We Are the Land
A statement by Brazilian indigenous leader Sonia Bone Guajajara
- March 24, 2017
Translation by Marcelo Luna | Original em português aqui
In an interview with the Folha de São Paulo newspaper published on March 10th, Brazil Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio declared, "land doesn't fill people's bellies."
A former congressman from the "ruralista" [agribusiness] block and currently under investigation by the Brazilian Federal Police in connection with the "Fresh Meat Operation" [an investigation into illegal activities in cattle slaughterhouses and agribusiness operations], Mr. Serraglio is merely regurgitating the idea of those who see land as nothing else but a tradeable commodity.
But to some extent, as far as the issue he has raised is concerned, he has nailed it: for traditional people like us, the land nourishes our spirits and our identity.
We are the land. We are inseparable from it. We do not want land to make a profit, but to assure our existence.
"I think that we should go there to see where the Indians are. We will give them good living conditions, and then we can quit this argument about land," added Serraglio.
What does he mean by "good living conditions" for indigenous people? With an affirmation like that, the Minister unveils an ethnocentric and paternalistic thinking, despite living in the 21st century.
This government seems to be guided by an old-fashioned way of seeing the world, as if our leaders ignored the scientific and social progress that has transformed our planet since the 1960s.
When he was a member of Congress, the Justice Minister was chair of the PEC 215 project, a proposed Constitutional amendment to transfer the power to grant titles for indigenous lands from the Federal Government [specifically, the National Agency of Indigenous Affairs - FUNAI] to Congress. I am sure that this "qualification" was decisive for his appointment to the Justice Ministry.
Today, the Federal Government has surpassed even the ruralista members of Congress in its attacks to our rights. Already in January, then-Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes had put in place a study group to reassess previous land titling processes carried out by FUNAI.
In recent weeks, there has been news of a proposed law intended to make it easier to sell land to foreigners, which would limit the amount of land potentially titled to indigenous peoples. How not to see coordinated action running through these various initiatives?
Their greedy vision is short sighted, however; it only reaches to this season's harvest. Indigenous lands help regulate the planet's climate, for they are obstacles to deforestation. There is ten times less deforestation in indigenous lands than in non-titled lands.
The section of the Amazon Forest under our protection stores 13 billion tons of carbon. Without these reserves, Brazil will not comply with the goals established in the Paris Climate Agreement.
According to the 2011 study, "The Climate Change Economy in Brazil," the impacts of climate change will result in a 20% drop in the country's soy production from through 2050 – a US $1.9 billion yearly loss.
Such strategic vision isn't expected from a Justice Minister: his main duty is to protect the Constitution. And Brazil's Constitution, known for taking into consideration the citizen, guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples.
Yet Brazil leads the ranking of countries where more environmental activists were killed in 2015, according to a survey by Global Witness, an international NGO.
In this context, the unfortunate statement by the minister can generate even more insecurity in rural areas.
Sonia Bone Guajajara is the Executive Coordinator of Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil – APIB)