point of view

Indigenous lands: where nature resists

Terras indígenas: onde a natureza resiste

In the first half of the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana  considered the courage of the indigenous women whom he encountered in the New World to that of the Amazons of Ancient Greece. Hence came the name of the river that he discovered and of the region itself. The history of the Amazon, therefore, is one of resistance. And resisting is more than necessary. Native peoples and the environment remain under attack. As soon as he took office, the president generated controversy when he said that “15% of the national territory is demarcated as indigenous and quilombola lands and that less than one million people actually live in these isolated places in Brazil.” The wrong statement deserved a sharp response from the peoples Aruak Baniwa and Apurinã.

In a letter addressed to the new president, they corrected him: “they are 13%, most of whom (90%) live in the Legal Amazon. This percentage is what remained as having rights over land that used to 100% indigenous before 1500 and that was taken. It is not us who own much of the Brazilian territory, but the large landowners, farmers, agribusiness, etc. who sit on more than 60% of the national territory “. The letter emphasizes that the natives have protected Brazilian borders in the vast area which is Amazon for at least 17.000 years.

Fernando Michelotti, an assistant professor at the Federal University of Southern and Southeastern Pará, breaks the argument that there is a lot of land for few indians. Data surveyed organized by him for the IBGE Agricultural and Livestock Census 2017 takes the discussion deeper and shows that, in Brazil as a whole, the largest rural establishments (1%) occupy 47,5% of the land, while the smallest, 90,6%, own 20,5% of the land. In other words, beware of the ruses in the government’s speech: what it hides is that indigenous rights are seen as obstacles to a model of development completely focused on the export of agricultural products.

So the question remains: will agribusiness continue to define the destiny of the forest and its inhabitants? To what end are we looking the other way and allowing the continuation – and even expansion – of a model that is an obstacle to sustainable economic activities and the preservation of the environment? Is it  not a terrible inversion of values?

Such distortion becomes fully apparent when viewing data from the Amazon Region. Out of a total of 891,92 thousand places spread on an area of ​​133,22 million hectares, those with less than 100 hectares correspond to 735,56 thousand (82.5% of the total amount of establishments) and occupy 16,79 million hectares (12,6%). Meanwhile, rural establishments with 1.000 hectares or more correspond to 21,04 thousand (2.4% of the total) and occupy 81,79 million hectares (61,4%).

As a result, in the Amazon, the 2,4% largest agricultural establishments occupy 61,4% of the land, while the 82.5% of smallest establishments occupy only 12,6%. What is most worrying is that these large farms only generate work for 7,8% of the agricultural labor force. “This is the portrait of land concentration in the region, not unlike Brazil, where much land is privately owned by few people, with very low job creation,” says Michelotti. According to the Agricultural Census, the rural areas have lost 1,5 million jobs since 2006. It’s that old conversation full of hot air.

Another study that gives the defining blow to the government’s speech is the Imazon monthly bulletin (SAD). It shows how the destruction of the forest is much greater on private lands than on indigenous areas. From August to November 2018, the Amazon saw 287 km² of forest disappear, an increase of 406% over the same period in 2017. Last year, 53% of deforestation occurred in private areas or under various stages of ownership. The remainder was in settlements (37%), indigenous lands (5%) and conservation units (4%). From these data, we see that the presence of indigenous peoples on their lands is increasingly indispensable. It is not about their preservation as such … but the preservation of all of us.

Find out more (Portuguese): 

Após transferir demarcações para Agricultura, Bolsonaro diz que vai ‘integrar’ índios e quilombolas

Carta dos povos Aruak Baniwa e Apurinã ao Presidente Jair Bolsonaro

Ideia de Bolsonaro de explorar terras indígenas preocupa estudiosos

Temos de mudar ideia de que impedimos desenvolvimento, diz deputada indígena (entrevista com Joenia Wapichana)

Bolsonaro faz Rondon se revirar no túmulo (artigo de Marcelo Leite)

“Território indígena produz natureza; agronegócio, lucro”, diz ex-presidente da Funai


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