Indigenous groups gathering in Brazil’s capital to protest president’s land grant decisions

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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Thousands of Indigenous people began gathering in Brazil’s capital on Monday for what was expected to become a protest against President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s unfulfilled promises to create reserves and expel illegal miners and land-grabbers from their territories.

Holding Lula’s government to account appeared to be the focus of this year’s 20th Free Land Camp, an annual weeklong encampment of Indigenous people in Brasilia.

Last week, Lula created two new reserves, far from the six his government had promised for April. During the announcement, he acknowledged that “some of our friends” would be frustrated. He added that the delay in naming other reserves was at the behest of state governors and that it was necessary to find new areas for about 800 non-Indigenous peoples who would eventually be displaced upon defining the new reserves.

“Enough of lawful genocide! Our rights cannot be negotiated, and no one can take Indigenous rights out of the Constitution,” read an open letter from the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, the country’s main Indigenous organization, published Monday. The letter was addressed to the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the government.

At least 251 territories have pending claims for recognition before the federal government, according to non-profit Socio-Environmental Institute.

“We are very disappointed with this government. We know it has many enemies, and the Congress is one common enemy,” Alessandra Korap, an Indigenous leader of the Munduruku tribe, told The Associated Press. “But we didn’t expect it to demarcate only two lands this year.”

Lula took office in 2023 pledging to resume granting lands to Indigenous peoples, a stark contrast to his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who kept his promise not to create a single centimeter of additional Indigenous land. However, Indigenous demands face mounting opposition from the powerful agribusiness sector, which has the support of hundreds of seats in Congress and several governors across the country.

Protest organizers said about 8,000 people have so far come to Brasilia this year. They’ve set up hundreds of tents on the main esplanade. Some endured a three-day long bus trip. Activities in the camp include traditional dances, the selling of handicrafts, debates and political demonstrations.

Many more protesters were expected to come throughout the week.

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