Outside the Federal Supreme Court (STF), at Praça dos Três Poderes, the smoke and the smell of barbecue from the street vendor mingled with just over 1,000 indigenous people who were looking at a screen this Wednesday. The court ministers had just resumed judgment on the process of the timeframe, which can define the future of demarcation of indigenous lands and guide all indigenous policy in the country. Throughout the afternoon, the parties involved in the process made their defenses in a historical debate, which may establish that only indigenous lands are those already occupied or claimed by the Indians until the promulgation of the 1988 Constitution, thus barring many of the processes of ongoing demarcation and putting at risk of questioning lands already officialized as indigenous.
The controversy surrounding the issue is such that, on Wednesday, the ministers were not even able to start their votes, something expected to happen this Thursday, after the demonstrations of a few more dozens of amici curiae, or friends of the court, institutions interested in the cause. Outside, hundreds of indigenous people from different ethnic groups have been camping for more than a week, coming from all regions of the country to claim the right to land. “We are seen as foreigners in our own country”, summarizes Valdelice Veron, a Guarani Kaiowá from Mato Grosso do Sul.
With a clear and forceful anti-indigenist policy, President Jair Bolsonaro (no party) became the main target of protests along the way. Under his management, no land has yet been demarcated. This week, Bolsonaro again criticized land demarcations. “They ended up with Roraima with those demarcations, right? They ended Roraima,” the president told supporters in front of the Alvorada Palace on Monday. “Is there an Indian favela there?”, he asked, without specifying what he was referring to. “Was it in the Dilma government or was it Lula the Raposa Serra do Sol?”, he asked supporters.
The president mentioned the Raposa Serra do Sol territory, which is located in Roraima, and which was demarcated thanks to an understanding of the Supreme Court based on the time frame. At the time, the court understood that the original peoples were already there before the promulgation of the Constitution and that, therefore, the territory belonged to them. The court’s understanding, however, was restricted to that territory only.
Now, the judgment at stake has a general repercussion character, which means that what is decided is valid for all cases related to the topic. Mainly defended by ruralists, who claim that there must be legal security for landowners, the thesis causes apprehension among indigenous people, who fear a setback and loss of rights. “Indian without territory is not an Indian”, says Jaciene Brito, of the Tupinambá ethnic group, in Bahia.
The camp was visited by politicians throughout the week. With just over a year to go before the presidential election, Guilherme Boulos (PSOL), candidate in the last election, took the stage this Wednesday. Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) did not appear, but sent a brief audio, posted by the president of his party, Gleisi Hoffmann, praising the indigenous struggle.
Camped for more than ten days, many said goodbye to Brasília this Wednesday. Still, the camp will not break up. On the weekend, indigenous women begin arriving for the women’s march, which takes place between September 7th and 11th. The event raises doubts about possible clashes, as it begins on the day that pocketnaristas are expected to take to the streets to defend the president.
In the hands of Congress
This Thursday, the trial in the STF must be resumed. There are still a few lawyers left who will make their five-minute pleas each. After that, ministers begin to vote, starting from the youngest to the oldest, the dean. Thus, Minister Kassio Nunes, appointed by Bolsonaro, begins voting. There is an expectation around this first vote, which must be against indigenous rights. It is also possible that the minister may request views of the process, suspending the trial, with no date to resume.
If that happens, the court will end up throwing the decision on the future of indigenous lands in Brazil into the hands of Congress. This is because the bill 490/2007 is being processed in the Chamber of Deputies, which imposes the thesis of the timeframe in the legislation. It establishes, among other things, that indigenous lands are only those already occupied or claimed by indigenous peoples until the promulgation of the Constitution. It also provides for the opening of territories for project exploration, and allows, among other things, contact with isolated indigenous peoples.
The eyes of the original peoples are, therefore, also turned to the Congress. “If PL 490 is approved, there will be a great massacre,” says Valdelice Veron. “Because today, unlike when the Constitution was promulgated, we speak Portuguese, we are not afraid. We will not leave our forest and whoever enters, we will not let them leave either”.
In early July, PL 490 was approved by the Chamber’s Committee on Constitution and Justice and Citizenship. Now, it waits to be appreciated by the Plenary. But lawyers who defend the indigenous cause heard by EL PAÍS claim that, even if the bill is approved in Congress, the cause will not be lost. “If the bill is voted and sanctioned before the STF’s decision, it will still be possible to challenge its constitutionality in court”, says lawyer Julia Neiva, from Conectas. “And if someone wants to argue that a land would enter within the time frame, it is possible that this decision will be suspended precisely because there is no decision within the STF”, he completes.
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