Brazil's Federal Superior Court (STF) Wednesday decided to call off debating a land case which involves requests from indigenous groups, at the request of one Justice, who asked for “more time”
After President Jair Bolsonaro's judicial nemesis Alexander De Moraes made that request, there is no new date to revisit the matter that indigenous groups say is vital for their survival.
The top court is weighing whether a state government applied an overly narrow interpretation of indigenous rights by only recognizing tribal lands occupied by their communities at the time Brazil’s constitution was ratified in 1988.
Indigenous rights groups say the rule was unconstitutional because there was no timeframe in the 1988 constitution, which guaranteed the right to ancestral lands.
Two magistrates of the 11-member court have ruled so far, with one justice in favour of a cut-off date for land claims, while another has voted to end the timeframe.
A defeat in court for the indigenous people would set a precedent for the rollback of native rights following Bolsonaro's stance. The President draws support from the agricultural sector, which broadly defends the timeframe because such a constraint gives legal security to farmers, many of whom have lived for decades on land once inhabited by indigenous people.
Lawyers for the indigenous people, who today number some 850,000 in Brazil, say the Constitution that set in stone their rights to ancestral lands makes no mention of a time framework. Their ancestors have driven off their hunting grounds when European settlers began to arrive centuries ago or were expelled from coveted farmland more recently but before the 1988 cutoff.
Families of white farmers in many cases have lived for decades on land now claimed by indigenous communities, and even hold title in some cases showing they bought it from the state.
“If the Supreme Court doesn’t maintain the 1988 timeframe … it will kill agribusiness in Brazil, there will be no incentive to invest in agriculture,” Bolsonaro said recently.