Brazil’s federal judge Anna Maria Pimentel has suspended the removal of around 500 Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous people from an area that they had reoccupied in the Nhande Ru Marangatu indigenous land, situated in the municipality of Antônio João, 450 km from Campo Grande, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
This decision has thawed the strong climate of tension amongst the indigenous people, who had decided to resist in their lands.
In her judgment, the judge states that the repossession lawsuit could breach a basic right, namely, the right to life of any of those involved.
“News concerning the incidents that took place in January 2004 in Iguatemi and Japorã, which are both municipalities located in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, are still fresh in the mind and involve Kaiowá-Guarani indigenous people, gunshots fired by both sides, attacks with knives and spades, and death threats, amongst other forms of physical violence,” as a result of judicial eviction orders which were carried out.
The judge set a new deadline for the repossession, March 31, 2005, but she also indicated that by the time this deadline is reached, the Executive Branch “should have come up with solutions meeting the interests of all the parties involved through a social policy” addressing the problem.
Now, only ratification of the land, which concludes the administrative procedure for recognition of the indigenous land and must be carried out by the President of the Republic, can sort out the problem without the indigenous people being evicted.
The Nhande Ru Marangatu land was demarcated in October 2004 and covers a total area of 9,300 hectares. Before the repossession, which led to the legal dispute with farmers in the municipality of Antônio João, the indigenous people were living in a 26-hectare area.
The farmers who laid claim to the area filed a repossession suit which was accepted by the Federal Court in the first and second instances. They argued that the indigenous people had not traditionally occupied the lands because they are part of an extinct settlement.
This runs against all the constitutional concepts of indigenous lands as traditionally occupied areas. If the settlements became extinct, this was due to the invasion of the farmers or, sometimes, to public policies aimed at expelling or integrating indigenous people.
The same arguments against indigenous people’s rights are being used in other land dispute procedures in Mato Grosso do Sul, such as those involving the Buriti indigenous land of the Terena people, situated in the municipalities of Dois Irmãos do Buriti and Sidrolândia, where a repossession order may also be carried out at any moment.
Land and Food
The violence caused by the eviction of the Guarani-Kaiowá would be reinforced by the current situation in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where shortages of land, production infrastructure and food have resulted in the death of indigenous children.
Six deaths were registered in the Dourados indigenous land, 150 km from Antônio João, since the beginning of 2005.
In the lands they have reoccupied, the Guarani-Kaiowá of Nhande Ru Marangatu could once again produce the food they need to subsist, such as cassava, beans, corn, potatoes, rice and bananas.
The infant mortality rate in that region was 87.72 per 1000 live births in 2001 and fell to 41.67 in 2004. It is still close to the earlier mortality rate in Dourados, however, which is 64 deaths per 1000 live births. The national average is around 25 per 1000.
In Antônio João, National Health Foundation (Funasa) data indicates that 47 of the 256 children under 5 years old covered by Funasa units, or 18% of them, showed signs of malnutrition. Another 52 children (20%) are nutritionally at risk.
The role of the state, malnutrition and deaths amongst children
Percentages like these are repeated in all the settlements of the Guarani people in Mato Grosso do Sul.
Analyzing the data for each settlement reveals a picture which is even more worrying than that shown by Funasa, which has published the average malnutrition figures for the state. These show a malnutrition level of 12% with a further 15% of children nutritionally at risk.
In Mato Grosso do Sul, Terena and Kadiwéu villages have a low malnutrition index, at most 3%. Therefore, the state average does not reveal that in Amambai, for example, malnutrition affects 19% of the children.
The Tacuru village, of Guarani-Kaiowá people, has a malnutrition level of 17%, without counting those who are nutritionally at risk.
The numbers given by Funasa, which is the institution responsible for providing health care to indigenous people in Brazil, show that concern about the feeding and the living conditions of indigenous children cannot be limited to the villages located in Dourados.
Since the beginning of the month, all of the management of Funasa has been transferred to the municipality and several teams of doctors and nutritionists have started to work there.
The distribution of food to the indigenous people in the villages in the Dourados indigenous land has also increased. Little is known, however, about the role being played by Funasa to prevent further deaths in other villages in the region that are not in the eye of the communication media.
On March 2, news was released of a further six deaths brought on by malnutrition in two villages of the Guarani Nhandeva people in the municipalities of Japorã and Eldorado in the southern region of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which occurred during the first two months of this year.
Furthermore, news was also given of the death of six children with symptoms of malnutrition in villages of the Xavante people, in the Campinápolis region, 570 kilometers from Cuiabá, in the state of Mato Grosso.
It remains to be seen if all of these disclosures of deaths and food shortages will result in the structuring of wide-ranging policies for meeting not only nutritional requirements but also the sanitary, production and spatial conditions necessary for the survival of the indigenous people.
The ratification of the bounds of the Nhande Ru Marangatu indigenous land will be an indication that the federal government is willing to take steps in this direction and to go beyond assistentialistic and emergency measures by taking real measures to guarantee the land and the survival of the indigenous people.
Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council