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National security trumps indigenous rights on development projects in Brazil

Posted on behalf of Claudio Angelo.

A regulation passed earlier this month by the Brazilian government is stirring anger among indigenous people and environmentalists, as it allows dams, roads and military bases to be built in indigenous territories without consent if the projects are considered to be relevant to “national security”.

The act follows an already controversial pruning of seven federal protected areas in the Amazon to accommodate hydropower plants passed by Congress in June, just before the Rio+20 environmental summit. Most of the parks targeted for shrinkage are in the Tapajós river basin, a wilderness area of “extreme relevance” for biodiversity.

The new regulation, issued on 17 July by Attorney General Luis Adams, targets the Amazon, where 13% of the forest is now delimited as indigenous territory. In 2007 a study showed that these areas are more effective than national parks in stopping deforestation and the ensuing CO2 emissions. However, some of them “stand in the way” of planned infrastructure, such as the Belo Monte megadam on the Xingu River. Construction is opposed by tribes who claim that the development threatens their traditional way of life, and that the consultation process was unfair.

The regulation allows government to skip consultation altogether, leaving decisions in the hands of the 12-member National Security Council. It also freezes any expansion of indigenous lands. Adams told Nature that the measure only aims to ensure “legal stability”.

But according to Raul do Valle, a lawyer with indigenous-rights organization Instituto Socioambiental, the act violates both the country’s constitution and international treaties signed by Brazil, such as the 169th Convention of the International Labor Organization, which warrants prior informed consent of Indians regarding any intervention on their lands. “The act is authoritarian,” he says.

The move has been unpopular even within the government. The National Indian Foundation publicly criticized it, causing Adams to suspend application until September.


  1. Report this comment

    Jean SmilingCoyote said:

    Well, what should we expect? “Brazil” has always defined itself as an imperialist nation, a descendant of Portugal. The government, in its heart of hearts, does not include indigenous people as part of Brazil.

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