An exclusive investigation shows that 114 properties have been certified inside indigenous territories awaiting demarcation in the Brazilian Amazon, spurred in large part by a recent statute approved by the national agency for indigenous affairs that leaves these unratified lands unprotected from such illegal land grabs. Landowners have already registered claims for more than 2,000 private properties in indigenous areas, including some that are home to isolated peoples. Indigenous groups, civil society organizations, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and state prosecutors have denounced the statute and are challenging it in various courts.
This journalistic investigation shone light to the consequences of a new policy that facilitated the escalating process of invasion of indigenous lands in the Amazon – which has become an even bigger problem with the Covid-19 pandemic, putting the lives of the indigenous populations in the Amazon at greater risk. It has therefore been referred to in several publications, nationally and internationally – from national organizations such as Instituto Socioambiental and the NGO Terra de Direitos to international outlets such as Jornal Tornado (Portugal), the german magazine Amerika21 and the public german radio Bayern 2, which interviewed one of the reporters for a piece on “How Bolsonaro’s corona policy threatens the lives of indigenous people in Brazil“. This investigative piece has been republished by 20 news websites, in portuguese, spanish and english, being featured in important national and international outlets, such as Mongabay (US) and Interferencia (Chile). Later in 2020 it was awarded the first place of the Data Journalism Contest “All Eyes on the Amazon”, promoted by a coalition of organisations which includes Hivos and Greenpeace.
This project examined three public databases: FUNAI’s Indigenous Lands Mapping; private properties registered in the national Rural Environmental Registry system [Cadastro Ambiental Rural, CAR]; and private properties certified by Sigef, the national Land Management System. For the purpose of this data-crossing, we took into account only the unratified indigenous lands, seeing that the new statute issued by the national agency for indigenous affairs authorized the certification of private properties inside these lands. From the CAR database, we considered only the rural properties located in municipalities where indigenous territories exist. From the database of private properties registered in the Sigef, we only took into account those properties which were certified and authorized. The results showed where the selected areas overlapped with indigenous territories. The entire survey took into consideration the eight states of the Legal Amazon region, plus part of the northeast state of Maranhão. We used free data editing programs such as Libreoffice, QGIS and Open Refine and design programs for data visualization such as Illustrator and Photoshop.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The CAR database hasn’t been consolidated all over Brazil yet, so we needed to collect the databases from each municipality. In addition, the CAR and Sigef databases have a number of subdivisions, which are not very clear – and understanding them became even more complex due to the lack of assistance from the public agencies responsible for the data. The databases also lacked pieces of information, especially about the people in charge of the properties.
What can others learn from this project?
This report provides a clear way to pressure and monitor public authorities actions that directly impact the lives of indigenous populations. It also provides data and information for indigenous organizations – which can help to guide their strategies and actions – and for local journalists who wish to explore the subject further based on the national context. This piece sets an example on how to independently report on a topic, without counting on official bodies, which have offered little or no assistance.