South and Meso American Indian Rights Center




Minister Jobim calls for reduction of Raposa/Serra do Sol area; ranching and gold mining invasions take precedence over Indian land rights.

December 23, 1996

Brazilian Justice Minister Nelson Jobim, in a decision taken jointly with President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, ordered Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) to cut an area the size of Rhode Island from the traditional land of the Macuxi Indians before demarcating the area, to benefit ranchers and gold miners who have invaded the Indian land. The decision flouts constitutional protection of Indian land rights, in an apparent trade-off of Indian land for Congressional support for Fernando Henrique's re-election to the Presidency. Jobim's order, if carried through to its intended conclusion, would signal open season on Indian land across Brazil and particularly the Amazon, as miners, ranchers, and loggers use the decision in court to overturn prior government action to ensure Indians, constitutional rights or prevent future protection.

The anxiously awaited decision on the 1.6 million hectare Raposa/Serra do Sol indigenous area in Roraima state in the Brazilian Amazon, calls for FUNAI to give about 200,000 hectares of Indian land to some 14 ranchers to whom the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) issued titles in the area since 1982, as well as creating enclaves of non-Indian land in the middle of the indigenous reserve for five decaying gold boom towns. The decision was handed down last week in a memo from Jobim to FUNAI President Julio Gaiger, stating his conclusion on challenges to the demarcation of the area brought by the state of Roraima under the new rules for Indian land protection promulgated by the government in January 1996 in Decree 1775.

Reducing the area creates a potentially disastrous precedent for other indigenous lands across Brazil. The Constitution of 1988 states explicitly in Article 231 that private land titles on lands traditionally occupied by Indians are null, restating the priority of indigenous land rights present in Brazilian Constitutional law since 1934. Raposa Serra do Sol is among the very best documented, in legal and anthropological terms, of indigenous lands in Brazil. The anthropological reports based on which FUNAI in 1992 determined that the 1.6 million hectare Raposa/Serra do Sol area is land traditionally occupied by the Indians have been upheld by the Federal Attorney General's Office as well as by legal counsel to the Justice Ministry. Consequently, excluding private claims titled by INCRA from the indigenous area subverts Article 231 of the Constitution in favor of INCRA's titles. By this logic, any of the hundreds of land titles issued by public agencies on Indian land can also take precedence over indigenous land rights. This is precisely what Article 231 intended to prevent in considering titles on indigenous land null.

Worse still, the Minister orders FUNAI to exclude five gold boom towns from the indigenous area to be demarcated, leaving these as foci of permanent conflict. This is an invitation to violence. The economic activity on which the towns depend for their existence --gold and diamond placer mining, or garimpagem -- is explicitly prohibited by law in the indigenous land that surrounds the towns, but the towns become non-indigenous enclaves in the midst of the reserve. Rather than resolving the chronic conflicts and human rights abuses that plague the region, the Minister's decision would worsen them and ensure their perpetuation. The decision further upholds the state government's recent creation of a new county (or municipio) in the decaying boom town of Uiramuta, legitimating the gold mining invasion in fact stimulated by local politicians in the hope of preventing the demarcation of the area. This constitutes a clear incentive to further invasions in hundreds of other indigenous areas not yet fully demarcated and their subsequent legitimization.

Under the guise of a Solomonic solution, contemplating all affected interests, Minister Jobim has in fact decided for the radical subversion of indigenous land rights as defined in the Constitution of 1988. Where Indian lands have been invaded through the omission the federal government and the avarice of local elites for their natural resources, Jobim proposes that the Indians bear the cost by giving up their lands. The effect, for hundreds of other indigenous areas, and tens of millions of hectares of forest they comprise, will be disastrous.

International public opinion has however had an effect. Without continued manifestations of concern and alarm from around the world (and particularly from northern governments and parliamentarians) it is likely that Raposa/Serra do Sol would already have been reduced, by more. The state government has stated that it plans to appeal Jobim's decision because it wants more of the area. CIR has said it will take legal action against the decision. Your fax or email can make a difference.

Express your serious concern with Minister Jobim's December 20th decision to reduce the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous area in favor of ranchers with private land titles, and to legitimate miner invasions. Respectfully urge the President to suspend the Minister's decision and demarcate the entire Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous area, as indentified by FUNAI in 1993.


Ilmo. Sr., Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Presidente da Republica, Palacio do Planalto, Brasilia DF 70160-900, Brasil; Fax - 55-61-226 7566, Email -


Conselho Indigena de Roraima - CIR,

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