A tribe of native people in Eastern Brazil has been fighting for 15 years to prevent development on land they use to gather food.
This week, the Portuguese hotel group Vila Gale cancelled plans to build a hotel on land claimed by the tribe on the southern coast of the state of Bahia.
The indigenous group Tupinambá de Olivença has 4,631 members. They have been demanding that the land be identified as a reserve since 2003.
FILE - Indigenous people from ethnic groups Pataxo and Tupinamba attend a protest to defend indigenous land, outside Brazil's Supreme Federal Court in Brasilia, Brazil, Oct. 16, 2019.
Brazil's indigenous rights agency, known as Funai, approved the request in 2009. One of Brazil's highest courts ruled for the Tupinambá in 2016.
But the tribe still needs approval from the Ministry of Justice and the president for the land to be an official reserve. The tribe has made several requests, but has received no answer.
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has not yet made a decision on the request. He has stated that he does not want to give any more land to indigenous people. Earlier this year, he said, there is "too much land for too few indigenous people."
Vila Gale said a local businessman offered them the land in 2018. Government representatives approved the project, as did Brazil's tourism agency Embratur. The company planned to open the hotel in 2021.
The company's chief executive officer Jorge Rebelo de Almeida denies that there was an indigenous population on the land. The company repeated that claim in a statement to reporters recently.
The statement said,“There is no indigenous reserve in this area, nor will there be."
The Tupinambá do not live on the land. They use it for gathering food. Portuguese anthropologist Susana Viegas said the land was necessary "for the community's survival." She has studied the Tupinambá since 2003.
Tribal chief Ramón Tupinambá said at a meeting in Brasilia in October that there would be "war" if Vila Gale tried to rebuild on the land.
Vila Gale is one of Portugal’s largest hotel companies. It felt a lot of public pressure to cancel its plans after a newspaper published a letter from Brazil’s tourism agency urging the government not to make the land a reserve. The agency said the hotel would bring $200 million of investment and create 2,000 jobs.
Portuguese politicians and Viegas, however, asked the company to cancel its plans. The company then said it would wait until the Ministry of Justice and the president made the final decision.
But this week, the company decided it did not want the hotel to go ahead in an “atmosphere of war.” It canceled the plans.
Brazil's 1988 Constitution guarantees the rights of indigenous people to their ancestral lands.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
indigenous - adj. the original people and wildlife of an area
reserve – n. land that has been set aside for a certain people or purpose
tourism – n. the activity of visiting a place for enjoyment
anthropologist – n. one who studies people and cultures
ancestral - adj. reaching back many generations