Image by Matheus Manfredini

  • The Brazilian Amazon basin, now under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, is increasingly a place of conflict, as loggers and land grabbers — many inspired by the government’s incendiary rhetoric — step up their invasions of indigenous and traditional lands.
  • One example can be found along the Mamuru River in Pará state. There the Sateré indigenous group (now living mostly inside the Andirá Marau Indigenous Reserve), and non-indigenous traditional riverine communities (living in the Mamuru State Agro-extractivist Project, known as PEAEX Mamuru), are resisting incursions.
  • Loggers and outsiders making dubious land claims are moving in on the disputed government-held common lands that lie between the indigenous reserve and PEAEX Mamuru, a cluster of 18 settlements. The Sateré say this land is part of their ancestral territory, but was mistakenly excluded from the Andirá Marau Reserve.
  • Another threat to indigenous and traditional land claims: a new Pará state law that no longer requires that outsiders live currently on the lands they claim, making it far easier for land grabbers to legitimize those claims. In response, indigenous and traditional riverine communities are now forming a unified resistance.

On 8 July, state governor Helder Barbalho signed bill 129/201 into law, altering the land registration process and making it far easier for land thieves to claim ownership of property over which they have “posse pacífica” (peaceful possession), meaning that no-one else is currently contesting their claim.

Under the old state statute, alleged owners had to show they lived permanently on common land before they could register it as theirs. But, among other concessions, bill 129/201, (transformed into state law 8,878), abolishes this condition — would-be landowners now only need declare their intention of living there sometime in the future, an unprovable pledge.

The new law, warmly welcomed by the state’s ruralists, representing agribusiness and mining interests, has been criticized by 62 NGOs and other entities, but to no avail.

According to a statement from IMAZON, the Amazon research body, the new law will benefit “those who have invaded public land illegally, control the land through stooges and have never farmed the land, which are the characteristics of speculative land thieving.” IMAZON estimates that in Pará state alone, a stunning 21 million hectares (81,000 square miles) of public land could be transferred to private hands via the new regulations.

Meanwhile, back on the Sateré-Mawé occupied lands on the banks of the Ipiranga and Mariaquã Rivers, the ruralists have met with a setback. The indigenous and traditional communities, using information supplied to the Mongabay team, have shown conclusively that would-be landowners and outsiders cannot claim “posse pacífica.”

This has led the State of Pará Public Ministry (MPPA), a group of independent public litigators, to recommend that ITERPA, Pará state’s land institute, stop the process of land regularization for outsiders laying claim to the disputed land until MPPA can fully investigate conflicts with indigenous and riverine populations in the Mamuru, Ipiranga and Mariaquã river basins.

The recommendation was signed by Ione Nakamura, an MPPA prosecutor. The win is, at best, partial, for ITERPA may not heed MPPA’s recommendation, but the communities remain delighted.

“Putting a brake on the maneuvers of the land thieves is a big victory in the current circumstances,” says Benito Miquiles, an indigenous leader in Campo Grande village, located in the disputed area. This land was traditionally occupied by the Sateré-Mawé, but mistakenly left out of the Andirá Marau Indigenous Reserve when demarcated in 1986.

Still, the road ahead seems likely to be hard, with escalating incursions requiring dogged resistance. The communities have become increasingly fearful, as the Bolsonaro administration ratchets up its rhetoric claiming that indigenous and traditional peoples control far too much of Brazil’s lands in proportion to their numbers, and arguing that the riches of their lands — both mineral and agricultural — belong to all Brazilians.

Unfortunately for rural populations, the ongoing invasion and the staunch opposition it inspires in the Mamuru River valley is no isolated case. All along the Tapajós, Xingu and other Amazonian rivers, indigenous, traditional riverine, and quilombola peoples are allying to bar people and projects threatening the forest. That is why, despite the very difficult political times, environmentalists say they still feel some hope for rainforest survival.

Read complete here.

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