Coordinator of the Parliamentary Front in Defense of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, federal deputy Célia Xakriabá (PSOL-MG) says in an interview with BBC News Brasil that the federal government lacked commitment to prevent the approval in Congress of a report that could weaken the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, created in January.
A native of the Xacriabá people, from Minas Gerais, the deputy says that, until recent weeks, indigenous peoples had been treated as a priority by the federal government.
“We haven’t ceased to be a priority. Now, the difference is that we are being a priority as a bargaining chip, having our rights raffled off and auctioned”, she says.
Last Wednesday (24), a joint congressional commission approved a report by deputy Isnaldo Bulhões (MDB-AL) that changes the ministerial reorganization defined in January by the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT).
Among other changes, the bubbles removes the attribution of demarcating indigenous lands from the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, returning this prerogative to the Ministry of Justice.
The demarcation of indigenous lands is a sensitive issue for the ruralist group, which represents landowners and is one of the strongest groups in Congress.
The ruralists do not want the Ministry of Peoples Natives be in charge of demarcations and press for the approval of legislative proposals that would slow down the processes.
The Bulhões report could also weaken the Ministry of the Environmentby shifting the management of the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR) and the National Water Agency (ANA) to other portfolios.
Bulhões’s text needs to be approved in the plenary sessions of the House and Senate by June 1st to become effective.
Otherwise, the ministerial reorganization defined by Lula will continue to apply, and the ministries of Indigenous Peoples and the Environment will maintain their attributions.
‘Lack of effort’
For congresswoman Célia Xacriabá, who supported the election of Lula and is one of the main names in the Brazilian indigenous movement, the government could have done more to avoid approval of the Bulhões report.
“There was a lack of commitment, a lack of priority (from the government), because at that moment it had all the conditions to negotiate (the report) from the Executive Power”, he says.
Important supporters of Lula participated in the negotiation of the report. According to Sheetos Ministers Alexandre Padilha (Institutional Relations) and Rui Costa (Cabinet) had dinner with deputy Isnaldo Bulhões last Monday (22) to discuss the text.
Xacriabá says he was also with Bulhões before the report was approved. She claims to have defended at the meeting that withdrawing the attribution of demarcating land would be equivalent to “ripping out the heart of the ministry of Indigenous Peoples”.
According to her, MPs who support change argue that there would be a “conflict of interest” if the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples were in charge of demarcations.
The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples is headed by the indigenous Sônia Guajajara (PSOL) and has several indigenous people in key posts.
For Xacriabá, however, nobody questions that farmers command the Ministry of Agriculture.
She says that the argument for transferring demarcations “seems like a proposal from the time of the Statute of the Indigenous People (1973), which said that we, indigenous peoples, had to be protected”.
Xacriabá also says that, before Lula’s inauguration, indigenous leaders who participated in the new government’s Transition Cabinet defended that creating the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples “would only make sense if the body assumed the attribution of demarcation”.
According to Funai (National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples), there are around 200 demarcation processes for indigenous lands in progress. These areas are equivalent to one tenth of the lands already demarcated and cover about 1.2% of the national territory.
Many of these processes are blocked in court and are contested by landowners, who claim to be the legitimate owners of the land claimed by the indigenous people.
After pressure from ruralists, demarcations were slowed down in the Dilma Rousseff (PT) and Michel Temer (MDB) governments and suspended in government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL).
Quite popular with ranchers, the former president often says that there is already too much indigenous land in Brazil and that the demarcations harm the country’s development.
Lula, on the other hand, was elected last year promising to prioritize the agenda of the indigenous movement and resume demarcations.
On April 28, he signed homologation decrees (the last stage of the demarcation process) for six indigenous lands and said he would conclude all pending processes in his government.
For Célia Xacriabá, the government “had a lot of commitment, a lot of commitment” with the indigenous guidelines until the announcement of the demarcations, in April.
She also praises Lula’s efforts to expel gold miners from Yanomami Indigenous Landin Roraima, and in alleviating the humanitarian crisis experienced by the indigenous people of that territory.
“There is a true commitment from President Lula, but, at this moment, there is also an opposing correlation of forces and the government needs to intervene”, he says, so “that he resumes having indigenous peoples as a priority”.
Xacriabá said he hoped that government organizers would be able to reverse the changes in the Bulhões report before the vote on the text in plenary next week.
This Friday (26), the Minister of the Civil House, Rui Costa, told journalists that the government will work with Congress to try to undo Bulhões’s changes.
“We are going to work in Congress so that the essence of public policies remain as they were at the origin”, said the minister. According to him, Lula demanded the ministers negotiating with Congress to “reaffirm the prerogative of who won the election and who won the implementation of a political project”.
‘As if they took Raoni out of the picture’
According to Célia Xakriabá, weakening the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples would distance the government from one of its main campaign promises: fighting climate change.
She cites studies that point to the demarcation of indigenous lands as one of the most efficient instruments to avoid deforestation.
For her, if the government backtracked on this point, “it would be as if they pulled Raoni out of the inauguration day photograph”, she says, referring to the protagonism that the indigenous leader Raoni Metuktire had at the ceremony in which Lula resumed the Presidency, in January.
Xacriabá also says that, although the indigenous movement has supported Lula’s election, the group will not accept setbacks in the demarcation rites.
“Negotiating the territorial agenda is negotiating our lives, and our lives are not under negotiation.”
“Whoever (the government) is, right or left, we will oppose it, because we will not allow that territorial right to be violated”, he says.
This text was originally published here.