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  • Guarani and Terena peoples demand land demarcation in Brasilia, Brazil, Mar. 21, 2018.

    Guarani and Terena peoples demand land demarcation in Brasilia, Brazil, Mar. 21, 2018. | Photo: EFE

Published 28 February 2019

The agriculture minister denied the importance of giving Indigenous people access to land for their livelihoods.

On Wednesday at a public hearing at the Brazilian Senate’s Committee on Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, President Jair Bolsonaro’s Agriculture Minister, Tereza Cristina Dias, defended legislative changes aimed at paving the way to mineral extraction and agricultural production inside traditional Indigenous lands.

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“The Indians (Indigenous people) want opportunities like any other Brazilian. The law needs to change urgently so they do not live on the sidelines, receive royalties or produce crops. They have 13% of the Brazilian territory but they cannot [use] this wealth to live with dignity,” Dias said and added that the State must act to remove the Indigenous population from "misery."

When asked by socialist Senator Eliziane Gama about the government's Indigenous Lands Demarcation Plan, Cristina replied that it would be "misguided" to think that Indigenous peoples’ poverty is related to land ownership, challenging Gama's argument that land’s rights are important for Indigenous survival. Instead, the Agriculture Minister said that communities would need health and education rather than lands.

“The Indians’ misery is not related to lands but to the absence of public policies. Having the land is not a sign of wealth. Many [Indigenous land] areas have been demarcated in the past, which led to conflicts due to lack of clarity and ideologies. Lawsuits began and turned into a ‘lose-lose’ game. Both the small farmer and the Indian lost," Cristina said.

"The creation of Indigenous Lands and Conservation Units can help halt the advance of deforestation. Demarcation Already! Support this idea, sign the petition."

In response, Senator Gama said Amazon Indigenous people from the Amazon expelled from their lands are being forced to emigrate to cities, where they currently live in abject poverty.

"Poverty and suicides among Indigenous peoples are a consequence of the lack of access to land. The Indigenous lands are being invaded because it is assumed that Indigenous peoples do not deserve any special treatment, which respects their own peculiarities, culture, customs and identity," Gama stressed.

In addressing the government's demarcation policy, Dias replied that "the government will not transgress any law." Her statement, however, contrasts with other positions already made by members of the government.

More than once President Bolsonaro stated that he wanted to stop the recognition of Indigenous territories. "I have been saying that ... there is no further demarcation of indigenous lands," he said in a TV interview.

“Another result of Jair Bolsonaro's criminal campaign and speech. Indigenous people are burned alive in the interior of Pernambuco. An Indigenous man identified as Ubirajara Zeferino da Cruz, 21, was found burned to death on Monday morning in Aguas Belas city, in rural state of Pernambuco.”

Dias was also called on to answer for Brazil's high use of poisonous agrochemical consumption, with Senator Gama stressing her concern about the indiscriminate use pesticides in rural areas.

According to official data, between 2010 and 2016, an average of less than 20 new pesticide approvals per year was recorded. However, the number has risen to 86 approvals in 2019.

In addition, the senator drew attention to data from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a Brazilian center for R&D in biology, one of the world's main public health research institutions. According to Fiocruz, each Brazilian consumes an annual average of 7 liters of pesticides through food consumption. ​​​​​​​This public health problem steams from large agribusiness monoculture practices, which Cristina and other far-right ruralist parliamentarians defend.

In response to those statements, besides disagreeing with Fiocruz statistics, Brazil's Agriculture Minister stated that the number of agrochemicals increased because the National Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa), which is the institution responsible of approving new pesticides, “has decided to work.”​​​​​​​

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