Brazil: Supreme Court sides with Indigenous peoples in Raposa Serra do Sol land dispute

Brazil’s Supreme Court sided Thursday with Amazonian Indians in a land dispute that some have called critical for determining the future of the rainforest that sprawls the size of Western Europe. The court ruling upholds the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation for 18,000 Indians who lay claim to their ancestral land, despite a handful of large-scale farmers who also occupy the territory in the northernmost reaches of Amazon jungle bordering Venezuela.

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The dispute over the 4.2 million acre (1.7 million hectare)
reservation turned violent last year when authorities tried to evict
the farmers. The Supreme Court president said it was a
precedent-setting ruling for Indian land rights. Though the dispute
involves only a few thousand people in remote Roraima state, it
represents a large divide among Brazilians over land development and
sovereignty.

While the ruling solidifies Indian rights, detractors
said it does nothing to prevent another violent outbreak. “There is no
peaceful solution,” Nelson Itikawa, president of the Roraima Rice
Growers Association, told the government’s Agencia Brasil news
service. “It’s possible there will be a conflict – there are people
who will lose control.”

Roraima leaders – including an Army general
who threatened to defend the farmers in defiance of national law –
have said that leaving the reservation in Indian hands is a threat to
national security and strangles economic growth in the sparsely
populated state.

A long history of Indian repression and paranoia about international intervention in the Amazon loomed large in the case, said Brasilia political analyst Alexandre Barros.

“Old sins have long shadows, and there are a lot of sins on all sides that complicate this case,” he said. Indian rights groups also have called the case pivotal for determining the future of the Amazon, a rainforest the size of western Europe that scientists say provides a critical cushion against global warming. They say giving the Indians stewardship over vast tracts of land results in less rainforest destruction.

“They use the reserves in a sustainable manner – everybody is fully aware you can’t just go in and chop down the rainforest because it cannot be replaced,” said Fiona Watson, the Brazil coordinator for London-based Survival International, which works to protect indigenous people around the globe. “The indigenous land serves as a buffer against deforestation.”

Get full text; support writer, producer of the words:
http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/mar/19/lt-brazil-indian-conflict-031909/

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