Brazil’s lower house of Congress on Tuesday night approved a bill that would limit the recognition of ancestral lands in a vote met by protests from Indigenous groups.
The bill, known as PL 490/2007, would strip the environment and Indigenous people ministries of some powers, weakening their oversight of environmental protections and the demarcation of Indigenous lands.
The proposed legislation, which passed by 283 votes to 155, still requires approval from the Senate and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Ahead of the vote, Indigenous groups blocked a highway just outside the country’s largest city Sao Paulo. Protesters burned tires, fired arrows and threw objects at the riot and military police, who used water cannons and tear gas in return.
Indigenous groups from across the country also planned protests in the capital Brasilia, where Lula da Silva is meeting with South American leaders.
The president could still veto the bill, Reuters reports, but Congress could have enough support to override the move.
“PL490 has been approved by the Chamber: a serious attack on indigenous peoples and the environment,” Sônia Guajajara, the Indigenous Peoples minister, tweeted late on Tuesday.
“We keep fighting for life. Still in the Senate, we will dialogue to avoid negotiating our lives in exchange for profit and destruction. We will not give up!.”
What’s in the bill
Lula da Silva has promised to repair the damage to the Amazon caused during the tenure of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. A surge in invasions and illegal extraction of natural resources in protected Indigenous lands were reported under the far-right former leader’s time in office.
Last month, Lula da Silva recognized six Indigenous territories, Reuters reports, fulfilling part of his campaign promise to protect Indigenous lands from being taken for farming, gold mining and logging in the Amazon.
But Lula da Silva has had to face a hostile Congress, which approved expediting the bill’s review process last week.
While the bill does not impact fully recognized Indigenous territories, it would affect territories that are under claim.
Rights groups warn that the bill would “prevent Indigenous communities from obtaining title of their lands if they were not physically present on them on October 5, 1988, the day Brazil’s current Constitution was adopted,” writes Human Rights Watch.
“Indigenous peoples who were expelled from their territory before October 1988 and cannot prove they were involved in an ongoing dispute over their claim on that date would not be able to secure legal recognition of their lands,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a statement.
“Choosing an arbitrary cutoff date and refusing to recognize ancestral lands claimed after that date is not in line with international standards,” it added.
If the bill passes, it could tarnish Lula da Silva’s climate ambitions. “If Lula loses this battle in Congress, it will represent yet another political defeat for his administration and display the conservative force he faces,” Bruna Santos, director of the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, told CNN.