19 November 2010
Protect indigenous rights in Brazil

Thirty-five Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous families of the Laranjeira Ñanderu community, including around 85 children, are living in makeshift shacks by the side of the busy BR-163 highway in Mato Grosso do Sul. Their living conditions are deplorable and they face threats and harassment from armed security guards hired by the landowner and local farmers.

The families were evicted from the traditional lands in September 2009. The Federal Police, who oversaw the eviction, told the landowner that the community would return to collect their remaining belongings. However, the landowner burned the families’ houses and all their belongings. The community are now living in shacks covered with sheets of black plastic in temperatures of more than 30oC. The area is frequently flooded and their encampment is teeming with insects and leeches. According to community members, local farmers drive past the community at high speed during the night and shine lights into the shacks to try to intimidate them.

Some 30,000 Guarani-Kaiowá live in Mato Grosso do Sul state in the Brazilian midwest. For over a century, their communities have been driven from their lands by the expansion of large-scale agriculture – a process that continues to this day. The consequences for affected communities are often devastating.

The failure of the Brazilian authorities to ensure the right to land of Indigenous Peoples in Mato Grosso do Sul has intensified economic hardship and social dislocation in Guarani Kaiowá communities. Denied access to their traditional lands, the Guarani-Kaiowá have no option but to work on the patchwork of farms that have covered the state. More than half of young Guarani-Kaiowá men travel large distances to work as cane cutters on plantations, often in harsh and exploitative conditions.

Because of these dire conditions the Guarani-Kaiowá have adopted a strategy known as retomada – the peaceful reoccupation of small plots of land on their traditional territories – to try and speed up the process of getting their lands returned. These actions are met with threats, violence and evictions by armed groups hired by landowners. Several Indigenous leaders have been killed. Lengthy delays in legal procedures for returning lands to communities, and a widespread failure to punish those who have attacked and killed Indigenous people have led to continuing violence.

As mechanization sweeps the state and the process of land demarcation remains stalled, the Guarani-Kaiowá’s fight for their rights is more urgent than ever. The federal government must take the commitments it has made on human rights seriously.

Most importantly, it must resolve all outstanding land claims and ensure that free, prior and informed consent is sought and gained for any decision affecting traditional indigenous lands.

Image: The Laranjeira Nhanderu community were evicted from their ancestral lands in September 2009. After the eviction, the landowner burned the families’ houses and all their belongings. They now live in precarious conditions by the side of a highway.© Egon Heck/arquivo CIMI

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