constitution. After 20 years of a regime imposed by the military dictatorship, the 1988 Constitution became known as the social constitution and definitely ended the dictatorship period.

This contributed with major progress in the social field, such as its commitment to the protection and demarcation of indigenous territories.

Anthropologist Antonio Carlos De Souza Lima is a well-respected figure. He has been a researcher and scholar for 34 years. He’s a specialist in indigenous policy and anthropology. He believes the association of agro money and politics threatens the indigenous lands.

ANTONIO CARLOS DE SOUZA LIMA, RESEARCHER AND DIRECTOR OF BRAZILIAN ANTHROPOLOGY ASSOCIATION (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Indigenous populations are part of the contemporary society, and they are not trying to stop development. But they do have rights.

We have to consider that we live in a country of rights, that the Brazilian Constitution established a set of rights that took into consideration the ethnic differences of this country. Those rights cannot be trapped by an argument of a development model visibly committed to profit at the expense of the welfare of the majority, not just indigenous, but the welfare of all of us.

LEÓN: According to the 1988 Constitution, the state is the competent body to mark and protect the land occupied by indigenous populations. This historical right is currently threatened.

Currently, the demarcation of territories requires anthropological reports, technical studies, subsequent approval by the Ministry of Justice, and, finally, the President’s homologation.

DE SOUZA LIMA: This is the capitalistic world, the triumph of the interests of a small group.

Why not build the power plant on the lands of agribusiness? We need to ask that. Does everything need to be about producing soy for China with Chinese money and using Brazilians as figureheads?

LEÓN: With the approval of the PEC 215, it would be easier for agribusiness to appropriate ancestral lands, since the responsibility for the protection of natural heritage would be in the hands of Brazil’s Congress.

Acting in solidarity with the indigenous fight, a group of activist of Greenpeace Brazil hanged a giant banner under the national flag in Brasilia’s government complex. They too are worried about the disappearance of the rain forest jungle. And evidence seems to be on their side. In this image by NASA, we can glimpse the rapid deforestation of the Amazon.

TIURÉ POTIGUARA, ACTIVIST FOR INDIGENOUS RIGHTS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The resistance of indigenous peoples today represents the resistance of all the native peoples of the world against a development model that benefits only a few.

LEÓN: It has been widely reported that the parliamentarians that form the “rural workbench” have their campaigns financed by corporations, profiting from deforestation and mineral exploitation, they work inside the Congress in the direct defense of the interests of landowners, creating powerful agribusiness lobbies.

Brazil is the world’s second largest soybean producer, responsible for 26 percent of world production of this grain. Approximately 1 million hectares of Amazonian rainforest are deforested annually, and much of this deforestation gives land to soy production.

José Urutao Guajajara is an indigenous scholar, but also a leader in the fight for their rights.

JOSÉ URUTAO GUAJAJARA, RESEARCHER IN LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There is archeological and anthropological evidence that our tribes have been in this part of America for 40,000, 50,000 years. What does it mean to preserve a territory for 40,000 years? … and then have a dominant culture coming and destroying everything in less than 300 years, devastating it all.

LEÓN: The lands demarcated as indigenous territory guarantee the protection of the Amazon rainforest, limiting access and controlling the illegal exploitation of the territory. However, only 363 of the 1,046 territories occupied by indigenous populations are officially demarcated.

The economic development is not measuring its environmental impact. The current economic model for agribusiness does not address sustainability, a concept that Brazil recently used to generate positive propaganda, when in 2012 the country hosted UN International Conference for Sustainable Development.

DANIEL PURÍ, ACTIVIST FOR THE INDIGENOUS RIGHTS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): If the history of certain people is not crafted and highlighted, if it has no place in culture of the country, then fighting for its values is a matter of survival for these people.

In Brazil, historically the indigenous populations were forced into this way of life. And today we see the indigenous struggling in the defense of their way of life. We need to meet the conditions for that to happen.

LEÓN: Henrique Alves, president of Brazil’s Congress, postponed the first parliamentary session of PEC 215 and will form, this week, a group that will work in the creation of a consensual text for the constitutional amendment.

POTIGUARA: We need to create a system where all people will have a voice inside the Congress and the Supreme Court, which will give voice to all kinds of people.

LEÓN: President Dilma Rousseff announced via Twitter that she’s contrary to PEC 215 and advised all parliamentarians allied to the government to vote against the proposal.

The Brazilian indigenous join a long list of people displaced by or fighting against oil and mining megaprojects. We still have yet to see if they are successful in the fight of their lives, the one for survival of their heritage and their families.

On special report by Nerita Oeiras, for The Real News this is Oscar León.

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