Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

Brazil: Suspense as indigenous land rulings in limbo

Brazil's Supreme Court (STF) decided to postpone the decision about Raposa Serra do Sol land, which has been disputed by rice farmers and indigenous tribes, but is to vote next week on another less complex demarcation case. The resolution about Caramuru-Paraguaçu land in Bahia is, this way, going to lay down a legal precedent for nearly 150 other indigenous land claims that Raposa Serra do Sol was expected to set. Less complex, but no less important for the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people, who have been waiting for this decision for over 26 years. The ruling has been scheduled for September 24 [pt] and the case starts now to get blog attention. Anarquista Amador [pt] comments:

Esperar 26 anos por uma decisão não é sério. Este papo de que a justiça tarda mais não falha é barato demais. As pessoas envelhecem, morrem. As decisões não vêm e não há suspensão ou garantias. E longe de termos um Estado fraco, omisso, temos um Estado forte que garante que as decisões não sejam tomadas em prazos reais.

Waiting 26 years for a decision is a joke. They say justice is late but never fails, it is too cheap a talk. People get old, they die. Decisions do not come and there are no guarantees. And far from having a weak, silent State, we have a strong one that ensures that decisions are not taken to real deadlines.

The date will mark a month of the future of Raposa Serra do Sol being held in limbo. On the day Brazil's Supreme Court was supposed to rule, last August 27, an indigenous lawyer defended her people at the hearing for the first time in the history of Brazil's Supreme Court. Joênia Batista de Carvalho, of the Wapichana people, rose to the podium to make a presentation before its 11-judge panel. She defended the right to the Raposa Serra do Sol's territory, and denounced the fact that conflicts have led to the death of 21 of their leaders:

“We're accused of being thieves on our own land. We're slandered and discriminated against, and this has to end.”

After speaking for nearly two hours, the appointed rapporteur Minister Ayres Britto was the first one to vote, favoring the maintenance of Raposa Serra do Sol as a continuous indigenous land, which was seen as a strong reassurance of indigenous rights in Brazil. However, another Minister asked for for the case to be adjourned for further investigations, which means it is now on hold until another session is scheduled. Meanwhile, the blog talk and both lawyer Joênia's moving statement and Minister Ayres surprising vote have been criticised, commented on and commended:

D. Bertrand de Orleans e Bragança [pt], a great-great-great grand son of Brazil's last Emperor Dom Pedro II who travels across Brazil giving conferences for farmers and entrepreneurs in defense of private property and free enterprise, thinks that “Dr. Joênia's performance was purely emotional”:

Com essa argumentação, a Dra. Joênia não vai conseguir grande coisa. Será mesmo ir contra a inteligência dos senhores Ministros do Supremo querer chamar de racista a defesa dos produtores rurais, que são apoiados pela maioria dos índios da Serra do Sol, os quais, por sua vez, são em maior número que os da Raposa. Racistas seriam os índios que querem separar-se do País através da ocupação de uma imensa área, para ali, sentados sobre riquezas incalculáveis, serem os maiores latifundiários brasileiros, se bem que em posse coletiva. Um privilégio racista, esse sim.

With this argument, Dr. Joênia will not achieve much. It will even go against the Supreme Ministers’ intelligence to call the rural producers’ defense racist, when they are supported by most Indians from Serra do Sol, who, in turn, are bigger in numbers than Raposa's ones. The Indians, who want to split from the country through the occupation of a vast area, in order, from there and seated on incalculable riches, to become the largest Brazilian landowners, although in collectivity, would be the racists. A racist privilege, indeed.

Amanda Vieira [pt] is proud of the Wapichanan lawyer's performance:

Joênia Batista de Carvalho, nós temos orgulhos de você. Por ser índia, mulher, advogada, por fazer uma defesa tão brilhante, por nos fazer acreditar que a luta pela diversidade no Brasil vale a pena e dá muito certo. Salve Joênia! Contamos com sua sabedoria e seu exemplo.

Joênia Batista de Carvalho, we are proud you. For being an Indian, a woman, a lawyer, for making such a bright defense, because we do believe that the fight for diversity in Brazil is worth it and it will happen in future. Salute Joênia! We count on your wisdom and your example.

On the other hand, Yashá Gallazzi [pt] is not convinced about indigenous rights in the 21st century:

Devo presumir que tanto Joênia, como as ONG's (nacionais e internacionais), bem como alguns ministros do STF, prefeririam que tudo continuasse como era nos tempos antigos quando os aborígenes (essa foi a palavra usada por Ayres Brito) viviam em harmonia com a mãe terra. O problema é que em tal realidade idílica não haveria espaço para algumas faces próprias do progresso, como uma universidade, por exemplo. Elogiar uma descendente de índios que se formou em Direito e chegou ao ápice de fazer uma sustentação oral no STF é algo muito digno e válido. Contudo, isso há que ser resultado da capacidade técnica e jurídica da pessoa, não de sua origme étnica. A advogada índia é expressão da democracia e do sistema de liberdades democráticas próprios das sociedades ocidentais.

