Lobbyists have been advocating for the revival of the bill — known as Bill 191 — since it was dismissed by Brazil’s Congress last June. Last week, organizations of farmers and miners kicked off a coordinated pressure campaign, meeting with government representatives and urging the Congress to review and pass Bill 191, which would regulate mining including oil and gas projects, as well as hydroelectric dams, on indigenous territories for the first time.
Indigenous groups in Brasilia were also protesting proposed bills to give Congress the power to demarcate protected traditional lands (instead of indigenous affairs agency FUNAI) and demanding that that the federal government adhere to a Supreme Court decision last August to remove miners from indigenous lands. There are nearly 450 demarcated indigenous territories in Brazil.
President Bolsonaro signed Bill 191 in February last year. During the ceremony at the Planalto Palace, he said it was a long held “dream” to release indigenous reserves for mining. “I hope that this dream through the hands of Bento [Albuquerque, Minister of Mines and Energy] and the votes of parliamentarians will come true. The indigenous are human beings just like us,” he said.
He has long argued that the natural resources of indigenous lands must be put to use for indigenous groups’ own economic welfare and that of the country. In a social media diatribe on April 2019, he described indigenous lands as having “trillions of reais underground.”
“The indigenous cannot continue to be poor over a rich land,” he said.
But indigenous activists emphasized on Monday — Brazil’s national “Day of the Indigenous” — that they disagree with Bolsonaro’s vision of profiting from wild lands, and do not believe it will benefit them. “We are here to ask for respect from the federal government, that they respect our rights. This government is killing us, they want to annihilate our rights and territories,” said activist Eliseu Kaiowa of the Guarani Kaiowa land In a video shared on the Facebook page of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples in the Southern Region.
In an open letter on Monday, members of the Munduruku indigenous group also warned that Bill 191 “will only bring more destruction to our people and our forest.” Last year, 2,052 hectares — an area equivalent to more than two thousand soccer fields — were deforested in Munduruku territory, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the official governmental institute that monitors deforestation in Brazil.
According to a study published Monday by Brazil’s National Committee in Defense of Territories Against Mining, rising gold prices during the Covid-19 pandemic have driven increased illegal gold mining in indigenous territories in the Amazon rainforest and other Brazilian lands.
Reporting contributed by CNN’s Rodrigo Pedroso and Caitlin Hu.