New suicide figures afflicting the Guarani tribe in Brazil, have just been released. They face a a suicide rate at least 34 times the Brazilian national average due to the loss of their ancestral lands and constant attacks by gunmen. The shocking number reveal that, on average, at least one Guarani has committed suicide every week since the start of this century.
According to Brazil’s Health Ministry, 56 Guarani Indians committed suicide in 2012, but the actual figures are likely to be higher due to under-reporting. The majority of the victims are between 15 and 29 years old, but the youngest recorded victim was just 9 years old.
Rosalino Ortiz, a Guarani man, said, “The Guarani are committing suicide because we have no land. We don’t have space any more. In the old days, we were free, now we are no longer free. So our young people look around them and think there is nothing left and wonder how they can live. They sit down and think, they forget, they lose themselves and then commit suicide.”
The Guarani have lost most of their ancestral land – to which they have a strong spiritual connection – to cattle ranchers and sugar cane plantations. The Indians are forced to live in dangerous and squalid conditions on road-sides or in overcrowded reserves and face malnutrition, poor health and alcoholism.
Those communities who try to return to their land face extreme levels of violence as the ranchers hire gunmen to attack, and often kill, the Guarani.
The demarcation of Guarani land should have been completed many years ago, but the process has stalled and Brazilian politicians are currently debating a constitutional amendment which would give Congress, influenced by the anti-indigenous farming lobby, power in the demarcation process. This would be disastrous for the Guarani and their land campaign.
The human-rights organization Survival International has called on the Brazilian government to demarcate Guarani lands as a matter of urgency and is urging companies such as the US’s Bunge to stop buying sugar cane from Guarani land.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “This is a stark and heart-breaking reminder of the devastation that land theft wreaks on tribal peoples. Sadly, the Guarani are not a unique case – indigenous peoples worldwide often suffer far higher rates of suicide than the majority population.
“So-called “progress” often destroys tribal peoples but in this case the solution is clear: demarcate the Guarani’s land, before more innocent lives are lost.”
From a Survival International report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD), under its urgent procedure system:
“The lives and livelihood of the Guarani Indians in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil are being seriously damaged by the denial of land rights. The occupation and theft of their land by industries and governmental colonization schemes has resulted in a desperate and explosive situation where the Guarani suffer from unfair imprisonment, exploitation, discrimination, malnutrition, intimidation, violence and assassination, and an extremely high suicide rate
“Following her visit to Brazil in November 2009, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated that, for the most part, Brazil’s indigenous people “are not benefiting from the country’s impressive economic progress, and are being held back by discrimination and indifference, chased out of their lands and into forced labor.”
“This situation is particularly serious amongst the Guarani who, following decades of losing their ancestral lands to sugar cane, soy and tea planters, cattle ranchers, and government colonization schemes, face one of the worst situations of all indigenous peoples in Brazil, if not the Americas.
“Professor James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, visited Brazil in August 2008. With regard to non-indigenous settlement of indigenous land, he singles out the appalling situation in Mato Grosso do Sul, stating in paragraph 73 of his Report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Brazil that:
“Tensions between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous occupants have been especially acute in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where indigenous peoples suffer from a severe lack of access to their traditional lands, extreme poverty and related social ills, giving rise to a pattern of violence that is marked by numerous murders of indigenous individuals as well as by criminal prosecution of indigenous individuals for acts of protest’.
“After her visit to Mato Grosso do Sul as part of the Commission of Human Rights and Participatory Legislation in October 2009, Brazilian senator and former environment minister Marina Silva declared that the problems faced by the indigenous population ‘are of a very grave nature’, and that the 45,000 Indians of Mato Grosso do Sul face a true ‘social apartheid’, owing to their inability to exercise their rights.
“In his report about the Guarani Kaiowá of Mato Grosso do Sul, anthropologist Marcos Homero Ferreira Lima of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, the body charged with protecting and enforcing indigenous rights, states that:
“The situation of the Guarani Kaiowá of the Curral do Arame requires an immediate and urgent solution. It is not an exaggeration to speak of genocide, since the series of events and actions committed against this group since the end of the 1990s has contributed to subjecting its members to conditions preventing their physical, cultural and spiritual existence. Children, young people, adults and the elderly are subjected to degrading experiences which directly harm their human dignity.”