December 9, 2013
Brazilian police stop Indigenous People from storming Congress
Brazilian police used pepper spray to stop hundreds of protesting Indigenous People from storming Congress, clamping down on the second day of indigenous rights marches.
Tribes across Brazil blocked highways and occupied government offices to oppose what they see as a steady undermining of their rights to ancestral lands by farmers supported by politicians in disputes that have occasionally turned violent.
"We have lost lots of land and they want to take away what we have left," said Mayalú Txucarramae, a young Kayapó leader from the Xingú reservation in Mato Grosso state, one of about 1,000 indigenous demonstrators camped out in front of Congress.
Indigenous People wearing headdresses and body paint and carrying spears, bows and arrows expressed their anger in war dances outside ministry buildings in Brazil's capital and then tried to invade Congress, before being stopped by police.
During a similar protest in April, members of some 70 tribes barged into the lower house of Congress, delaying a debate on indigenous policy. Brazilian police, who have faced bouts of social unrest since the country experienced massive protests in June against corruption and poor government services, were less permissive this time.
But the deputy speaker of the lower chamber of Congress, Andre Vargas, agreed to meet with a delegation of Indigenous People, including the Kayapó leader, and vowed to try to stop a constitutional amendment from reaching the floor that would weaken native land rights.
On Tuesday, Speaker Henrique Eduardo Alves said he would delay forming a committee to study the proposal, which would give Congress, rather than the federal government's Indian affairs office, the power to create indigenous reservations.
President Dilma Rousseff, accused by the Indians of siding with farmers in the disputes over native lands, said on Twitter she opposed the amendment and would encourage her supporters in Congress to vote against it.
"She is just trying to look good," said Txucarramae.
The protests that shook Brazil in June may have helped the Indian cause by making the country's politicians more sensitive to popular demands, the Indian leader said.