Indigenous people protest Brazil not protecting ancestral lands

By Thomson Reuters Apr 25, 2024 | 5:37 PM

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Several thousand Indigenous demonstrators marched chanting to drum beats on Thursday to the seat of power in Brazil’s capital to protest against the government’s failure to protect their ancestral lands.

The annual event this year focused Indigenous anger over plans to build a railway to transport grain from farm states to Amazon ports for export that they fear will destroy the environment of tribal communities near the Tapajos river.

For a mock-up of the Ferrograo railway the marchers used a tractor-trailer truck dubbed the “Rails of Destruction” and painted with the names of multinational grain traders ADM, Bunge, LDC and Cargill.

“Ferrograo is the train of death, of deforestation,” said Alessandra Korap Munduruku, winner of the Goldman environmental prize. “The railroad is not going to carry people, as they claim, but grain production of international companies financing this project.”

Kleber Karipuna, head of Brazil’s largest Indigenous umbrella organization APIB, said the communities had not been consulted on the railway, whose announcement by the government has set off a wave of land grabbing along its planned path.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva received a group of Indigenous leaders who led the march to a square located between the Planalto presidential palace and the Supreme Court.

Their main complaint was the failure of his government to deliver on promises to officially recognize Indigenous reservations that have completed the demarcation process establishing that they are ancestral lands. The recognition is vital to protect their territories from invasion by illegal loggers, wildcat gold miners and land grabbers at the front of an agricultural frontier that is expanding into the Amazon.

Lula’s minority government is also undecided on whether to approve the railway project that has strong backing from Brazil’s powerful farm lobby.

The farm caucus in Congress said it is pressing for the execution of a project that was first proposed in 2015 for a 950-km railway to carry soy from Mato Grosso state to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos, an affluent of the Amazon river.

“We are in favor of Ferrograo, a federal government project of extreme importance for the shipment of grains,” the caucus said in a statement to Reuters. The railway will cut freight costs by 25% and release less CO² into the atmosphere that the trucks that currently carry the grain.

Indigenous leaders on Wednesday also urged the country’s Supreme Court to rule on a pending case on the fundamental right of their people to ancestral lands as established in the Constitution, a right that Congress has voted to limit in time.

They criticized lawmakers for advancing bills that would allow commercial agriculture and mining on reservation lands, which they fear will increase illegal logging and deforestation.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; editing by Diane Craft)