The fight to stop attacks on indigenous land rights and the struggle against Bolsonaro are inseparable

Scarlett Rocha

26/08 | Over six thousand indigenous people join the protest camp outside the Supreme Court building in Brasilia.

From its inception, the Bolsonaro government has brought together a broad front of land grabbers, loggers, small-scale mining prospectors, and ranchers, who are all united in their attempts to pressure the Federal Supreme Court (STF) and the National Congress to support the ‘Marco Temporal’ (Time Frame). This measure aims to legalize the pure and simple theft of ‘Terras Indígenas’ (indigenous lands) from the original peoples. Illegal businesses worth billions of Brazilian reais will reap the rewards at the expense of the genocide of indigenous peoples and the most complete and irrational environmental degradation. The main exponent of this enterprise was former environment minister Ricardo Sales, who has left behind a legacy that needs to be fought and buried, not just by indigenous peoples but by all social movements in the countryside and the cities.

The 1 September Federal Supreme Court (STF) decision on the ‘Marco Temporal’ regarding recognition of indigenous lands is not just a decisive moment for indigenous peoples, but all of the country’s working people and oppressed. Many people are wondering, why is there so much controversy around this issue? Why is this vote happening now, 33 years after the proclamation of the 1988 Constitution?

According to Article 231 of the Federal Constitution: “The social organization, customs, languages, creeds and traditions of Indians are recognized, as well as their original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy. The Union has the responsibility to delineate these lands and to protect and ensure respect for all their property”.

However, Article 231 does not set any date or time frame for the legal recognition of the lands traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples. The whole discussion around the establishment of a supposed time frame for the determination of indigenous lands arises from the lack of regulation contained in Article 231.

In 2009 the Federal Supreme Court ruled in favor of the demarcation of the 1.7 million hectare (4.3 million acre) area of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous territory located in the northern state of Roraima. In litigation with the land grabbers (known as ‘grileiros’), STF judges argued that indigenous people had occupied the region before the Brazilian Constitution was enacted in 1988.

However, the argument used in favor of the demarcation of the Raposa Serra do Sol territories is now ironically being used by ‘grileiros’, loggers, miners, and ranchers against the indigenous peoples who have not yet had their lands demarcated based on the legal recognition of the pre-1988 Constitution occupation of their lands.

Also of note is Bill 490/2007 which is now in the Chamber of Deputies. This Bill makes the demarcation of indigenous lands even more difficult, and it has been turbocharged by the idea of ‘Marco Temporal’. If Bill 490 is approved, the demarcation of new indigenous lands will be completely negated, insofar as indigenous peoples would be forced to prove that they have occupied the regions where they live since before the 1988 Constitution was enacted.

This escalation of attacks on indigenous peoples was crowned by events in 2017 under the government of Michel Temer (Brazilian Democratic Movement, MDB). In that year, the Federal Attorney General’s Office (AGU) began to argue for the need to establish a ‘Marco Temporal’ time frame for the recognition of indigenous lands. The result of this absurd maneuver is that there are currently about 30 indigenous land demarcation processes held up by the Public Federal Ministry (MPF), which is awaiting a Federal Supreme Court (STF) definition on the establishment of a supposed time frame.

The specific case that has become the legal reference of this controversy is that of the Xokleng indigenous people of the Ibirama La-Klãnõ indigenous territory in the southern state of Santa Catarina, territory which is also home to the Guarani and Kaingang peoples. The remaining Xokleng were expelled from their original lands last century. It was only in 1996 that they obtained the demarcation of 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres), which in 2003 was expanded to 37,000 hectares (91,000 acres). The area is claimed by the Environmental Foundation FATMA on the basis of the ‘Marco Temporal’ thesis. It is this specific issue that will be put to a vote in the Federal Supreme Court (STF). If approved, this thesis will put the demarcation of other indigenous lands into question. This legal parameter would apply to the other 30 processes currently help up at the Public Federal Ministry (MPF) and may affect more than 300 lands now in the process of demarcation.

Defending indigenous peoples and the environment is defending our own lives

Last week, over 6,000 indigenous people from 170 ethnic groups held a large and courageous demonstration in the capital Brasilia to demand that the ‘Marco Temporal’ time frame not be established and that all of the lands that they claim as their own be recognized.

The ‘Marco Temporal’, dubbed the ‘marco da morte’ (mark of death) by indigenous people, is an absurd measure that denies the right of indigenous peoples to the land and ignores the expulsion from their territories that has occurred over the last 521 years. It also ignores the fact that many peoples are concentrated in smaller portions of their lands, as they have been forced into a corner by the criminal invasion of land grabbers.

Along with environmental degradation, what is at stake here is the lives of indigenous peoples. The approval of the ‘Marco Temporal’ time frame would give the green light to the further development of genocide, give it a legal blessing, and give license to the deforestation of immense environmental conservation areas and the massacre of entire tribes and ethnic groups.

Those who think that the establishment of the ‘Marco Temporal’ time frame “only” affects areas of environmental conservation and indigenous peoples are mistaken. The struggle against this measure is not about defending an issue far removed from the lives of the exploited and oppressed in the country and the cities.

The freeing up of public lands and ‘Terras Indígenas’ (indigenous lands) for the irrational exploitation of land grabbers, loggers, small-scale mining prospectors, farmers, and others responsible for environmental crimes and the murders of indigenous, environment and landless workers’ movement leaders will affect all of us and our quality of life, which is being increasingly degraded by the capitalist exploitation of nature.

At the same time as these same criminals massacre indigenous peoples, devastate our forests, and drain our rivers, they also deprive working people and the poor of city and country of the right to housing, water, and electricity. Once again, we are on the eve of water rationing in the big cities, which will leave entire populations in the ‘periferias’, the sprawling poor suburbs on city outskirts, without water for even cooking and drinking. The lack of rainfall caused above all by the deforestation of the Amazon is not just having an impact on the water supply, but also the generation of electricity and the absurd increase in electricity rates already announced for the coming months.

The most predatory agribusiness corporations are not satisfied with devastating entire regions of native forest to raise cattle. Now they plant genetically modified soybeans for export and poison our food and water with pesticides that are extremely harmful to human health. As if this were not enough, they also export much of the food produced in the country, which contributes to the rising prices of basic necessities and the return of hunger to the tables of millions of Brazilians in a country that is one of the largest food producers in the world.

For all these reasons, the indigenous peoples, the greatest defenders of the Amazon Rainforest, of the forests, rivers, and all biodiversity, need all our support and solidarity. Their struggle and their resistance are directly linked to the struggle of the exploited and oppressed in the country and the cities for access to housing, drinking water, and accessible and cheap electricity. The struggle against the ‘Marco Temporal’ time frame is everyone’s struggle. Long live the indigenous peoples! No to the ‘Marco Temporal’ time frame! ‘Fora Bolsonaro!’ (Bolsonaro Out!).

This article is an English translation of “A luta contra o Marco Temporal é inseparável do Fora Bolsonaro”, [], Esquerda Online (EOL), 01/09/2021.

Translation: Bobby Sparks