Will Brazil Ever Put and End to the Slavery and Genocide of Its Indians?

Kaiowa Indians in Mato Grosso do Sul

The genocide that occurs in a continuous and silent manner in Mato Grosso do
Sul, Brazil, against the Kaiowá people is a reality constantly denounced by
indigenous leaders, by representatives of movements in defense of human rights,
by popular militants, by Indigenist supporters working in that region.

Repeatedly, the lines of communication present a cruel situation lived by Kaiowá communities, noting assassinations, deaths by malnutrition, suicides, aggressions of all orders.

How is it possible we wonder, that in the present day, a people are confined and condemned to death through absolute omission by the State and by lack of political initiative that assures their lands, as this right is made explicit in Brazilian legislation?

The Kaiowá population exceeds 30,000 people, the majority of whom live confined to small reserves or camps at the sides of roads and the edges of large cattle ranches , soy and / or sugar cane plantations.

And the most serious occurs in the reserve of Dourados, with less than 3,000 hectares, where there lives a population over 13,000 inhabitants, an inconceivable reality that resembles concentration camps.

In this reserve they are submitted to a systematic, quotidian violence that effects the social relations and the most elementary rights of human life. There are numerous assassinations, beating, alcoholism, drug traffic, malnutrition, impossibility of sustainability and starvation, the most cruel of all violence.

The indigenous families survive in this area in subhuman conditions, without land, without adequate and differentiated assistance, without the protection of the State and consequently without perspectives of the future.

The indigenous lands, that need to be demarcated in order to assure conditions for the physical and cultural survival of this people, are the object of negotiations of the federal government with the local and regional oligarchs.

A consequence of this is the disrespect to the Federal Constitution, to the international treaties and accords – such as the ILO Convention 169, to the Declaration of Human Rights and to the Indigenist legislation that determines that the lands of the Indigenous peoples are assured to make possible the dignity of the individual, the living of their cultures, customs, traditions and style of life.

But, the priorities assumed by federal and state governments privileging large investments, large profits, large businesses, result in the indigenous peoples being treated as indigents in their own territories and, as a function of this, are regarded as marginal, drinkers, violent, dangerous and dispossessed of rights.

The omissions of the public powers and the refusal of assurance of rights of the Kaiowá is justified by old development arguments, utilized largely in the media and by authorities as obstacles to progress.

In the presence of discovery of the legal determinations and the absence of the State in the defense and protection of life it is affirmed that the public power is not only in omission, but promoting the death of the Kaiowá people, being participant in this slow and distressing process of exclusion and of genocide.

Nothing justifies the submission of a people to conditions of servitude and of violence such as is occurring in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

The indigenous lands were illegally occupied, and occupied by estates where today they develop agribusiness activities and sugar cane plantations. The cattle destined for export or serve to feed the large packing house freezers in programs to strengthen agribusiness.

On the cattle ranches the indigenous men work as peons in cleaning the pastures and receive for their work an amount that hardly helps a family escape starvation. The sugar cane  serves as food to the large alcohol processing plants, today also inserted into the programs of the federal government for the “development” of fuel for export.

In the sugar cane plantations the labor is almost exclusively indigenous, a cheap work force, exploited, submitted to a regime of semi-slavery, without working documents, without adequate food, without accommodations of dignity and are expected to meet exorbitant demands, such as cutting twelve tons of cane per day, the intent to assure the minimum resources of a day’s work.

This picture of injustice has been denounced by organizations in defense of Human Rights as a situation that impacts not only the workers in Mato Grosso do Sul, but throughout Brazil.

The Kaiowá, who have had their territories divided and handed over to estates are obliged to work for others within those lands that constitute part of their space of traditional occupation.

The federal government needs to demarcate, protect, guarantee these lands, assuring a differentiated assistance, capacity to collaborate in the promotion of life, as well as designating programs of self-sustainability by which the Kaiowá are able to envision alternatives and viable projects for the future.

However, what assists this is the total negligence of the Brazilian state, which is present is violence and the enslavement as forms of relationship to this population.  The communities and leaders that revolt and question this reality are persecuted and assassinated by gunmen contracted by the ranchers, under the negligent eye of the public power.

A study by Brazil’s Indianist Missionary Council (CIMI) shows that of a total of 41 assassinations of indigenous persons occurred as of August 2007 throughout the entire country, 26 took place in Mato Grosso do Sul, or 63% of the cases. Scores of indigenous leaders were jailed or are sentenced to prison terms because they struggle for the defense of their rights.

The confinement in small reserves or in encampments at the side of the road have a hard reality of starvation, that has as a consequence the dependency on food rations. The infant mortality is five times greater than the national average, or – of every thousand live births 50 die of starvation or suffer from lack of food and will have had an infancy vulnerable to disease and premature death.

The confinement further generates a breakdown of solidarity networks among the families and impedes the functioning of traditional forms of control of this society. Why do they register growing indices of aggressions practiced within these reserves?

Certainly because, submitted to the most absolute lack of conditions of life and deprived of the possibility to maintain and reproduce their traditional cultural practices, this people launch their cry of pain, an interminable agony manifested in brutal aggressions, practiced in a recurrent manner.

The situation of violence will not be resolved with the installation of repressive apparatus, of ostensible policing  or with a militarization, as has been proposed in municipalities of large urban centers.

The grave situation to which the Kaiowá families are submitted will only be solved if the concrete situation of life is altered, with the demarcation of lands, in a manner commensurate with the culture of this people and assuring them specific actions and efficacy of assistance in health, in sustainability projects and in recuperation of environmentally degraded areas.

That is, a conjunction of governmental measures that are nothing more than the full realization of rights assured to all the indigenous peoples in the Federal Constitution and in scores of other laws and international declarations ratified by the Brazilian State.

Roberto Antonio Liebgott is vice president of CIMI (Indianist Missionary Council).


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