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Brazil: Urgent request for support of traditional land rights

May 14, 2008 

Please read and consider responding to the following alert from the Scarboro Missions: Land in northern Brazil has been set aside as indigenous reserves to be controlled by a collection of tribes living in the area, but the government has done little to follow through on their promises. Despite a 2005 decision to demarcate the lands and remove any non-indigenous people, land grabbers and rice farmers have occupied indigenous lands and wreaked havoc in the area by burning buildings and kidnapping and attacking people. Now the Supreme Court is reconsidering the demarcation of the land. 

The case will have repercussions for many other disputes over indigenous lands. If the government knows that the international community is watching, it is more likely to honor long-standing laws which favor the indigenous. Please consider writing a letter to the public officials at the end of this alert.

From Scarboro Missions: The indigenous communities and organizations of Raposa Serra do Sol in Roraima, Brazil are urgently seeking support email or fax letters at a critical moment in the struggle for their traditional land. The Supreme Court of Brazil has to soon make a decision regarding the legal status of their traditional land and the removal of non-indigenous people from the reserve. A decision in favor of the invaders would set a serious precedent in Brazilian legislation -- all indigenous lands in Brazil, those already demarcated, legalized, and registered, could be contested and revised.

Go here for a recent article about the illegal occupation of Raposa Serra do Sol: Survival International.

Background: Raposa Serra do Sol, located in the northern state of Roraima, is the traditional land for 18,992 Macuxi, Wapixana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona indigenous people who have struggled for more than 30 years for its legal recognition. The many delays in this process left the Indigenous people more exposed to violence in a state where local politicians and landowners support agro-industrial development and other economic interests, and oppose indigenous land rights.

The Indigenous Council of Roraima has reported some of the violence within a prevailing atmosphere of impunity including armed attacks on indigenous communities; destruction of homes and property; burning of a school, clinic and mission; threats, beatings and 21 deaths. The indigenous people have also denounced environmental damage to their traditional land from large rice plantations including deforestation, water pollution, and harmful aerial spraying of pesticides. Rice growers, who have Roraima state support, began expanding their farms in Raposa Serra do Sol during the 1990s even as the indigenous people were slowly moving through the various stages of gaining legal recognition of their land.

In 2005 President Lula ratified the Raposa Serra do Sol Reserve, a historic restitution of indigenous rights. All non-indigenous people had one year to leave the reserve and would be compensated. Many of the non-indigenous people left with compensation.

However, three years later, a number have remained, and have resisted removal, using violent and intimidating actions. The large majority of indigenous people want the non-indigenous rice growers and ranchers to leave the reserve while a minority supports them and wants them to stay.

In March 2008 the Brazilian federal government announced a federal police operation to remove the remaining non-indigenous people from Raposa Serra do Sol. The rice growers and their supporters then proceeded with 11 days of protest and terror which included burning bridges, blocking and destroying roads, using homemade bombs and making threats. The bishops of Brazil sent a letter declaring solidarity with the indigenous people, supporting the federal government operation and expressing hope for a rapid and peaceful removal of non-indigenous people from the reserve, with the law to be respected by all.

However, on April 9 the Brazilian Supreme Court suspended the federal police operation so they were no longer authorized to remove the non-indigenous people. Instead, the federal police are to provide security in the area until the Supreme Court passes judgment on measures put forth by those protesting the 2005 ratification of the reserve.

The indigenous communities and organizations of Raposa Serra do Sol are seeking support for their request to the Supreme Court of Brazil. Their campaign Our Land Our Mother is available in Portuguese on the Indigenous Council of Roraima website. They request supporters to urgently send a solidarity letter to members of the Supreme Court. Below is an English translation of the letter, followed by the Portuguese version which should be copied, signed and sent to President Lula of Brazil and members of the Supreme Court whose contact information has been provided at the end.


Dear Sir or Madam,

The indigenous communities of the Makuxi, Wapichana, Taurepang, Patamona and Ingarikó peoples are undergoing a time of affliction, with the announcement of a reduction of the indigenous land Raposa/Serra do Sol by the Federal Supreme Court, who approved a legal action suspending the removal of non-indigenous people from the reserve.

We understand that the ratification of the legalization decree of the indigenous land Raposa/Serra do Sol is essential for the indigenous peoples of Roraima and of Brazil, since several national public interests are in agreement. However, if the decision of the Federal Supreme Court goes in favour of the invaders, a serious precedent would be set in Brazilian legislation. All indigenous lands in Brazil, those already demarcated, legalized, and registered, could be contested and revised.

In 2005, the Indigenous Land Raposa/Serra do Sol was legalized and registered, in accordance with the Federal Constitution of Brazil and international law, ILO Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All that remains is the removal of the invaders.

For this reason we request that the Federal Supreme court ratify the legalization decree of the indigenous land Raposa/Serra do Sol, removing the invaders and doing justice so long hoped for by the indigenous peoples in 34 years of struggle and suffering.

[signature of individuals and organizations]


Exmo. Senhor...

As comunidades indígenas Macuxi, Wapixana, Taurepang, Patamona e Ingarikó passam por momento de aflição, com anuncio de redução da terra indígena Raposa Serra do Sol, pelo Supremo Tribunal Federal, após de ter concedido a liminar que suspendeu a retirada dos não índios de sua terra.

Entendemos que a ratificação do decreto de homologação da Terra indígena Raposa Serra do Sol, é fundamental para os povos indígenas de Roraima e do Brasil, uma vez que já harmonizou vários interesses públicos nacionais. No entanto, se a decisão do Supremo Tribunal Federal for a favor dos invasores, abre-se um gravíssimo precedente na legislação brasileira. Todas as terras indígenas do Brasil, já demarcadas, homologadas e registradas, poderão ser contestadas e revisadas.

No ano 2005 a Terra Indígena Raposa Serra do Sol foi Homologada e Registrada, conforme a Constituição Federal do Brasil e o direito internacional, Convenção 169 da OIT e declaração da ONU sobre Direitos dos Povos Indígenas. Resta apenas a desintrusão dos invasores.

Por isso solicitamos ao Supremo Tribunal Federal, que ratifique o decreto de homologação da Terra Indígena Raposa Serra do Sol, retirando os invasores e fazendo assim a justiça esperada pelos povos indígenas há 34 anos de luta e de sofrimento.

[signature of individuals and organizations]

Copy, sign and send preferably the Portuguese version of the letter to the following addresses:


Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Fax: (61) 34112222, E-mail:




Fax: (61) 32174189,




Fax: (61)32174339



Fax: (61) 32174249,



Telefone: (61) 32174073



Fax: (61) 32174309,



Fax: (61) 32174219,



Fax: (61)32174159




Fax: (61)32174399,



Fax: 61-32174279,



Fax: 61-32174355 / 61-32174369




Fax: 61-32174129,


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