The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Christian Poirier:
Paula Vargas:

Major Brazilian Mobilization Demands Indigenous Land Rights in the Face of Mounting Threats

The Indigenous Free Land Camp strives to defend embattled constitutional rights while fighting grave threats from the agribusiness and mining sectors


Thousands of Indigenous leaders and representatives and their allies converged on Brazil’s capital this week for the 20th Free Land Camp (Acampamento Terra Livre – ATL), a major annual mobilization to advance the struggle for Indigenous rights to land demarcation and sovereignty. Organized by the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB), this year’s gathering is entitled “Our Existence is Ancestral: We Have Always Been Here!” to counter the virulent anti-Indigenous narratives that underpin spiraling attacks waged principally by agribusiness and mining interests in Brazil’s Congress.

Today’s march through Brasilia’s Esplanade of Ministries displayed the strength of the country’s Indigenous movement and focused on threats emblematic of the current assault upon constitutional land rights. To symbolize these threats, a large vehicle entitled “Tracks of Destruction” showcased drivers of human rights violations and environmental devastation, from agribusiness efforts to cut the Ferrogrãomega-railway through the heart of the Amazon rainforest to the relentless push to open Indigenous lands toindustrial mining. The action also denounced the scourge of illegal mining on native lands, which continues to flourish despite federal efforts to crack down on the activity.

“Ferrogrão is the train of death, of deforestation,” said Goldman Prize winner Alessandra Korap Munduruku. “The railroad is not going to carry people, as they claim, but grain production of international companies that are financing this project. It’s a project that will affect not only Indigenous people, but also traditional communities and the people who live in the towns alongside its route. In addition, it is a project that will affect people all over the world because it would exacerbate climate change with the massive deforestation it would cause.”

“Since Ferrogrão’s inception, hearings have only been held in cities, none in Indigenous villages,” said Kleber Karipuna, an Executive Coordinator at APIB. “Once again, we demand that the protocols for consulting Indigenous peoples be respected. Additionally, the absence of a consultation protocol should not be used as an excuse to deny consultation of peoples affected by the project.”

“The mere announcement of Ferrogrão has increased deforestation around our Indigenous lands,” said Doto Takak Ire, President of the Kayapó people’s Kabu Institute. “Land grabbing has increased, risks of land invasion have increased, and we have been forced to increase the monitoring of our territories. Soy cultivation has encroached to the edge of Menkragnoti Indigenous Land. It dirties the rivers that pass through our villages. We can already see all this. And Ferrogrão will only make it worse.”

“Ferrogrão represents the death of kilometers and kilometers of forest,” said Takakpe Tapayuna Metuktire, from the Raoni Institute. “While we should be thinking about how to preserve what remains and think about alternative infrastructure projects that respect our rights, nature and Indigenous and traditional peoples. We are fighting to prevent yet another project of death and destruction from prevailing in the Amazon. With Ferrogrão all that will be left is scorched earth.”

The Free Land Camp’s closing march prioritized Ferrogrão and mining on native lands because of the centrality of these threads to Indigenous land rights and the ecosystems sustained by Indigenous land defenders. Ferrogrão would impact at least 16 Indigenous lands and 104 rural settlements, threatening 4.9 million hectares of protected areas. Meanwhile, Brazil’s mining sector is projecting a new mineral boom in the Amazon and is openly seeking to prospect on Indigenous lands.

“Through today’s powerful action and protest, Brazil’s Indigenous movement denounced the trails of destruction left by illegal miners, multinational mining interests, and agribusiness companies in the Amazon and on Indigenous territories,” said Paula Vargas, Amazon Watch Brazil Program Director. “These companies and their political backers must be stopped and held accountable, and Brazilian authorities must defend the rights of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities.”

Notably absent from this year’s ATL was President Lula, who had attended the two previous mobilizations. APIB has criticized his government’s failure to fulfill a campaign promise to swiftly demarcate Indigenous lands, as well as its weak response to congressional attacks on Indigenous rights. Lula’s announcement that his government would only title 10 of 14 promised Indigenous territories has also sparked denunciations from Brazil’s Indigenous movement. Yet despite his absence at the mobilization, Lula received a group of leaders at the presidential palace today.

The ATL mobilization occurs within a backdrop of the most severe political rollacks on Indigenous rights since the ratification of Brazil’s constitution in 1988. Last year’s passage of Federal Law 14,701 which enshrined the “Marco Temporal” (time limit thesis) into law after overriding President Lula’s partial vetoes to the legislation, has effectively frozen Indigenous land demarcations while opening federally-titled territories to industrial activity, which could potentially include mining and agribusiness projects.

While the constitutional basis for Marco Temporal had been roundly rejected by Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF), this week STF justice Gilmar Mendes signaled the court would not rule on the constitutionality of Law 14,701, opening the possibility of negotiating away fundamental Indigenous rights in a major setback to the country’s Indigenous movement.

Amazon Watch is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.