Controversial Law in Brazil Sees Indigenous Clash With Police; Law Fails

Brazilian indigenous protestors were in the headlines for a conflict with military police but their objective was achieved the next day.
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Brazilian indigenous protestors were in the headlines for a conflict with military police but their objective was achieved the next day.

Last week the Brazilian Congress shelved a proposed constitutional amendment that would have taken territorial demarcation rights away from indigenous communities following a dramatic protest where police prevented activists from confronting lawmakers.

Indigenous activists are calling this action a victory as the commission that was slated to propose the amendment was disbanded.

"This was really the victory of 2014, a moment when we saw the possibility of winning against the votes and maneuvers of the big ranchers," asserted Sonia Guajajara, a leader of the Linking of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, a national indigenous advocacy organization (known as APIB from it's Brazilian acronym).

Guajajara also noted that the victory was the result of a unified effort involving allied legislators, indigenous organizations and environmentalists who have struggled against the influence of wealthy ranchers and others on legislators. The protestors from the day before were addressing that issue as well.

The decision to not go forward with the amendment took place on Wednesday, December 17 but it was the day before, Tuesday, when Brazilian Indigenous protestors clashed with military police as they were blocked from entering the House of Deputies in Brasilia to protest the proposed amendment known in Brazil as PEC 215, a law that would have effectively removed indigenous people from the boundary decision making process and hand it over to the Legislature and Executive branches of government.

Approximately 50 indigenous people danced and sang outside of the federal building after the clash with police. Some protestors carried bows and arrows or spears which were considered factors in the arrest of certain protestors for "attempted homicide" against police officers.

During the altercations some indigenous protestors were accused of attacking police officers but at the hearing for three of the arrested protestors on December 19, the indigenous men asserted that police had tear gassed and assaulted them instead.

The case against all five indigenous protestors was dismissed. In the first hearing Judge Fabio Francisco Esteves found that the protestors were "exercising their right to protest, to free expression and to the right of participating in the public sphere."

In their letter of thanks to all of their allies in the fight against PEC 215, the APIB stated that "the indigenous people showed that they will never submit, even to the point of sacrificing their lives, to the re-colonization, usurpation and despoiling of their territories...in favor of the extractive industries, big agribusiness or of the neo-developers defended by the elites."

This marked the second time in a year that indigenous protestors confronted lawmakers over PEC 215.