Indigenous protesters clash with police in Brasilia

Thousands of indigenous protesters clashed with police outside the congress building in Brasilia during an April 26 demonstration over territorial and land rights in the Brazilian Amazon. Police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas when some protesters tried to reach a ramp leading into the National Congress. Indigenous demonstrators in face-paint and traditional head-dresses shot arrows at police in return. The demonstration was called to oppose measures being pushed by the powerful agribusiness bloc in Brazil's Congress, the Bancada Ruralista, that would threaten indigenous lands in the Amazon. Topping the list is Proposed Constitutional Amendment 215, or PEC 215, that would shift responsibility on demarcating indigenous lands from the executive to Congress, where the powerful farm lobby holds sway.

Congress is also moving forward measures to dramatically slash the size of protected areas in Pará state in the eastern Amazon. The Jamanxim Flona National Forest, Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve, Jamanxin National Park and other protected areas would be reduced by a collective 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres). Foreseeing indigenous lands being overwhelmed in a "free for all" by agribusiness and extractive interests, Survival International warns: "The reality is these cuts could sanction genocide."

And the legislation is moving forward amid an atmosphere of terror in the Amazon. Demonstrators in Brasilia carried coffins, representing indigenous and community leaders killed in the Amazon in recent years. Up to 20 Amazonian leaders and activists were killed in land conflicts last year.

The protest, bringing out some 4,000, was part of an "Indigenous Week" called to demand a halt to the regressive legislation, and that authorities adopt urgent measures to protect indigenous territories. (BBC News, MercoPress, TeleSur, LAHT, EuroNews, Empresa Brasil de Comunicação, The Ecologist, April 26; Mongabay, April 19)