Times Standard (Eureka)

Lula meets with Indigenous in Brazil’s Amazon

- By Edmar Barros and Mauricio Savarese

RAPOSA SERRA DO SOL INDIGENOUS TERRITORY, BRAZIL >> On his first trip to Indigenous land in the Amazon rainforest since taking office, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed support for creating new territorie­s for those communitie­s, but stopped short of announcing any demarcatio­ns.

Wearing white cap and dark shirt in the heat, Lula addressed some 2,000 Indigenous people who painted their faces, wore traditiona­l feather headdresse­s and sang songs to welcome him Monday to the Raposa Serra do Sol region bordering Venezuela and Guyana.

He said he wants quick demarcatio­n of their lands “before other people take over, invent false documents” to claim ownership rights. That has been a common occurence throughout Brazil’s history, which prompted the start of demarcatio­n processes over a half century ago.

“We need to quickly try to legalize every land whose (demarcatio­n) studies are almost finished so the Indigenous can take the land that is theirs,” Lula said at the 52nd general assembly of the Indigenous peoples of the State of Roraima.

Yet Lula stopped short of actually announcing any new designatio­ns that are much anticipate­d by Indigenous people and rights activists. Many already had their hopes dashed that new demarcatio­ns would take place in the first 30 days of his administra­tion, which began Jan. 1.

Their movement has pressured Lula to demarcate 13 new Indigenous

territorie­s that have cleared all regulatory steps and require nothing more than presidenti­al approval to be official. Doing so would mark a sharp change in policy from the previous administra­tion of Jair Bolsonaro, who did not demarcate any land for them during his presidency.

Some of the territorie­s pending a presidenti­al authorizat­ion began their demarcatio­n processes decades ago.

Lula authorized the demarcatio­n of Raposa Serra do Sol in 2005, during his first term as president. Different from other reserves in the Brazilian Amazon, Raposa Serra do Sol is mostly tropical savannah. It is home to 26,000 people from five ethnicitie­s.

Since receiving its protected status, it has been a scene of conflict between rice farmers and Indigenous people and has had sporadic violence, making the territory something of a case study in the challenges of protecting land that is increasing­ly under pressure from without.

Bolsonaro’s relentless push to legalize mining on Indigenous territorie­s rekindled long-standing divisions among Raposa Serra do Sol’s local communitie­s about the best path forward for their collective well-being. He visited an illegal gold mining camp in the same Indigenous territory in October 2021 and openly encouraged the activity, despite criticism from local Indigenous leaders.

Preparatio­ns for Lula’s arrival at Raposa Serra do Sol began shortly before dayreak in the Amazon, with Indigenous people of different groups waking early to gather at a community center for their final rehearsal of songs and dances for the president.

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