The legal and institutional changes in environmental and indigenous policy in Brazil 

 29 May 2021

On May 13, a new legal instrument that could profoundly change the way in which the authorization process for land exploration in Brazil takes place was pre-approved by the parliamentarians of Brasília. The project that has been under discussion since 2004 has become a priority for the current far-right government as a way to further strengthen the ties between the Bolsonaro clan and the agribusiness lobby.

The PL (Bill) restricts, weakens or, in some cases, even extinguishes an important part of the assessment, prevention and control instruments of the socio-environmental impacts of the works and economic activities in the country. This is the worst and most radical proposal ever made in Congress on the subject and, in practice, makes conventional licensing an exception, in the assessment of the Environmentalist Parliamentary Front, of researchers and civil society organizations.

For them, if enacted into law, the project can produce serial deforestation records, mainly by eliminating restrictions on forest destruction, generally encouraged by large infrastructure works in the Amazon, such as roads and hydroelectric plants.

The proposal foresees that only approved Indigenous Lands are considered in the environmental licensing, which excludes around 40% of the Lands in the process of demarcation, as (insert some GK territories in dispute) territories. Likewise, there are serious restrictions on the application of legislation on Conservation Units and areas of protection of historical and cultural heritage.

The Federal Supreme Court, on numerous occasions, including recent ones, has reiterated that these territorial rights do not depend on state demarcation or titling that recognizes them. The provisions contained in Articles 39 and 40, if approved, in addition to being manifestly unconstitutional, will show the National Congress's contempt for the environment and human rights agenda, in the wake of the Bolsonaro government's destruction agenda.

Indigenous peoples, quilombolas (traditional Afro-Brazilian communities) and traditional communities have the right to choose their own priorities in relation to their territories, hence Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution; and the project of trying to treat their lands and doing so without a minimum of dialogue with their peoples or without the competent process of free, prior and informed consultation, provided for in the American Convention on Human Rights, Convention 169 of the International Organization of the Labor (ILO), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (IPDCP), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

João Eduardo Peçanha de Freitas, Multimedia Anthropology Lab