BRASILIA, May 31 (Reuters) - Brazilian Indians reoccupied a disputed rural property and set fire to fields on Friday, a day after they were violently evicted in a growing conflict over land ownership in southern Brazil’s farm belt.
The land dispute turned bloody on Thursday when a Terena Indian was shot dead during the eviction by riot police, who used tear gas to dislodge some 200 natives from the cattle ranch owned by a former congressman, Ricardo Bacha.
“The Indians are on the war path,” Bacha said in a phone interview from his townhouse in Campo Grande, 70 kms (43 miles) away from the farm in Mato Grosso do Sul state, a big producer of soy and corn for export.
“They are wild about the death and occupied the farm again because the police left and I could not go back. They burnt down my house yesterday and my life would be in danger there.”
Bacha said 18 farms out of 30 in the 17,000-hectare (42,000- acre) area claimed by the Terena as ancestral lands have now been occupied by the Indians.
Brazil’s Indian affairs office, Funai, designated the area as Indian land in 2010, though law courts have since ruled in favor of the farmers’ ownership and issued eviction orders.
President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting late on Friday to discuss the mounting dispute over Indian land and the occupation of a construction site at a major hydroelectric plant by tribes opposed to building new dams in the Amazon.
Brazil’s indigenous policy, considered one of the world’s most progressive, returns lands to natives when anthropological studies find they had traditionally occupied the area. However, it has sparked violence since the country became an agricultural powerhouse and Indian policy has clashed with farming interests.
Rousseff sides with farmers in Indian fight
Special Report on Indian land disputes
Graphic on reservations: link.reuters.com/cux97t
Reuters reported earlier this month that Rousseff ceded to pressure from the farm lobby and ordered the Funai to stop turning over farmland to Indians. The powerful farm lobby contends that the policy is a misguided effort to right historical injustices.
“The fault is of the government and the Funai which has gone too far. We respect the Indians’ rights, but I inherited my farm from my grandfather who bought the land in 1927,” said Bacha.
Farmers praised a government announcement on May 8 that other federal agencies will be involved in land decisions, effectively reducing the jurisdiction of Funai. The farmers want politicians in Congress to have the last word.
About 13 percent of Brazil’s territory has been set aside for Indians and handing over more is under consideration. Conflicts, like the one at the cattle ranch, are common and are growing increasingly tense.
Meanwhile, Indians who paralyzed one of the construction sites on the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam - which will be the world’s third largest with 11,200 megawatts of installed capacity when finished in 2019 - refused to end their five-day occupation until Rousseff sent a minister to talk to them.
The controversial Belo Monte project on the Xingu River has become a magnet for Indians from other untouched river basins - such as the Tapajos - who want to stop future dams planned to supply Brazil’s expanding demand for electricity. (Editing by Christopher Wilson)