On his first day in office Jan. 2, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (Medida Provisório 870) taking away responsibility for indigenous land demarcation from the indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, and handing it over to the Agriculture Ministry. In the same decree, Bolsonaro shifted authority over regularization of quilombos (lands titled to runaway slave descendants) from the agrarian reform institute, INCRA, to the Agriculture Ministry. The measure greatly weakens FUNAI, taking away its most important function. In practice, key areas of indigenous and quilombo policy will now be in the hands of agribusiness advocates—a long-time demand of the Bancada Ruralista (agribusiness bloc) in Congress.
The dark days of state collaboration with Colombia's murderous paramilitary groups were recalled with the arrest in New York last month of Javier Valle Anaya, former sub-director of Bogotá's Administrative Security Department (DAS), a now-disbanded intelligence agency that was found to be feeding information to the paras. Valle Anaya was detained on an immigration violation, and may face extradition back to Colombia, where he is wanted in connection with the 2004 assassination of human rights activist Alfredo Correa De Andreis in Barranquilla. (El Tiempo, Oct. 12) Ironically, the arrest comes just as a new scandal has emerged concerning an illegal network of chuzadas—Colombian slang for eavesdroppers. Retired National Police general Humberto Guatibonza was arrested in Bogotá Oct. 24, charged with running a chuzada ring that spied on labor activists—particularly members of the airline workers union, ACDAC. He has been placed under house arrest while the case is being investigated. (Caracol Radio, Oct. 31; W Radio, RCN Radio, Oct. 24)
Brazil's far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro campaigned on a plan to privatize vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he seeks to expand hydro-power and other energy mega-projects the region. Since his election in an Oct. 28 run-off vote, Bolsonaro's team has announced that his administration will merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment into a new "super ministry" to oversee the plan. Brazil now has some 720 indigenous reserves, ranging in size from a single hectare to nearly ten million hectares. Bolsonaro has said he wants to put all of those lands—13% of Brazil's territory—on the auction block. "Minorities have to adapt to the majority, or simply disappear," he said on the campaign trail, adding that under his administration, "not one square centimeter" of Brazil will be reserved for the country's indigenous peoples.
At its 75th annual convention in Denver this week, leaders of the National Congress of American Indians spoke strongly against the Trump administration's decision to halt the restoration of ancestral lands to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts, invoking a return to the disastrous policies of the "termination era." At issue are 321 acres in thw towns of Mashpee and Taunton, where the Wampanoag sought to build a casino. The US Interior Department issued a decision in 2015 to take the lands into trust for the tribe, to be added to their reservation. Ground was broken on the casino the following year. But opponents of the casino challenged the land transfer in the courts. In April 2016, US District Court Judge William Young found the 2015 Interior decision had bypassed the Supreme Court's 2009 ruling in Carcieri v Salazar, concerning a land recovery effort by the Narragansett Indian Nation of Rhode Island. In the Carcieri case, the high court ruled that the federal government had no power to grant land in trust for tribes recognized after passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In September of this year, the Interior decision was reversed by Tara Sweeney, the new assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Trump administration. Sweeney determined that the Mashpee Wampanoag-—whose ancestors welcomed some of the first settlers to the Americas more than 300 years ago—could not have their homelands restored because they were only federally recognized in 2007.
Julián Carrillo Martínez, a Tarahumara indigenous leader at the community of Coloradas de la Virgen, Guadalupe y Calvo municipality, in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state, was assassinated by unknown assailants Oct. 24, according to local advocacy group Alianza Sierra Madre. Carrillo Martínez was leading an effort by Coloradas de la Virgen to recover usurped traditional lands, with a case pending before the Agrarian Tribunal for the local district 5. Community residents were also petitioning Mexico's Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) to halt logging operations in forested areas of the disputed lands. (La Jornada, Amnesty International, Oct. 25) Several community residents have been assassinated in Coloradas de la Virgen since the community began its land recovery effort.
Social leader Milton Sánchez Cubas in Peru's northern Cajamarca region was acquitted July 16 of all criminal charges brought by the local subsidiary of US-based Newmont Mining. Prosecutors accused Sánchez of being "author" of the crime of "disturbance" in a protest concerning a land conflict between the company and a campesino family at the community of Tragadero Grande. Sánchez was represented by EarthRights International, which said in a statement, "[T]his case shows how the government uses legal tools to penalize freedom of expression, the right to information, freedom of assembly, and the right to protest." (ERI, July 16) Campesina Maxima Acuña de Chaupe, whose family lands were at issue in the dispute, was cleared of "land usurpation" by Peru's Supreme Court last May. (La República)
In Episode 13 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg deconstructs Trump's executive order ostensibly ending the policy of family separation on the southern border, and demonstrates how it actually lays the groundwork for indefinite detention of migrants on military bases. The Central American peasantry, expropriated of its lands by state terror, CAFTA and narco-violence, is forced to flee north—now into the arms of Trump's new gulag. The judiciary may yet pose an obstacle to enforcement of Trump's order, but this brings us to the Supreme Court's upholding of Trump's Muslim travel ban and the grim implications of Justices Anthony Kennedy's imminent resignation. With Congressional calls mounting for putting off confirmation of Kennedy's replacement while Trump remains under investigation over the 2016 electoral irregularities, a constitutional crisis is imminent.
In an April 6 decision being hailed as "historic," Colombia's Supreme Court of Jutsice ruled in favor of a group of 25 young people and children who brought suit against the state to demand it take measures to assure their right to inherit a healthy environment. They asserted that their future food security and access to water is threatened by continued deforestation in the Amazon and other ecological degradation. In its ruling, the court also noted Colombia's responsibilities on a global level to halt deforestation, as carbon dioxide releases from forest loss contribute to the greenhouse effect. The youth in the case were represented by lawyers from Colombia's Environmental Justice Network (Red por la Justicia Ambiental). (El Tiempo, April 8; Contagio Radio, April 6)