Agriculture-lobby gains influence: Brazil's 900,000 indigenous people struggle to survive

Before the World Cup: Desperate protests of Amerindians

Against the backdrop of the recent protests of traditionally dressed indigenous peoples a few days before the beginning of the World Cup, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) would like to draw attention to the dramatic problems of the native communities in Brazil. "Their land rights are still largely unsecured, so that big landowners have an easy time. At the same time, there is a constant increase of pressure on the indigenous territories due to deforestation, raw materials extraction and dam projects for the production of hydroelectric power," is how Yvonne Bangert, the STP's expert on questions concerning the indigenous peoples, describes the situation.

"The Amerindians cannot survive without safe land rights – but nothing seems to change for the better: At the moment, the politicians are discussing a constitutional amendment due to which the agriculture-lobby – which is not exactly known as very respectful of the indigenous peoples – will gain influence in questions of whether protected areas will be recognized or not," says Bangert. "The indigenous peoples in Brazil have been trying to work against this development for a long time. Now, they are trying to take advantage of the attention for the country in connection with the upcoming international sports event." Brazil's 1988 constitution guarantees rights for the indigenous peoples at least on paper – but in practice, the rights are being undermined by several specific laws.

There are about 900,000 indigenous people living in Brazil. They belong to 305 different tribes and speak 274 different languages. Erwin Kräutler, the Bishop of Altamira (whose human rights organization CIMI was awarded with the STP's Victor-Gollancz Human Rights Prize), even thinks that there is an anti-indigenous campaign going on in Brazil, enforced especially by representatives of the agri-business.

The STP criticizes that, from now on, the previously prohibited extractive industries will be allowed to operate in protected indigenous areas – against the will of the inhabitants. Large uranium deposits are suspected on Yanomami territory, a tribe that lives in the border region to Venezuela. On Ashaninka territory, which is divided by the border to Peru, there are currently preliminary studies for oil and gas production. In Mato Grosso do Sul, the Guarani are forced to live a miserable life in small reserves, because they are unable to enforce their legitimate land claims against the landowners. The territory is not large enough to secure the peoples' basis of existence. Thus, many Guarani are forced to live in shacks on the roadsides.

"Instead of handling the country's resources with care and respecting the land rights of the indigenous peoples, the state spends enormous sums to build sports stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup," criticized Bangert. Throughout Brazil, the people are protesting against the extreme security measures for the World Cup venues and against the cuts in public spending.

Yvonne Bangert - Indigenous Peoples Department - is available for further questions: Tel. 0551 49906 14 or indigene@gfbv.de.