Indigenous Brazilians 'win land case'
A hearing at the Brazilian Supreme Court has prompted some to hail victory for indigenous people in Brazil. "Eight of the court's 11 judges voted to keep a reservation in the Amazonian state of Roraima as a single territory." However, a final decision would only be published by February 2009." In 2005, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, demarcated the million-hectare land as indigenous territory. However, a small but powerful and well-connected group of rice farmers with ranches inside the federally-recognised indigenous territory have refused to leave the demarcated area." Such reluctance by Brazilian farmers has marked a debate over indigenous rights, national security and farmers´ contribution to national growth. Deforestation remains a pending issue though.
Indigenous leaders in Brazil say they have won an important victory for the rights of their community, at a key hearing of the Supreme Court.
Eight of the court's 11 judges voted to keep a reservation in the Amazonian state of Roraima as a single territory. However the case is not expected to be formally concluded until next year as one judge asked for more time to consider his ruling. The judgement will lead to the eviction of non-indigenous farmers.
There are more than 100 similar cases before the Supreme Court but it is thought this ruling will establish an important legal precedent, which touches on a number of sensitive issues. 'Half a celebration' Outside the court, indigenous lawyer Joenia Battista de Carvalho said she was satisfied with the votes so far, but she was disappointed the formal outcome would be delayed. "I was expecting the case to be concluded today - unfortunately our feeling is one of half a celebration, because what we wanted to see was the practical result of this - to see our land free of any invaders," she said. But local Mayor Paulo Cesar Quartieiro said the government was using it support for indigenous rights to hand over control of parts of Brazil to foreign groups.
Unbroken territory: At the centre of this case is a large area of land in the far north of Brazil, known as Raposa Serra do Sol, which is home to 19,000 Amazonian Indians and which was approved as an official reservation in 2005. Indian leaders said that if the court ruled against them it would send a signal to land grabbers, prospectors and loggers that it would be acceptable to invade indigenous territory. However, around 200 rice producers who also live and work in the area said that would force them to leave and would undermine economic development in the state of Roraima. To add to a complicated dispute, one indigenous group in the reservation supports the farmers, and the issue has been the subject of growing tension and conflict.
Some military leaders say they fear a large, almost autonomous Indian reservation running along a lengthy section of Brazil's frontier would have implications for national security - a claim strongly contested by indigenous communities who say it would remain Brazilian territory. To ally this fear some of the judges made clear in their rulings that the army and police should have full access to the region without having to consult indigenous leaders. But the BBC's Gary Duffy in Brasilia says it will only be clear in the months ahead if the court has done enough to ease the still simmering tensions surrounding this debate.
However final judgement in the case will not take place until all the judges give their verdict, which may not be until February. Indigenous leaders and their supporters say that the decision - if made official - would set a precedent protecting the rights of their people and protect the reservation from being targeted by loggers, prospectors and rice farmers. Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo outside the supreme court in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, said that the ruling, if confirmed, had repercussions not just for Brazil but for Latin America. Brazil was one of the first countries whose top court took on the issue and both indigenous groups and rights organisations looked to the case as a "benchmark" to set a precedent for future cases, our correspondent adds. However critics argue the decision will be an impediment to economic growth as well as a threat to Brazil's security along its northern border. Development concerns: The case centres on Raposa Serra do Sol, around 17,000 square kilometres of land home to 19,000 indigenous people, who comprise four tribes in the northernmost Brazilian state of Roraima, situated between Venezuela and Guyana. In 2005, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, the Brazilian president, demarcated the million-hectare land as indigenous territory. However, a small but powerful and well-connected group of rice farmers with ranches inside the federally-recognised indigenous territory have refused to leave the demarcated area. Supporters of indigenous rights say Brazil's rapid rate of development means land must be allotted for the nation's indigenous peoples. According to FUNAI, the government agency that oversees indigenous people in Brazil, the country is home to about one million Indians. They come from 220 different indigenous groups that speak more than 180 languages. Indian land accounts for about 12 per cent of Brazil's territory but in 2007 92 Indians were killed in land disputes.