Fiona Watson/Survival
Damiana Cavanha, Guarani leader. Five of her relatives have been run over and killed.

Roadkill: 'Indians in This State are Not Even Worth a Traffic Sign'

Rick Kearns

After eight Guarani were run over and killed, public prosecutors are seeking $630,000 (1.4 million reals) from the Brazilian government for damages and the installation of road signs for the indigenous community that has been forced to live on the side of a busy road in the Apy Ka'y village in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.

In early July Public Prosecutor Marco Antonio Delfino de Almeida announced that he was making the formal request on behalf of the Guarani community to force the state to install signs and speed warnings on the road. (The Brazilian legislature had passed a law in 2007 mandating demarcation of lands.) Earlier this year, another court had turned down his request and the government had declared the road to be safe.

"Indians in this state are not even worth a traffic sign," Delfino de Almeida stated in late June.

The Guarani community has been suffering from serious malnutrition, disease and increasing suicide rates. They have been involved in a struggle to first stay on their land, which was mostly unsuccessful, and then to return to it. The owners of a large sugar cane plantation that has been supplying sugar to Coca-Cola had been able to evict this Guarani community from their land. The community fought back and recovered some of their territory but several families are still stuck by the side of a busy main road where the accidents have occurred.

The community's leader, Damiana Cavanha, lost her husband, two sons and a four-year old grandson to hit and run accidents on the road in the last several years. Cavanha has also been involved in the fight to regain their territory, including various re-occupation efforts. In a press statement last October Cavanha also described how her family members were killed in accidents along the same road.

“We decided to return to the land where three of our children, who were run over and torn apart by vehicles belonging to the ranches, are buried; where two leaders who were assassinated by gunmen employed by the ranchers, and where a 70 year old shaman who died from inhaling pesticides sprayed from a crop-spraying plane, are also buried,” she asserted.

The Brazilian government had not responded to the prosecutors funding request as of press time.

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