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BRAZIL AND THE SCANDAL OF THE RURAL LOBBY

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Paulo Maldos, who heads the National Secretariat for Social Articulation in the Brazilian presidency, was recently put in charge of the working group charged with expelling landowners and squatters from land in the state of Mato Grosso that has been officially recognised as belonging to the Marãiwatséde Indians.

  Approximately 800 Xavante Indians live in a single settlement with poor access to clear water and hunting areas. They use 10 percent of their territory, as the rest of it has been invaded and converted to livestock and soybean plantationsThe Marãiwatséde Indians were removed by the Brazilian airforce from their territory back in 1966, when a powerful group of landowners took over the land. Although Marãiwatséde means ‘high forest or ‘dangerous forest’ in the Xavante tongue, the Indians were relocated out of the Amazon rainforest in a completely different terrain and they have been fighting ever since to get back to their original lands.

A big advance was achieved during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government in the 1990s when the indigenous territory was finally demarcated. But the Xavante Indians were prevented by landowners from entering their territory. It was only in 2004 that hundreds of Indians from different indigenous lands organised a big mobilisation and forced their way in.  Landowners went to the courts to fight back, initially with success, but in October 2012 the Supreme Court overturned an injunction suspending the expulsion of illegal farmers and squatters.

However, today the Indians still only occupy a small part of their territory and much of it has been cleared of forest for cattle-ranching. The Xavante leader Paridzané is not discouraged. “We want our land and we are going to plant the forest back”, he said. “We won’t give up what is ours. I want the squatters and farmers out.” The full story of their struggle is told in English here 

 Paulo Maldos’s role is to make sure that the final judicial ruling is repected and he is clearly excited by his task. “It’s wonderful to see the state getting organised to help an indigenous community get its rights respected”, he told Carta Capital. He is confident that he will eventually get all the illegal occupiers out. 

However, he has been taken aback by thepolitical  force of 22 big landowners occupying the land. He said: “They work with the mayors in the region, the politicians, the rural lobby in Mato Grosso, the governor. They get them all to put pressure on the federal government, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate, ministers in Brasilia. It’s a case study of how the latifúndio [the big estate] operates. It goes to the heads of each of the three powers, creating tension, giving their version of events.” 

The press, he says, is an important ally, “as it repeats their assertion that 7,000 people live on the land claimed by the Indians, that there are 2,000 head of cattle, that they have land titles” – all of which is untrue. “Their capacity to manipulate the facts is is amazing.” 

The full interview with Paulo Maldos can be found here.