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Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Land Management Raises Concerns

Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Land Management Raises Concerns

The indigenous people of Brazil have long faced challenges coexisting alongside Brazilian industry. The search for metals, petroleum, and other natural resources on Indian land has been a problem for some time, but now, these already tenuous relations could be strained even further.

A commission of lawmakers recently approved a constitutional amendment that removes federal agency oversight of Indian lands. Under the amendment, Congress would have the right to manage these reserves. The proposal is not yet law, but activists who oppose the measure fear the proposal marks yet another step in removing important protections presently afforded to indigenous groups in Brazil.

The federal government is currently responsible for deciding what land is for Brazil’s indigenous people and what land is available for farming. Since 1961, the government has approved nearly 700 Indian reserves, which cover close to 14 percent of the country, according to Reuters. Most of these reserves are in the Amazon, although they also include sites near Brazil’s agricultural belt and logging areas.

So far, the government has handled its role regarding the land as a neutral arbiter. However, some fear that this even-handed approach is now at risk. Placing the decision-making power over the land in the hands of Congress opens the process to potential political pressures, L’Agence France-Presse explains.

Supporters of the constitutional change do not see it that way. Osmar Serraglio, a lawmaker from Parana, tells Reuters that the proposed amendment would help protect small farmers who risk losing their land without compensation when land boundaries are redrawn. The amendment would also include a requirement that landowners be compensated if their property is seized to create an Indian reserve.

The proposal still needs approval in the Chamber of Deputies as well as the Senate. Yet opponents of the measure fear that a Congress beholden to landowners and agribusiness interests will back the measure.

Lawmakers need to tread carefully. The recent dam breach in Minas Gerais, which unleashed a torrent of chemicals and mining waste, reinforces the importance of proper land management. Congress needs to make sure that its efforts to support farmers and industry do not abandon any necessary protections for Brazil’s indigenous groups and the land they live on.

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