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article imageBrazilian tribes celebrate court ruling on land rights

By AFP     Aug 16, 2017 in World

Brazilian indigenous activists celebrated Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruled against a state seeking compensation for land that had been declared tribal reserves.

The ruling against Mato Grosso in western Brazil was seen as a victory for indigenous rights in the face of constant pressure from the powerful agricultural lobby. The state had argued that the tribal reserves were created out of its land, but the court rejected this 8-0, saying that the territory had long belonged to the native peoples.

"It was a positive result, maintaining the land borders that had been under question," said Raphaela Lopes, a lawyer for the activist group Justica Global.

Another case, which involved a controversial bid to reinterpret a constitutional protection for native lands, was shelved when the government department for indigenous affairs, FUNAI, asked for more time to introduce new material.

Brazil's 1988 constitution guarantees tribes ownership of ancestral lands. But under a proposal being studied by the Supreme Court, the guarantee would not apply to land unoccupied prior to the law coming into effect that year.

The court's decisions left indigenous protesters outside happy.

Tribal leaders had promised a demonstration of at least 2,000 people in Brasilia but in the end just a few dozen showed up.

There had been concerns of the possibility of a repeat of violent clashes in April at which riot police fired tear gas at thousands of tribesmen in traditional headgear and paint -- and armed with bows and arrows -- outside Congress.

At issue is ownership of swaths of ancestral tribal lands, much of it in the Amazon, where Brazil's powerful agricultural industry wants to expand soy, cattle, sugar cane and other commodity farming.

"The indigenous people in Brazil are threatened by the absence of demarcation of their territories," said Lindomar Ferreira, leader of the Terena ethnic group outside the Supreme Court.

Nearly 900,000 indigenous tribe members currently live in Brazil, or 0.4 percent of the entire population, divided into 305 ethnic groups. Indigenous lands cover 12 percent of Brazil.

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