November 22, 2019 / 7:32 PM / 15 days ago

UPDATE 1-Portuguese group offered new land to build resort in Brazil - CEO

(Adds company comment, interview with tribal chief)

By Victoria Waldersee and Anthony Boadle

LISBON/BRASILIA, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Portuguese hotel group Vila Gale intends to go ahead with a plan for a beach resort in the Brazilian state of Bahia, but at a new location, its CEO said on Thursday, three days after it dropped a project on disputed indigenous lands.

The Tupinambá de Olivença tribe has been fighting for 15 years for those lands to be declared a reservation by Brazil’s government and protested against a luxury hotel being built on its territory.

Vila Gale, Portugal’s second-largest hotel group, cancelled its 500-room and aquatic park project on Monday after mounting public pressure.

But at a conference on Thursday, CEO Jorge Rebelo de Almeida said he had been presented with “two or three opportunities” to build in the same municipality and would be advancing with one of them, Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.

“All we can say at this time is that we continue to be interested in building the resort in the same region,” Vila marketing director Catarina Padua said in an email to Reuters.

Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to assimilate Brazil’s tribes into Brazilian society, has made it clear he will not authorize the creation of any new reservations because there is “too much land for too few indigenous people”.

More than 4,500 Tupinambás live in 23 villages on some 47,000 hectares that they claim are ancestral lands on Bahia’s cocoa coast which attracts droves of tourists to its coconut tree-lined beaches.

The chieftain of the village closest to where the resort was to be built, Cacique Babau Tupinambá, said the Portuguese company was now looking at land his tribe does not claim.

“How could they have wanted to build on our land? My people have documents going back to the 1700s,” he said by telephone.

Babau said the tribal land had been offered to Vila Gale by the state’s Deputy Governor Joao Leao through a front company called Ilheus Empreendimentos S.A.

The Bahia government did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the project, which Vila Gale said on Monday the state, together with the city council of Una, had invited it to invest in.

The resort plan also had the support of Brazil’s tourism agency Embratur, Almeida said, which will help it start a new project in the same region.

Embratur asked the indigenous affairs bureau Funai in July to shelve the Tupinambá land claim definitively. (Reporting by Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Giles Elgood and Cynthia Osterman)

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