Indigenous groups say the ruling of the Supreme Court in Brazil will be critical if they want to defend land rights of ancestors.
The Supreme Court of Brazil suspended a high profile on Wednesday constitutional case what indigenous peoples in the South American nation say is essential to their survival, without a new date on which it will revisit the matter.
The Supreme Court weighs whether a state government has an overly narrow interpretation of Indigenous rights by recognizing only tribal lands occupied by indigenous communities when Brazil’s constitution was ratified in 1988.
Indigenous rights groups say the rule was unconstitutional because there was no time frame in the 1988 constitution, which guaranteed the right to ancestral land.
The case was suspended after one of the judges, Alexandre De Moraes, asked for more time.
As it currently stands, two members of the 11-member court have so far ruled, with one in favor of a cut-off date for land claims, while another voted in favor of ending the time frame.
The government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro draws support from the agricultural sector, which broadly defends the timing. It argues that the time frame provided legal certainty to farmers, many of whom have been living on land formerly inhabited by indigenous peoples for decades.
Protected indigenous countries provide a barrier against deforestation in the Amazon, say advocates.
Critics also say that a defeat in court for the indigenous people will set a precedent for the reversal of rights that Bolsonaro sought with the support of powerful farming interests.
Lawyers for the indigenous people, who number about 850,000 in Brazil today, say the constitution, which beats their rights on ancestral grounds, makes no mention of a time frame.
Their ancestors were driven from their hunting grounds when European settlers began arriving centuries ago, or more recently expelled from prestigious agricultural land, but before the 1988 cut-off.
Families of white farmers have in many cases lived for decades on land now claimed by indigenous communities, and in some cases even have the title that they bought it from the state.
“If the Supreme Court does not uphold the 1988 time frame … it will kill agricultural businesses in Brazil, there is no incentive to invest in agriculture,” Bolsonaro said recently.