Courtesy Aty Guasu/Survival International
Gunmen attacking a Guarani community in Mato Grosso Do Sul in 2014. The attacks subsided briefly before another attack in January.

Indigenous Continue to Face Violence in Reclaiming Territory in Brazil

Rick Kearns

After being shot at and having their homes burned by gunmen hired by ranchers, Guarani villagers in northern Brazil are being harassed even while the United Nations, Survival International (SI) and several Brazilian organizations and officials are trying to help them.

The indigenous Guarani people of Taquara village in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul are attempting to reoccupy land stolen from them; they were attacked on a nightly basis for a week in January according to an SI report.

“The gunmen, employed by local ranchers, arrived in around 10 trucks and have been firing repeatedly at the Guarani village in Mato Grosso do Sul state. They have also reportedly set fire to several houses. The attacks are continuing on a nightly basis,” SI reported on January 24.

“The ranchers are believed to be retaliating for a land reoccupation attempted by the Guarani last week,” the report asserted.

This same village occupation has been the scene of other acts of violence in the last few years as Guarani people, who have Brazilian and international law on their side, have tried to move back to the territory that had been theirs for centuries. While the exact demarcations of the territory remain unfinished, Public Prosecutors have voiced support for the Guarani efforts but this support has not prevented the attacks; at the same time pro-rancher politicians try to weaken the protections.

RELATED: Landowners Kill Indigenous Leader In Brazil And Threaten More Violence

The Taquara Guarani had also just held a memorial ceremony in mid January for Chief Marcos Veron who had been killed defending another part of their ancestral territory in Mato Grosso do Sul in 2003. His killers were never convicted of murder but were given light sentences for other crimes according to press reports. Veron’s killing was also not an isolated incident.

According to the Indigenous Missionary Counsel (known as CIMI in Brazil), a religious based indigenous advocacy group, 390 indigenous people were killed in that state between 2012 and 2016. The Counsel also asserted that there are 500 indigenous suicides connected to the persecution and violence.

RELATED: Indigenous Suicide Rate in Brazil Is Six Times Higher Than National Average

In her End of Mission Statement on March 17, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli Corpuz expressed concern over the attacks against the Takura Guarani and reports of officials not acting to protect the rights of that community.

“Attacks and killings frequently constitute reprisals in contexts where Indigenous Peoples reoccupy ancestral lands following long periods waiting for the completion of demarcation processes. I find it extremely alarming that a series of these attacks, involving shootings and leading to the injury of Indigenous Peoples in the communities of Kurusu Amba, Dourados and Taquara in Mato Grosso Do Sul, followed my visits to these areas,” Tauli Corpuz continued, “Even more alarming is the fact that Indigenous Peoples are reporting that no State authority has yet gone to these areas.”

“In these visits numerous community members in Mato Grosso Do Sul showed me bullet wounds on their bodies, brought me to the places where their family members had been killed, and recounted incidents involving arbitrary arrests and criminalization of their leaders,” she stated.

While international and Brazilian human rights groups are lobbying for justice and more protection of the Guarani, the harassment and fear remains according to SI campaigner Sarah Shenker.

“The Guarani are determined to return to their ancestral land, which they call the ‘land without evil,’ and will do whatever it takes,” Shenker stated in late March. “In the meantime they are suffering appalling conditions in roadside camps and overcrowded reserves, with the Guarani Kaiowa people consequently suffering the highest suicide rate in the world. But they will not give up.”

“We are asking for help from people all around the world,” said Valdelice Veron, daughter of slain Chief Marcos Veron. “We are here on our ancestral land and we will not leave.”

RELATED: Guaranís Dying in Brazil: One Woman’s Fight to Save Them

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