Without demarcation, with violence: Indigenous peoples criticize proposal of conciliation

'We won’t make a coalition and sell our territorial rights,' said Kari Guajajara during the 2nd day of encampment

Brasil de Fato | Brasília (Federal District) |
On Tuesday (23), there was a panel on the challenges posed by the Time Frame Limitation Law, part of the Free Land Encampment 2024 - Yana Faria/Apib

The demarcation of Indigenous lands continues to be the main topic of the Free Land Camp (Acampamento Terra Livre, in Portuguese). The dispute led by the agribusiness caucus in the Brazilian Congress over the time frame limitation thesis continues to weaken the rights and security of Indigenous peoples in Brazil. Since the approval, in December 2023, of Law 14.701/2023, known as the Time Frame Law, at least nine Indigenous individuals have been murdered, and more than 23 conflicts in Indigenous territories have occurred in the country, according to data from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Apib, in Portuguese). 

“The Federal Constitution established a regime of territorial protection and protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples. But in 2024, this regime is still being disputed by the large colonial economic elites,” said Apib's legal coordinator, Mauricio Terena, opening the plenary session “The challenges faced by Indigenous peoples in the face of the approval of the Time Frame Limitation Law," held on Tuesday (23), in the encampments’ main tent. 

In September, Indigenous peoples from all over the country celebrated the judgment of the Supreme Court (STF, in Portuguese), which ruled that the time frame limitation thesis was unconstitutional. However, at the end of 2023, the National Congress – going against the Judiciary – approved the Time Frame Limitation Law, which establishes that only lands occupied by Indigenous peoples before 1988, the year the Constitution was promulgated, can be demarcated. 

The text also provides for cooperation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to economically exploit the territories; more bureaucratization of the demarcation process (which currently takes about 30 years); and the possibility of contesting lands that have already been regularized.

“The constitutional text is being mischaracterized. The very rights of indigenous peoples and the exclusive use of our lands are being mischaracterized. There needs to be a strong response from us saying quite clearly that we are not happy,” argued Mauricio Terena.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vetoed some parts of the bill, but the vetoes were overturned in Congress, and the law was enacted. Now, the dispute has returned to the Supreme Court through lawsuits filed by Abip, together with leftist parties Rede and Psol, and by the agribusiness sector, through right-wing political parties Liberal Party, Progressive Party and Republicans.

Surprise and deception

The Indigenous lawyers who took part in the plenary session said they were surprised and disappointed by the decision handed down on Monday (22) by Supreme Court Minister Gilmar Mendes to suspend all lawsuits dealing with the constitutionality of law 14.701/2023 until the Court's final decision. 

Mendes also ordered that a conciliation process be set up between the parties involved in the lawsuits. The first conciliation hearing between Indigenous organizations, political parties and entities related to agribusiness should take place within 30 days. 

“We're not here to form a coalition and sell or raffle off our territorial rights. We don't negotiate with the time frame limitation thesis,” said Kari Guajajara, the legal advisor to the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab, in Portuguese). “It is extremely concerning to see that all the powers that were theoretically in a process of dispute seem much more aligned in an absurd attempt to remove and weaken Indigenous rights,” she added. 

Time frame limitation thesis threatens the territorial rights of Indigenous peoples / Rafa Stédile

Felício Pontes, the Regional Prosecutor of the Republic, said that the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office (MPF, in Portuguese) and the Federal Public Defender's Office (DPU, in Portuguese) were also taken by surprise, “a decision we didn't expect." According to him, the prosecutors are currently monitoring around 900 appeals brought against Indigenous peoples by representatives of five activities: “loggers, farmers, mining companies, energy companies and monoculture companies, especially in the Amazon.”

“How can these appeals be brought to a conciliation table?” he asked. “There are things that cannot be reconciled. What are we going to give up so that this conciliation can take place? We have to say no to conciliation. As the Indigenous peoples themselves say, "land is a mother, and mothers can't be negotiated", the prosecutor argued.

Lack of land demarcations leads to more violence

“It seemed that this year's Free Land Encampment would be a time to celebrate,” said Aléssia Tuxá, a public defender from the state of Bahia, alluding to the recent institutional achievements of Indigenous communities, such as the creation of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, the occupation of the presidency of the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI, in Portuguese) by Joenia Wapichana and the overturning of the time frame limitation thesis by the Supreme Court.

In addition to the return of the threat of the time frame limitation, the joy of the twentieth edition of Brazil's largest Indigenous mobilization is haunted by the delay in demarcating Indigenous lands, which are already in the final stages of the homologation process, and by the increase in violence against leaders, problems that are connected.

During the transition, President Lula committed to demarcating 14 indigenous lands in his first 100 days in office. But more than a year later, only 10 have been approved. “The delay in demarcating Indigenous Lands, coupled with the approval of law 14.701/2023, strengthens violence against indigenous people in Brazil,” says Apib. 

Data from the 38th Conflicts in the Countryside Brazil Report, released by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT, in Portuguese) on Monday (22), shows that Indigenous people were the most murdered in conflicts in the countryside in 2023: of the 31 people killed in disputes, 14 were Indigenous. 

“How are conflicts going to be resolved in this country if the rights of Indigenous peoples are not respected? If, without suspending the effects of this law [the time frame limitation], lands continue to not be demarcated, violence continues to advance on Indigenous territories and Indigenous people continue to be killed in the process? We can't have a discourse that relativizes all this,” defended Kari Guajajara.

For Aléssia Tuxá, Indigenous mobilization in spaces like the Free Land Encampment is essential to combat threats to the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“It's not just Indigenous lawyers or our relatives who are occupying the institutions that are going to make the landmark law fall and land demarcations happen. It's the strength of our movement. It's the strength of our leaders, of our people marching all over Brazil to gather here once again. It's the strength of our elders, who are among us and those who aren’t anymore, and of our youth who are here, drinking from this fountain of struggle and resisting once again,” he said. 

“Because we already know that the history of this country is built upon our blood. It is all a process of denying the rights of our people. But it is mainly, and this is what the textbooks don't tell us: a process of struggle and resistance by Indigenous peoples,” added the public defender.

Edited by: Flávia Quirino