Justice Luis Roberto Barroso on Monday halted Bolsonaro’s provisional measure, meaning responsibility for the demarcation of indigenous territory will remain with the National Indigenous Affairs Agency (FUNAI) for the time being.
In May, Brazil’s Congress blocked Bolsonaro’s first attempt to transfer power from FUNAI to the Ministry of Agriculture, but the president issued another temporary decree last week repeating the move.
As the provisional measure had already been discussed in the current legislative session, it could not be debated again in the same session, Barroso argued.
“The transfer of jurisdiction for the demarcation of indigenous lands was also rejected in the current legislative session. Therefore, the debate on the point cannot be reopened by a new provisional measure,” he said.
Indigenous leaders and human rights defenders have hit out at the provisional measure, with the Indigenous Missionary Council saying it was a “flagrant” violation of Brazil’s constitution, which defends the rights of indigenous people over their ancestral land.
The decision will now have to be analysed and confirmed by the Supreme Court. Barroso has asked for the case to be examined urgently, according to Globo, a Brazilian media outlet.
He plans to assimilate Brazil’s 800,000 indigenous people – less than 1 percent of the country’s population – into Brazilian society and open up reservation land to commercial agriculture and mining, including the Amazon rainforest.
Earlier this month, the former head of FUNAI, Franklimberg Ribeiro de Freitas, said he was fired after being pressured by Bolsonaro to liberalise restrictions on commercial activity in indigenous territory.
A far-right former army captain, Bolsonaro has previously said indigenous tribes live in poverty and should not be held inside reservations “like animals in a zoo”, but instead be allowed to engage in the development of their land and charge royalties on companies exploiting its resources.
About 13 percent of Brazil’s national territory is demarcated as indigenous land – defined as an area inhabited and exclusively possessed by indigenous people.
Some 98 percent of such territory is located in the Amazon, an ecosystem considered by environmental scientists to be a crucial barrier against the global impacts of climate change.