A day after the PM dispersed a demonstration by indigenous people in a confrontation that left several injured, the main commission of the Chamber of Deputies approved the main text of the bill that changes the rules for demarcating indigenous lands, contested by the opposition and indigenous leaders.
The main text of the bill was approved by 40 votes to 21 in a session that lasted more than seven hours. The members of the CCJ (Committee on Constitution and Justice) still need to evaluate proposals to modify the opinion of Deputy Arthur Maia (DEM-BA).
The text has yet to go through other phases. To be appreciated by the plenary of the Chamber, the urgency must be approved by the deputies. If the text passes through the Chamber, it must still be submitted for approval by the Senate. If there are changes, it goes back to the Chamber, before following President Jair Bolsonaro’s sanction.
On Tuesday (22), the president of the Chamber, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), said that he would analyze the project at the meeting of leaders this Thursday (24). He pledged to create a working group to analyze the proposal, one of the opposition’s main demands.
The vote was marked by a renewed protest by the indigenous people and by increased security around the Chamber of Deputies. The main entrance was closed to the traffic of cars and pedestrians, as well as Annex 2, where the Indians demonstrated because it was closer to the CCJ.
The opposition managed to block the vote on the bill for more than seven hours, awaiting the start of the agenda in the Chamber, in a session scheduled for 1:55 pm. Lira, however, only started the session after voting on the basic text, around 5:30 pm.
The project reported by Maia changes the rules for demarcating indigenous lands in the country, by establishing a time frame for this. The text considers indigenous lands those traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples on the date of the promulgation of the Federal Constitution of 1988, on October 5, 1988.
These areas should also be simultaneously inhabited by them permanently, used for their productive activities, essential for the preservation of environmental resources necessary for their well-being and necessary for their physical and cultural reproduction, according to their uses, customs and traditions.
According to the text, the absence of the indigenous community in the area on the date of promulgation of the Constitution de-characterizes the framework in the claim of indigenous land, except in the case of conflict over ownership that persisted until October 5, 1988.
“The time frame is an extremely arbitrary thesis that does not consider forms of occupation by indigenous peoples of their lands and that does not guarantee what is in the Constitution,” said Juliana de Paula Batista, a lawyer at ISA (Instituto Socioambiental). “Many were not in the areas because they were expelled during the dictatorship. It is a withdrawal of indigenous land rights.”
The rapporteur also contemplated in the text conditions established by the STF (Supreme Federal Court) in the demarcation of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous land, including the possibility of expression of interested parties in all phases of the administrative process of land demarcation. Today, states, municipalities, farmers and other interested parties have up to 90 days after the beginning of the demarcation process to manifest themselves.
“Every process has a period for interested parties to express themselves, there is no process in the country where they can express themselves at any stage. The process never ends”, criticizes Batista.
The text prohibits the expansion of indigenous lands that have already been demarcated and says that administrative processes for the demarcation of indigenous lands that have not yet been concluded will be adequate to the new law.
Another disputed point concerns indigenous reserves, established by the Union for possession and occupation by indigenous communities.
The bill determines that, in the event of “change in the cultural traits of the community or other factors caused by the passage of time”, the Union may retake the area, giving it another destination, or may allocate it to the National Agrarian Reform Program , “the lots being destined preferably to indigenous people who have it, if they have agricultural aptitude and so wish.”
“Anthropologists have already proven that there is no loss of cultural traits, culture is dynamic. It is a way for the Union to control the process of cultural assimilation, removing the indigenous people from their lands”, criticizes the ISA lawyer.
The bill indicates that the use of indigenous lands does not include the use of water resources and energy potential, which will always depend on authorization from Congress. It also does not cover research and mining of mineral wealth, which will depend on authorization from Congress, as well as mining or sparking and other areas whose occupation meets the relevant public interest of the Union.
The text ensures the performance of the Armed Forces and the Federal Police in indigenous areas, regardless of consultation with indigenous communities or the competent federal indigenist agency. It also prohibits the charging of tariffs or values or exchange for the use of roads, public equipment, power transmission lines or any other equipment and installations placed at the service of the public in indigenous lands.
The bill also provides for the case of isolated indigenous people and says that it is up to the State and civil society to respect their freedoms and traditional ways of life, and contact should be avoided as much as possible, except to provide medical assistance or to mediate state action of public utility.
For Juliana Batista, from ISA, this means the end of the policy of non-contact with the indigenous people. “Brazil has the largest contingent of isolated peoples in the world, it is their right to live in isolation. The bill foresees the possibility for the Union to make contact in case of public interest. But the project does not detail how”, he criticizes.
“The Union could even delegate contact to a public or private company, making room for evangelical groups to get in touch to do evangelization, for example. Indians have no immunological memory. It is extremely delicate to keep in touch with these peoples. The end of the no-contact policy is a scandal.”
Before the CCJ, the project passed, in 2008, the commission on agriculture, livestock, supply and rural development, where the opinion was approved, and, in the following year, the commission on human rights and minorities, where the decision was to reject the main project and others attached to it.
At the session, the bill was heavily criticized by the opposition. Congresswoman Joenia Wapichana (RR), leader of the Network in the Chamber and the only indigenous representative in Congress, criticized the bill and defended that indigenous peoples have their lands properly recognized.
“The situation of the Bolsonaro government has worsened the situation of indigenous peoples, because in addition to not recognizing indigenous lands, it wants to withdraw the sacred right to demarcate indigenous lands,” he said.
She stated that Arthur Maia’s report takes away what is guaranteed by the Constitution.
“This commission should wait, because it is also in the interest of this commission to cherish constitutionality. If not for constitutionality, what is it defending? Whose interests? It is not the collective of indigenous peoples.”
“We see the cruelty because indigenous peoples are not participating [da discussão], have no voice. Representation has only me. Feather.”
Deputy Fernanda Melchionna (PSOL-RS) also challenged the bill. “We are seeing a brutal attack on the Brazilian Constitution,” he said. “I don’t know any people that resisted more than the indigenous people.”
“Do you think that because there is a circumstantial majority in Parliament, which has its back to what the majority of the Brazilian people want, that they will always pass the cattle? They will not pass the cattle.”