BRASILIA May 8 The Brazilian government sought
to appease the country's powerful farm lobby on Wednesday by
broadening the decision-making process used to designate land
for Indian reservations, following controversial expropriations.
President Dilma Rousseff's chief of staff Gleisi Hoffmann
told angry congressmen from agricultural states that more
government agencies will have a say in land decisions that have
been the exclusive purview of the Indian affairs office FUNAI.
FUNAI is responsible for protecting Brazil's 800,000
indigenous people and has expanded reservations to some 13
percent of the country's massive territory, even though Indians
account for only 0.4 percent of the population.
Clashes with farmers have intensified since Brazil became a
top world food producer and the agricultural frontier advanced
into traditional Indian areas where soy fields and cattle
ranches now overlap with land claimed by indigenous tribes.
Hoffmann said respected agricultural research institute
Embrapa will have a role in determining whether disputed areas
are ancestral Indian lands or have been farmed for decades. The
agriculture and environment ministries will have input, as well
as agencies involved in infrastructure investments, she said.
"We need to listen to other voices and get information
needed for qualified decisions," she said at a noisy hearing of
the Agriculture Committee of the lower chamber of Congress.
Embrapa has already provided a study of land usage in her
home state of Parana and has been asked to do the same for Mato
Grosso do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, she said.
Farmers crowding the hearing room booed the minister when
she defended FUNAI's role in protecting Brazil's natives.
A group of Indians wearing straw skirts and painted faces
rattled maracas, and then walked out in protest over the farm
lobby's proposal to give Congress the last word on FUNAI's
decisions on reservation boundaries.
Last month, members of 70 tribes stormed the main chamber of
Congress to protest the constitutional amendment.
Though FUNAI had no comment to Hoffman's statements on
Wednesday, Indian rights group Arpinsul, representing tribes in
the south of Brazil, called the move to give a government agency
like Embrapa a role in reservation land decisions "nefarious."
"It undermines the serious work of the government's own
experts and shamelessly favors agribusiness," Arpinsul said in a
Tensions between farmers and Indians in Brazil's top soybean
growing state Mato Grosso have run high since the government
evicted 7,000 farmers and their families from an area the size
of London earlier this year, spurring violent protests.
Some of the farmers and ranchers had cultivated the land for
decades but were forced out after the Supreme Court ruled the
area had been made into an Indian reservation in 1998 and said
only members of the Xavante tribe could reside there.
FUNAI says it designates reservations based on field work by
But lawmakers demanded that the government suspend all
decisions on Indian lands and called for a Congressional inquiry
into the role of FUNAI. They welcomed the broadening of
decision-making on reservation boundaries.
"The government has woken up to the problem and needs to
resolve this conflict to avoid future conflicts," said Rubens
Moreira Mendes, a PSD party representative for Rondonia state.
"The Indians should be protected, but Brazil is not made up
only of Indians," he said in an interview. "We have seen cases
of farmers killed by Indians and it could get worse."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)