Brazil's Lula legalizes more Indigenous reservations in Amazon

FILE PHOTO: Brazilian indigenous peoples gather as the Supreme Court on weighing the constitutionality of laws to limit the ability of Indigenous peoples to win protected status for ancestral lands, in Brasilia

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday officially recognized two Indigenous territories, granting them legal protection as reservations to defend against invasions by illegal loggers, gold miners and cattle ranchers.

The announcement came on the day Brazil celebrates its Amazon region, home to the world's largest tropical rainforest, the preservation of which is seen as essential to soaking up carbon emissions responsible for global warming.

Environmentalists say Indigenous groups are the best guardians of the rainforest and deforestation data shows that the forests on their reservations are the best conserved.

Lula, who pledged to legalize the greatest number of reservations possible, has so far signed decrees recognizing eight Indigenous territories since taking office in January.

It is a race against time as Brazil's Congress is pushing through legislation that would restrict the recognition of Indigenous land claims, a move backed by the country's powerful farm lobby.

The Supreme Court, however, is expected rule that the cut-off date for claiming ancestral lands that were not lived on in 1988 is unconstitutional for denying recognized Indigenous rights.

The reservations legalized by Lula on Tuesday are the Acapuri de Cima and the Rio Gregorio Indigenous territories in the states of Amazonas and Acre, respectively.

Some 500 Kokama people live on 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) of rainforest in the first reservation, and 2,000 Katukina and Yawanawá people live on 187,944 hectares (46,420 acres) in the second.

Half of Brazil's 1.6 million Indigenous people live in the Amazon in 180 different tribes, and in some territories there are isolated people who have had no contact with the outside world, said Indigenous Peoples Minister Sonia Guajajara.

Maintaining the Amazon alive requires keeping its Indigenous people alive, she said in a speech.

"We are the guardians of the Amazon," Guajajara said. "Protecting our territories guarantees our lives and ensures the diversity needed to face climate change."

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Sandra Maler)