I assume that Joênia, as well as (national and international) NGOs, and some ministers of the STF [Brazil's Supreme Court], would prefer that everything remained as it was in ancient times when the Aboriginies (this was the word used by Ayres Brito) lived in harmony with mother Earth. The problem is that in this idyllic reality there would not be room for some of progress’ angles, such as a universities, for example. To commend an Indian descendant who graduated in law and reached the apex of making an oral support in the STF is something very decent and valid. However, this must be the result of the technical and legal capability of that person, not of their ethnic origin. The Indian lawyer is a sign of democracy and of the democratic freedom system characteristic of Western societies.

“The indigenous peoples have been resisting for 508 years. For respect to their lives, their culture and their land”. A demonstration of solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Raposa do Sol on the streets of Rio Branco – Acre, on the same day of the decision in Brazil's Supreme Court. Photo by Talita Oliveira

Over 200 armed federal policemen had been sent to the region in anticipation of possible violence after the verdict, which was expected to bring conflicts, regardless of which side wins. Most likely, a new session will take place before the year's-end and it is hoped that the parties involved will not need to wait for 26 years. Or perhaps not, as Maria Rachel Coelho Pereira [pt], who was there last August 27, supposes:

As evidências da sistemática aliança entre abusos de poder político-econômico e impunidade em torno da causa anti-indígena, já abundantes no passado, parece continuar ainda hoje. No dia 27 de agosto passado ao sairmos do STF fomos surpreendidos com um boato de que o julgamento seria estrategicamente “empurrado” para o final de 2009.

The evidence of systematic links between abuse by political-economic power and impunity surrounding the anti-indigenous issue, which were already abundant in the past, seems to persist today. Last 27 August when we were leaving the STF we were surprised by a rumour that the trial would be strategically “pushed back” to the end of 2009.

A demonstration of solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Raposa do Sol on the streets of Rio Branco – Acre, on the same day of the decision in Brazil's Supreme Court. Photo by Talita Oliveira

Talking about the abuse of political-economic power, Luiz Valério [pt] cites a recent case of intimidation of the media related to the Raposa Serra do Sol case. He writes about friction between journalist Leandro Freitas, from the “Nós Existimos” (We exist) movement and a rice farmer and politician accused also of attacking a Makuxi indigenous village, Paulo Cesar Quartiero, when the first tried to interview the latter last September 08:

Buscando ouvir a versão de Quartiero para a denúncia foi feita formalmente por 65 lideranças indígenas da Raposa Serra do Sol, protocolada e encaminhada à Funai em Roraima e Brasília, ao Ministério Público Federal, ao Ministério da Justiça e ao Conselho Indígena de Roraima, o jornalista foi tratado de forma desrespeitosa, assim como veículo de comunicação para quem ele trabalha. Esta não é a primeira vez que Paulo Quartiero age com desrespeito contra jornalistas. No primeiro semestre também foi ele o protagonista de outro atentado à liberdade de imprensa e livre exercício da profissão de jornalista em Roraima, quando determinou a captura de equipamentos de filamagens e fitas de vídeo de uma equipe da TV Ativa, que cobria o conflito na região da Raposa Serra do Sol.

Seeking to hear Quartiero's version of the complaint made formally by 65 indigenous leaders of the Raposa Serra do Sol, registered and forwarded to FUNAI [The Brazilian National Indian Foundation] in Roraima and Brasilia, the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Justice Deparment and the Indigenous Council of Roraima, the journalist was dealt with in a disrespectful manner, so was the media vehicle he works for. This is not the first time that Paulo Quartiero has disrespected journalists. In the first half [of the year] he was also the protagonist of another attack on freedom of press and the free exercise of journalism in Roraima, when he ordered the capture of an Active TV team's broadcasting equipment and video tapes, when they covered the conflict in the Raposa Serra do Sol's region.

A demonstration of solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Raposa do Sol on the streets of Rio Branco – Acre, on the same day of the decision in Brazil's Supreme Court. Photo by Talita Oliveira. See more pictures of the demonstration.


  • Let us hope that the courts take the honorable road and rule in favor of the indigenous peoples. Not only will this be a landmark case for Brazil, but many other South American countries are watching to see what happens in terms of granting rights to their own indigenous peoples.

  • An update on this: Minister Carlos Alberto Menezes has again asked for for the case to be adjourned for further investigations. This was the same judge that requested that the Raposa Serra do Sol case was postponed too.

  • Lest hope that this time the honorable Brazilian Supreme Court Recognized the Writes of all indigenous poeple in Brazil as the truly and rightiful woner and citizens of this nation

  • […] check Brazil: Suspense as indigenous land rulings in limbo, a 2008 article related to another Indigenous people from Bahia, the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe. See more […]

  • […] found at […]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site