Brazil’s Congress overrides president's veto to reinstate legislation threatening Indigenous rights

Indigenous leader Cacique Raoni and incoming President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva stand side by side at the Planalto Palace after Lula's swearing-in ceremony, in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
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SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's Congress on Thursday overturned a veto by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva so it can reinstate legislation that undoes protections of Indigenous peoples’ land rights. The decision sets up a new battle between lawmakers and the country's top court on the matter.

Both federal deputies and senators voted by a wide margin to support a bill that argues the date Brazil’s Constitution was promulgated — Oct. 5, 1988 — is the deadline by which Indigenous peoples had to be physically occupying or fighting legally to reoccupy territory in order to claim land allotments.

In September, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on a 9-2 vote that such a theory was unconstitutional. Brazilian lawmakers reacted by using a fast-track process to pass a bill that addressed that part of the original legislation, and it will be valid until the court examines the issue again.

The override of Lula's veto was a victory for congressional supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro — who joined several members of Lula’s coalition in voting to reverse the president's action -- and his allies in agribusiness.

Supporters of the bill argued it was needed to provide legal security to landowners and accused Indigenous leaders of pushing for an unlimited expansion of their territories.

Indigenous rights groups say the concept of the deadline is unfair because it does not account for expulsions and forced displacements of Indigenous populations, particularly during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

Rights group Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, known by the Portuguese acronym Apib, said in its social medial channels that it would take the case back to Brazil's Supreme Court. Leftist lawmakers said the same.

“The defeated are those who are not fighting. Congress approved the deadline bill and other crimes against Indigenous peoples,” Apib said. “We will continue to challenge this."

Shortly after the vote in Congress, about 300 people protested in front of the Supreme Court building.