Brazil’s Lula vetoes core part of legislation threatening Indigenous rights

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Friday vetoed the core aspects of a bill passed by Congress that threatened to undo protections of Indigenous peoples’ land rights.

The bill proposed to enshrine a legal theory that argues the date Brazil’s Constitution was promulgated — Oct. 5, 1988 — should be the deadline for when Indigenous peoples already had to be physically occupying land or be legally fighting to reoccupy territory.

That legal theory was rejected by Brazil's Supreme Court in September. A week later, the Senate — dominated by conservative lawmakers backed by Brazil’s powerful agribusiness — approved the bill on a vote of 43 in favor and 21 against.

Friday was the deadline for Lula to act if he wanted to block all or parts of the legislation.

“Today I vetoed several articles (of the legislation) … in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision on the subject. Let’s talk and keep working so that we continue to have, as we do today, legal security and also respect for the rights of the original people,” Lula said on social media.

Backers of the legislation said it was needed to provide legal security to landowners, saying there is discomfort in rural areas due to a perceived lack of limits to the expansion of Indigenous territories.

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

Lula vetoed all references to the deadline theory and other provisions deemed harmful to Indigenous rights, such as allowing mining and the cultivation of genetically modified organisms.

“We can consider the vetoes presented here by the president a great victory, (…) guaranteeing the government’s coherence with the Indigenous, environmental and international agenda,” the minister for Indigenous peoples, Sonia Guajajara, said at a news conference after meeting with Lula in the capital, Brasilia.

The president stopped short of vetoing the entire bill, as requested by some Indigenous rights groups. The articles that were maintained are consistent with the tradition of Brazilian Indigenous policy since the 1988 Constitution, Institutional Relations Minister Alexandre Padilha said in a statement.

Célia Xakriabá, a federal lawmaker from the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, celebrated Lula’s action but said that “the project still deals with other very serious issues for indigenous peoples.”

“We continue to mobilize to guarantee our rights!” she added on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Since taking office in January, the left-leaning Lula has given significantly more attention to the demands of Indigenous peoples than his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, including demarcating eight new Indigenous territories.

But without a majority in Congress, he has faced intense pressure from conservative legislators who have stalled his environmental agenda.

“The partial veto is strategic because it is estimated that a total veto would be easier to overturn in Congress,” Thiago Amparo, a law professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank and university, said on X.

The lobby group for agribusiness, known by its Portuguese acronym FPA, said in a statement that it would seek to have Lula’s veto overturned when the bill is returned to Congress.