Four tribes in northern Brazil have won a huge victory in the Brazilian courts. For decades the Makuxi, Wapixana, Ingaricó and Taurepang have fought for the full legal recognition of their land, an area known as Raposa-Serra do Sol. Now a judgment from Brazil's highest court finally paves the way for this to happen.
Cattle ranchers, colonists and goldminers have invaded Raposa-Serra do Sol over the years, creating tension as the Indians tried to defend their land against destruction – and themselves against violence from the ranchers' gunmen. Many Indians saw their property stolen or destroyed and suffered physical attacks; some died at the hands of hitmen and police. Moreover, the armed forces have begun building a huge barracks in the heart of Uiramutã, one of the Indian villages near the Guyanese border, despite the community's opposition to the military presence.
In December 1998 there was hope for the Indians, when an act signed by the president declared the 1,678,800 hectare territory as Indian land and ordered that it be demarcated – that is, marked out and officially protected. But the state government of Roraima – which is dominated by anti-Indian politicians and powerful landowners – immediately tried to overturn the act. It filed an injunction in the courts preventing ratification of the reserve by the federal authorities, the final legal step. The injunction meant that the ranchers and colonists, mainly rice growers, who are illegally occupying the Indians' land could not be removed.
But on 27 November 2002, judges from the Superior Court of Justice in Brasilia overturned this injunction, paving the way for the president of Brazil to ratify the territory and complete the legal recognition of the area as Indian land.
Survival has campaigned for the full recognition of Raposa-Serra do Sol for many years and welcomes the court's decision. But it is crucial that the president does now ratify the area, as he is free to do, so that the Indians can start to live secure from invasion and the theft of their land. The current president of Brazil leaves office at the end of 2002 – please write a letter urging him to ratify Raposa-Serra do Sol without delay.