Brazil court backs Indian land in watershed ruling

BRASILIA, (Reuters) – Brazil’s Supreme Court  upheld the creation of a native Indian reservation on the  northern border in a landmark ruling yesterday likely to  strengthen indigenous rights against farmers and big business.

The court voted 10-1 against a petition by two senators  from the northern Roraima state who contested the government’s  creation in 2005 of the 4.2 million-acre (1.7 million-hectare)  reserve — about the size of Kuwait — and asked that it be  reduced in size.

Indian supporters celebrated the decision as confirmation  of land rights that Indians were granted in the 1988  constitution. The decision could encourage Indians throughout  the country in their struggle to regain ancestral lands. Dozens  of Indians are killed each year in land conflicts.

“Without a doubt, it’s a victory for Brazil, its  international image, human rights and the Indian people, said  Marcio Meira, chairman of Funai, the government agency for  indigenous affairs. Land has been staked out for the reserve  but outsiders have not yet been removed.

Sitting in the courtroom amid many people dressed in coats  and ties, scantily clothed Indians with painted faces and  feathered headdresses listened to the judges explain their vote  in lengthy legal discourses.

Critics say the Raposa-Serra do Sol reserve is too big for  the 19,000 Indians who will have the sole right to live there  and work the land.

Many mining, timber and agriculture businesses see it as an  obstacle to growth and complain about the legal uncertainty it  creates.

Rice farmers who settled on the land decades ago before it  became a reserve and who will now be expelled, mocked the  decision.

“This is ridiculous, they’re voting against  progress,” one of them scoffed after the ruling.

Farmers clashed with Indians on several occasions last  year, injuring some.

There are more than 750,000 Indians among Brazil’s 190  million people and their lands account for 12 percent of  Brazil’s territory. While some live on extensive lands in the  Amazon, others are cramped into ghetto-like reserves in the  southwestern part of the country.

Most Indians hope the reserve will give them the legal  backing to develop their own farms. But some who wanted their  towns excluded from the reserve for fear they would be cut off  from modernity, were not happy with the ruling.

“We want to continue doing business with the white man.

They want us to be primitive Indians, but we’re civilized,”  said Caetano Raposa, 65, one of the few Indians from the region  who could afford a plane ticket to travel the 1,700 miles  (2,700 km) to hear the ruling in the capital, Brasilia.

Others warned that a single reserve could not accommodate  rival Indians of the same ethnicity driven apart over decades  by outsiders.

“The church, settlers, NGOs — they all divided our  people,” Abel Barbosa, a Macuxi Indian from the town of Flechao  told Reuters in front of the modernist Supreme Court building.

“There will be more blood shed in that land.”

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