In South America, Land Rights go Native

[UPDATE: A December 15, 2008, court ruling found in favor of the indigenous plaintiffs.]

A group of new reports finds that land-rights battles in South America may be tipping in favor of indigenous peoples.

In Brazil, the Supreme Court is deciding on the right of Amazon natives to live in their ancestral homelands.

Inter Press Service, a left-leaning advocacy news outlet, reports that the 11-member court has asked for more time to investigate whether a 1.7-million hectare reserve allotted to natives in the Amazon region was taken illegally by wealthy rice farmers.

Already one judge voted in favor of the natives, describing the farmers’ residency as “an unlawful possession.”

The remaining judges will decide by the end of the year, but conflict over land ownership is ongoing and in some cases has turned violent.

The leftist Web site Counter Punch notes ongoing skirmishes between farmers and natives, including an attempted eviction of the farmers by federal troops in March that saw 10 people injured.

The farmers then brought a legal challenge to a 2005 law granting a continuous tract to 19,000 indigenous residents in the northwestern state of Roraima.

Activists and environmentalists fear an unfavorable ruling would legitimize breaking up the territory.

Tim Cahill of Amnesty International told Counter Punch that the issue is not just about native land-rights — Brazil is also looking to more effectively secure its borders with Venezuela and Guyana for fear of outside influence on the natives.

“They’re afraid that what they call ‘foreign interests’ will use the Indians to then exploit the Amazon,” Cahill said.

In Peru, indigenous peoples are celebrating the repeal of two executive orders that expedite the privatization of native-owned land.

The vote came in the wake of nationwide protests, including the occupation of a utility company.

Legislator Victor Mayorga told IPS he expects a government veto, but believes it could be over-ridden.

–TJ Johnston/


UPDATED: “Brazil Upholds Indigenous Rights in Key Case”
Oneworld US, Dec. 15, 2008

“BRAZIL: Start of Landmark Case Bodes Well for Indigenous People”
Inter Press Service, August 28, 2008

“BRAZIL: Setting an Important Precedent for Indigenous Lands”
Inter Press Service, August 21, 2008

“The Battle for the Amazon”
Counter Punch, August 22, 2008

“PERU: Indigenous Groups Win Major Battle in Congress”
Inter Press Service, August 22, 2008

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