Victory in Amazon indigenous struggle

An important victory is reported from the Brazilian Amazon, which has been the scene of recent violence linked to struggles for control of land and resources. From the BBC, April 15:

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has signed a decree creating an Amazonian Indian reserve the size of a small country in northern Brazil. The reserve, Raposa Serra Do Sol, is called “the land of the fox and mountain of the sun” by the 12,000 Indians who live there. Its hills, rivers and forests cover 17,000 sq km (6,500 square miles).

The move follows 30 years of campaigns by the Indians, which led to bitter conflicts with settlers and farmers. During that time, human rights groups say at least a dozen Indians were killed in conflicts with miners and settlers. Parts of the reserve, in the northern state of Roraima, are now planted with rice or grazed by cattle.

Indian protests

The decree for demarcation – the last step in a long process – has been sitting on the Brazilian president’s desk for a couple of years. Whenever he has looked like signing, it has provoked fierce protests against the reserve from settlers and local politicians.

Justice Minister Tomas Bastos said that over the next year, farmers inside the reserve would be moved to alternative land. Only roads, a frontier military base, and a small town inside the area have been excluded from the reserve.

Lula, as the president is known, will be hoping the decree will head off anti-government protests planned for next week by Indian groups. They have been accusing him of not living up to promises over land.

Lula was under pressure to act following the February slaying of forest defender Dorothy Stang in neighboring Para state, the subsequent militarization of the Amazon with the rising threat of violence, and other recent assassinations of forest defenders in Brazil which have received less media attention.

The Indigenous Council of Roraima, representing the Macuxi, Wapixana and other inhabitants of the region, had been pushing for creation of the reserve since 1988, when Brazil’s constitution called for the demarcation of indigenous lands. Demarcation is opposed by a powerful alliance of loggers, miners and ranchers, and the group has documented at least 20 killings and scores of unjust imprisonments of local Indians over the past twenty years. Further information is available at the Rainforest Foundation website.