Thursday, June 6, 2013

Indigenous Protests Break Out in Brazil as Govt Alters Stance on Land Grants

A wave of indigenous protests have broken out across Brazil, following reports that Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has instructed her government to refrain from approving tribal claims to arable land.

On Tuesday, Brazil announced it would be sending security forces to the farming state of Mato Grosso do Sul in response to a land takeover by an indigenous group. The incident began on May 15, when some 200 Terena Indians occupied a ranch belonging to a local politician. In 2010 the government designated the land as their ancestral territory, but last year a local court overturned this. Police evicted them in a violent confrontation on May 30 that left one protester dead and five police officers injured. The Terena resumed their occupation of the ranch again the next day.

Another eviction order has been requested, but a second operation has been put on hold while a federal court examines the case, according to Folha de Sao Paulo. The AP reports that the government has sent 110 military police from the elite National Force to contain the conflict.

Meanwhile, Reuters notes that several other indigenous demonstrations have sprung up around the country. On Monday, a group of Kaingang Indians occupied the offices of the ruling Workers' Party in Parana state, and refused to leave until they were promised a meeting with Rousseff’s chief of staff, Gleisi Hoffmann. On Tuesday, the administration took the dramatic step of ordering air force planes to fly roughly 150 indigenous protesters who oppose the controversial Belo Monte megadam to Brasilia for negotiations. According to O Globo, the meeting ended without an agreement.

The protests come just weeks after Rousseff allegedly instructed her government to stop approving new applications for Indian lands “for the forseeable future,” a major policy shift for her administration. Analysts say the move is meant as a peace offering to the booming agricultural sector ahead of 2014 elections. The industry has become highly critical of Brazil’s progressive land management laws in recent years, as tribal activists have increasingly applied their historical claim to land in the southern farm belt.

News Briefs
  • The Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Guatemala came to a close today, with member states issuing a declaration agreeing to continue a hemisphere-wide discussion of drug policy. Despite an open letter to regional governments signed by more than 50 leading human rights NGOs of the Americas to abandon drug prohibition for a policy based on harm reduction, no such shift is expected to be included in today’s closing declaration.
  • Prensa Libre has more on the debate in the General Assembly, noting that Nicaraguan delegate Denis Ronaldo Moncada was especially critical of drug legalization, though he was the only one to refer specifically to legalization of drugs besides cannabis at the summit. Unsurprisingly, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had some tough words for drug policy reform advocates as well. “I say to all those who speak about legalization and reform:  the challenges go far beyond a single ingredient. Drugs destroy lives, destroy families,” the Guatemalan paper quotes Kerry as saying. Still, he did support calls for a continued and wider debate on the issue, according to Reuters. Another contentious issue was the proposed creation of a monitoring mechanism to track the suggestions of the recent OAS report on drugs. Canadian Foreign Minister Diane Ablonczy opposed the suggestion, maintaining that the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission already serves that purpose. Whether or not a new mechanism will be established will be revealed in the final draft of the declaration, to be released today.
  • The summit also reportedly brought progress in U.S.-Venezuela relations. El Universal and the New York Times report that Kerry met with his Venezuelan counterpart, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, for 40 minutes yesterday in which they agreed to improve bilateral relations. The two were photographed shaking hands together, and the meeting is believed to be the first encounter between high-level representatives of the two countries since President Obama briefly met Hugo Chavez at an OAS summit in 2009. The NYT notes that the meeting occurred after Venezuela expelled an American filmmaker it had arrested and accused of being a spy.
  • Last week, The Guardian acquired extracts of the 7,000-page “Figueiredo report,” which details atrocities committed against Brazil’s indigenous population during the country’s military dictatorship. The report was believed to have been destroyed in a suspicious fire at the agricultural ministry shortly after it was submitted, and none of the 134 officials named as participants in more than 1,000 crimes have been arrested.
  • While Chinese President Xi Jinping did not meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on his recent trip to the region, China remains an important ally to the Venezuelan government. Proof of this came yesterday in the form of an announcement by Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, who said the Maduro administration had secured $4 billion in credit from China to be used for oil field development.
  • As peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels progress in Havana, the leaders of the country’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, are growing impatient with the state’s apparent unwillingness to engage them in dialogue. Caracol Radio reports that ELN leader alias “Gabino” has released a statement calling the government’s silence on the matter “absurd and contradictory.”
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has penned an op-ed on his recent visit to Latin America, which appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. In it, Biden praises spread of democratic values in Colombia, Costa Rica and Brazil, and describes U.S. trade relations as contributing to an “economic boom across the Western Hemisphere.”
  • Peruvian Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal has announced that the owners of one of the world’s largest zinc and copper mines, the Antamina consortium, has been fined $77,000 a chemical spill last year that caused dozens of villagers to become sick. According to the AP, many locals in the northwestern Cajacay district are still suffering from the effects of the spill.
  • Reuters has a useful look at Latin America’s abortion laws, noting that tight restrictions on the procedure contributed to an increase in the estimated annual number of unsafe, clandestine abortions between 2003 and 2008, from 4.1 million to 4.4 million.

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