Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Indigenous land rights in a historically pivotal claim case.
The case regarded the highly condemned “marco temporal” (time frame) legal policy, which placed a requirement on Indigenous people to prove they were on the land in question in 1988, when Brazil’s current constitution was ratified, in order to assert a right to their ancestral territory.
Fiona Watson, Director of Survival International, signified this case as a “momentous, historic victory for Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and a massive defeat for the agribusiness lobby”. The “marco temporal” policy was widely criticised as a loophole to prevent Indigenous groups from claiming their land back. The United Nations even argued the policy could “legalise theft of Indigenous lands”.
Nine of the court’s 11 justices voted to eradicate this legal injustice, which has resulted in emotional scenes across South America; outside the Supreme Court’s headquarters in Brazil and across the Amazon region (home to about half of Brazil’s 1.7 million Indigenous citizens), activists wept with joy and others danced.
Human rights and environmental activists and organisations have outlined that this policy has exploited indigenous land and peoples. Their argument exposed the exploitation of Indigenous land by Brazil’s agribusiness – the profitable business and farming activities which supported the policy.
Many Indigenous groups were forced out from their ancestral lands during the 21-year military dictatorship in Brazil from the 1960s to 1980s. Two of the Indigenous groups who were forced out in 1988, named the Xokleng, Guarani, and Kaingang peoples, brought the case to court.
Several tribes, such as the Xokleng, Guarani, and Kaingang peoples, have been pushed out, followed by many more if “marco temporal” had been successful. Activists are drawing attention to the "unpayable debt" owed by society for the assault against native peoples.
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right President of Brazil from 2019 to 2022, vowed not to create "one more centimeter" of protected Indigenous reservations whilst in office and appointed the two justices who ruled in favour of the “marco temporal” policy.
Bolsonaro played a major role in Brazil's agribusiness, including exploiting indigenous land and promoting deforestation in the Amazon. He presided over a surge in the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon during his presidency, when average annual deforestation increased by more than 75% from the previous decade.
In January 2022, Bolsonaro was defeated in elections by the directly opposing Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who campaigned for leftist policies acknowledging Indigenous injustice. Silva has resumed creating Indigenous reservations and created Brazil's first Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
This is just the beginning of the battle for native activists. While Brazil now has over 700 recognized Indigenous lands, around a third still await official recognition as reservations.
Edited by: Anwen Venn
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