Indigenous Brazilians Battle Police in Congress

EspañolBrazil’s National Congress was scene on Tuesday to a confrontation between police and indigenous protesters armed with bows and arrows.

Indigenous Brazilians have frequently called for greater government protection of their rights.
Indigenous Brazilians have frequently called for greater government protection of their rights. (Flickr)

The December 16 clash saw the group of at least 30 individuals force their way into Congress, where a bill was being debated which is set to give politicians the power to demarcate the boundaries of indigenous lands.

Police officers armed with riot shields used tear gas and pepper spray to prevent the traditionally-dressed activists from gaining entry to the room where a committee were due to vote on the proposal. Deliberations were postponed while the scuffle was ongoing.

No officers were hurt in the altercation, although an arrow reportedly struck a policeman’s boot. Authorities detained and questioned four protesters for throwing projectiles at the police.

At issue is the proposed legislation known as PEC 215/00 which will give parliamentarians the power to delineate the boundaries of indigenous lands. The territories, mainly centered in western Brazil and the Amazon region, were confirmed as belonging to indigenous groups in the 1988 Constitution.

However, the lands have faced increasing encroachment by farmers and loggers, a process which protesters claim the bill will accelerate. Indigenous representatives have called for the powers to remain with national indigenous agency Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio).

Funai has similarly argued that wealthy landowners and loggers have too much power and influence over politicians for Congress to be trusted with allocating indigenous territory. Indigenous groups have regularly argued that the administration of President Dilma Rousseff should do more to protect their rights.

Nevertheless, supporters of the bill, such as Senator Kátia Abreu of the Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) argue that Funai’s role is undemocratic.

“The decisions on demarcations are taken by a lone anthropologist after consulting the indigenous groups. The National Congress, which is elected by the people, is not consulted,” she told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper last year.

Abreu further argued that the principal problem facing indigenous groups “is not the lack of land, but the lack of support from Funai on health and education.”  According to Abreu, indigenous people account for only 1 percent of the Brazilian population but are entitled to 12 percent of the country’s territory.

Sources: BBC World, Daily Mail.

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