BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian Senate's Agriculture Committee on Wednesday voted 13-3 to approve legislation that would rule out recognition of Indigenous lands if they were not lived on by 1988, a bill that is backed by Brazil's powerful farm lobby.
The proposal advances to the Constitution and Justice Committee and could be put to a vote in the plenary as soon as next week.
The Minister of Indigenous Peoples, Sonia Guajajara, said rural interests in Congress were rushing the bill through before the country's Supreme Court can rule whether the 1988 cut-off date violates a constitutional guarantee of Indigenous rights to their ancestral lands.
"We are trying to widen the debate and urge the Senate to also discuss the bill in the human rights and the environment committees," Guajajara told Reuters.
Senators from farm states said the legislation was needed to end land conflicts with Indigenous communities and establish legal security to settlers.
Senator Soraya Thornicke, from Mato Grosso do Sul state,
said Brazil's 1.6 million Indigenous people have 13% of the country's territory protected as reservation lands.
"With so much land, why are they so poor?" she said in committee, backing a bill that will for the first time allow commercial agriculture in Indigenous territories, including with the use of genetically modified crops banned there at present.
The bill approved by the Agriculture Committee would stop the recognition of new reservations on lands claimed by Indigenous people who were not living on the land at the time Brazil's constitution was enacted in 1988.
But it will also allow the expropriation of protected land if an Indigenous community lost its cultural traits, said Guajajara.
More serious, she said, was that the bill would permit easier access to territories where isolated or recently contacted tribes are known to live in the Amazon.
Guajajara hopes leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who created the ministry of Indigenous peoples when he took office in January, will veto the bill if it passes Congress.
But she is not certain he would be willing to antagonize the farm and agribusiness sectors, whose food exports are the driving force of Brazil's economy.
"I don't know, really," she said.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)