BRASÍLIA (AP) — Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Friday granted official recognition to nearly 800 square miles of indigenous lands, following a campaign promise in a move that also protects the critical Amazon rainforest from commercial exploitation.
Lula recognized six ancestral lands. The two largest are found in the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest and a major carbon sink that helps moderate climate change. The total area of recognized lands in the biome is 161,500 hectares (620 sq mi).
The land remains under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but the designation grants indigenous peoples the right to use it in the traditional way. Mining is prohibited and commercial agriculture and logging require specific permits. Additionally, non-Indigenous individuals are prohibited from engaging in any economic activity on Indigenous lands.
Lula’s action was welcomed by the indigenous movement, but not without some frustration at its limited size. In January, his government pledged to create 14 new territories in the short term.
The largest new area is located in the state of Amazonas. The Uneiuxi Indigenous Territory of the Nadöb people was expanded by 37% to 554,000 hectares (2,100 sq mi) of primary rainforest. It is located in a remote area: from the main village it takes four days to reach the nearest town on a low-powered motor boat, the most common form of transport in the region.
“The demarcation will make the Nadöb feel safe and secure within our territory. That’s where we live, fish, hunt and gather fruit. We want to continue there, like our ancestors,” chief Eduardo Castelo, 45, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We don’t want the impact of whites on our territory.”
Indigenous demarcation has been disrupted since 2018, following far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s pledge to the agribusiness sector, which opposes new indigenous demarcations.
Studies have shown that indigenously controlled forests are the best preserved in the Brazilian Amazon. But deforestation grew 195% between 2019 and 2021 compared to the previous four years, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature. This destruction has largely been caused by non-indigenous peoples, from land robbers to illegal miners.
The Amazon rainforest covers an area twice the size of India and is a key buffer against climate change as it absorbs a significant amount of carbon dioxide. But deforestation in Brazil, which holds two-thirds of the biome, has caused nearly half of its carbon emissions. The destruction of the eastern Amazon is so extensive that it has now become a carbon source rather than a carbon sink for the Earth.
Lula, who beat Bolsonaro in the 2022 elections, has promised to resume land demarcation. His government has also created the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, in response to a request from the grassroots movement.
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