The indigenous people of Brazil, descendants of those who inhabited this land before the conquest or before anyone even thought of turning it into a country, won a decisive victory this Thursday for their people and the environment. The majority of judges on the Supreme Court this Thursday rejected, by nine votes to two, the agricultural lobby’s thesis that called for a time limit on land claims by indigenous peoples. This legal case, which has been heard in the highest court since 2021, has kept indigenous and environmental organizations on tenterhooks ever since, as indigenous reserves are crucial for the preservation of the extensive indigenous culture, but also for the protection of nature and biodiversity Amazon and in the states where grain and livestock grow.
Representatives of the indigenous population have followed this trial, which they consider historic, from the hall of the Supreme Court in Brasília. For two years, each of the long interim negotiations has raised enormous expectations, because this case represents the case law. And that is why the result of course has an enormous impact on the indigenous population, but also on the agricultural sector, the most dynamic part of the economy, which is growing the most and the creates most jobs.
Once again, in this polarized Brazil, the highest court is divided into ideological camps. The two judges who voted for the agribusiness theory are the two presidents appointed by far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, who refused to demarcate even an inch of new land for locals or biodiversity.
The agribusiness lobby wanted the indigenous population not to be able to claim territories where they were not resident on the day the Constitution was promulgated, i.e. October 5, 1988. Their argument was that this deadline could resolve countless land disputes and provide legal certainty to agricultural producers. For locals, the introduction of this restriction would have meant legalizing multiple expulsions before that date, particularly during the dictatorship that ended in 1985.
The indigenous people are a very small minority of Brazilians (1.7 million among those living in villages and cities) and their land accounts for more than 13% of the territory. And in them they fulfill a vital function for the planet, because they are always the areas where nature is best preserved. In images taken by satellites in the Amazon or other ecosystems, indigenous areas and nature reserves are easy to identify because they are usually green islands.
“Victory! “We have rejected the legal-political thesis of the time frame,” announced in a note the APIB, the organization that brings together the indigenous peoples of Brazil and which until a few months ago was led by Sonia Guajajara, now Minister of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil, led by the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In any case, the APIB warns that some dangers have emerged during the legal process, such as the possibility that agricultural producers will have to be compensated.
“Our original right is guaranteed, but there are problems in the Supreme Court debate that threaten us,” the APIB note said, adding that “the proposal for compensation for bare land violates demarcation and exclusive usufruct of indigenous lands impracticable.” “which is also an inviolable right.”
The process of delimitation of indigenous territories was very intense in the first years after democracy was regained in Brazil in 1985. But a decade ago it was stopped due to the political, social and economic crisis that the country was experiencing and in the last four years it has been completely paralyzed. Retired military man Jair Bolsonaro promised in his first presidential campaign not to legalize “an inch of indigenous land,” and he kept his word. Lula has restarted the process, but at a much more tentative pace than indigenous people and environmentalists would have liked. He resumed the creation of indigenous territories with eight areas, which he carefully selected from the long list of applications, avoiding those that could be the most conflictual, both politically and legally.
The case that the Supreme Court has now decided concerns a specific country in the state of Santa Catarina, in the south of the country. In 2009, a trial court judge stripped the Ibirama-Laklano area of its status as an indigenous reserve on the grounds that the indigenous people were not there on the day the constitution came into force, which recognizes indigenous peoples’ right to their land, including exclusive exploitation . Bolsonaro failed in his attempt to enable outsiders to exploit these riches.
President Lula and his government were waiting to see what the Supreme Court would decide in this case. But the highest court decision does not settle the matter. Because the agricultural lobby has sought an alternative way to achieve its goal, namely the Senate debating a bill on the issue. Your honorable MPs will vote on it next week.