Brazil tribal lands under new threat from farmers, miners

    by Bruno Kelly
    Monday, 8 April 2019 13:50 BST

Tereza Pereira de Souza, an indigenous Macuxi community leader, poses for a photograph at the community of Maturuca on the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation, Roraima state, Brazil February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

Ancestral lands have come under threat from new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and remains coveted by commercial farmers and mining prospectors

By Bruno Kelly and Sergio Queiroz

RAPOSA SERRA DO SOL, Brazil (Reuters) - A decade after the Macuxi people won a bloody legal battle to expel rice planters from their reservation in a remote part of Brazil, their hold over ancestral lands has come under threat again from new right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

The sprawling 1.7 million hectares (6,600 square miles) of savannah on the border with Venezuela — a 

reservation called Raposa Serra do Sol — is home to 25,000 native people whose main livelihood is raising cattle.

But the land remains coveted by commercial farmers and mining prospectors who believe the area is rich in minerals such as gold, diamonds, copper, molybdenum, bauxite and even niobium, a metal used to strengthen steel that Bolsonaro considers "strategic."

"In the fight for our land rights, 21 of us died," says Chief Aldenir Lima, the leader of the 70 communities on the reservation. "Since then we recovered what we had lost and today, the white farmers' rice plantations have been replaced by our cattle herds."

* Photo essay: https://reut.rs/2WHemak

That could change if Bolsonaro follows through on his promise to review the borders of the reservation — part of his push to repeal a ban on commercial farming and mining on indigenous lands.

Bolsonaro's first move after his January inauguration was to put indigenous land decisions under the Ministry of Agriculture, which is controlled by farm sector representatives eager to open up new frontiers to large-scale farming.

The president has already singled out Raposa Serra do Sol.

"It is the richest area in the world. There are ways to exploit it rationally. And for the Indians, to give them royalties and integrate them into society," he said in December.

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