Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recently authorized the creation of a 6,500-square-mile reservation for indigenous people in the country’s northern state of Roraima. The president’s decision begins another chapter in a 30-year-long struggle that has resulted in the deaths of more than 20 Brazilian Indians, according to Amnesty International.
Creating the reservation will require the government to relocate the region’s current residents. Some of the plan’s most vocal critics are non-indigenous owners of established businesses – such as mines and rice farms – in the area, as well as laborers who live and work there. Many have campaigned aggressively against the reservation in the last few years, and have persuaded local politicians to take up their case.
According to a source cited by Reuters as close to the president, Lula, as he is known, hopes to accelerate the relocation process to preempt organized resistance among local residents.
After centuries of living on the country’s political, social and economic margins, Brazilian Indians have in recent decades pursued an assertive campaign to define and attain their rights. In 1988, the Brazilian government amended the constitution to guarantee the formation of reservations like the one authorized by Lula.
Indigenous and human rights organizations have pressured the Brazilian government to take a more active role in improving the status of indigenous Brazilians, particularly as funds earmarked for land redistribution among indigenous people have been diverted to relieve the country’s economic woes. The reservation’s creation is seen by some as a long-due reaction to pressure from activist groups and international attention. “We are doing things not at the rate we’d like to do them, but at the rate we can do them,” the president told Reuters shortly after authorizing the reservation.
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