Living on the land: Brazilian tribes fight with farmers

By Isadora Linheira




Indigenous lady cries at the funeral of Guarani-Kaiowa leader. Photo by Marcos Erminio from Campo Grande News


On Aug. 9, while looking for his child by the river, Semião Vilhalva, 24, got shot in his face. He is a part of the ethnic group Guarani-Kaiowá, an indigenous tribe from Brazil. Mr. Vilhalva was one of the leaders of the movement that tries to retake the Indian lands in the city of Antônio João, where at least five farms are being occupied and reclaimed as part of indigenous lands.

The conflict between farmers and the tribe has been going on for quite some time. According to anthropological reports, the Guarani-Kaiowá tribe has been living in the disputed area since 1950. Due to the agrarian growth system implemented by the government at that time, land belonging to the tribe was taken and their presence was denied so the government could expel them from the land.

This is the reality for many communities in Mato Grosso do Sul, in particular the Guarani people who live in Ñanderu-Maragatu. They have no land, and their rights are not protected by the government.

In 2005, the president in charge, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, allegedly approved the Indian territory, but the Minister of Supreme Court, Nelson Jobim, later suspended the approval in September of the same year. He ordered the evacuation of the territory causing conflicts between indigenous people and local farmers. Dorvalino da Rocha, 39, a indigenous representant, died from a gunshot to his chest.

Since June 2015, the fight to reclmain their land has intensified with more farms being occupied by the tribes. It is also generating a national movement and an official request to the government to allow tribes to define their territory. In Tekoha – called Apyka’i in the Guarani language, located in the city of Dourados, indigenous people are at risk of farmers repossessing lands, and have to face daily attacks by gunmen. In Tekoka-Kurusu-Ambá, located in the city of Coronel Sapucaia, tents and bikes were set on fire, two children disappeared for five days, and almost all the villages suffer from hunger and food shortages.

Even though they are the biggest indigenous population in the country, the Guarani-Kaiowá are one of the ethnic group who suffer from state neglect and live in a precarious situation without clear title to their land.

The suicide rate in the Guarani-Kaiowá is 12 times higher than the rest of the Brazilian population, and now there is a civil war creating more casualties to the tribe.

In the city of Coronel Sapucaia dominated by large landowners, the prevailing sentiment is that Indians are useless “vagabonds,” who are trying to invade land owned by farmers and they deserve to be shot as trespassers. Hate comments are published in the local newspaper, which publishes pictures and news slanted towards landowners. Indigenous people are prohibited to look for a job in the city or to buy food, and are constantly under attack, beaten or in some cases, killed. To help the Guarani people, food donations are being collected in the headquarters of the Movement of the Landless (MST in Portuguese) in the city of Campo Grande.

After the situation of the Guarani-Kaiowá people became news in international media outlets such as Al-Jazeera, BBC and The New York Times, the Amnesty International and the UN questioned the Brazilian government about living conditions of the people in Mato Grosso do Sul. The government had no answer and also doesn’t seem to be concerned with the fact that gunmen are killing indigenous people and farmers are blocking highways to prevent tribes from reclaiming their land. Meanwhile the Guarani people can barely move from the place where they are located, and their children are growing up in fear. The Brazilian Department of Actions in Frontiers and the National Force protect the farms and deliver food to them, showing that the State apparently already chose a side – the farmers – instead of protecting the constitutional rights of the indigenous people.

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